Bette Davis was born on April 5th 1908. Davis first knew she wanted to become an actress after seeing ‘The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse’ (1921) and Mary Pickford’s performance in ‘Little Lord Fauntleroy’ (1921). She committed to the career path after watching a production of ‘The Wild Duck’ starring Peg Entwistle. Davis recalled, “Before that performance I wanted to be an actress. When it ended I had to be an actress”. The actress later played the role that inspired her career. A role in 1929’s production Broken Dishes marked her broadway debut, which she followed with the play Solid South.
After being scouted by Universal Studios, Davis moved to Hollywood. The star’s film debut was ‘The Bad Sister’ (1931), unfortunately Davis was plagued with a string of unsuccessful films and Universal decided not to renew her contract. In a stroke of luck, Davis was cast in’ The Man Who Played God’ (1932), which served as her big break. From the beginning of her career, Davis had always selected character parts, to show the range of her talents. Though her roles set her apart from Hollywood’s other leading ladies, the studio carefully maintained her image, the actress often wore demure suits and simple silk gowns without adornments or accessories, making her performances the focus of her career, unlike her rival, Joan Crawford. In 1934 she received critical acclaim for her performance in ‘Of Human Bondage’.
Davis took a turn as a ‘Southern debutante in Jezebel’ (1938), which saw the actress in frothy ball gowns with layers of tulle and fluttering lace sleeves. Her performance earned a second Academy Award. Her performance as Charlotte Vale in ‘Now Voyager‘ (1942) allowed Davis to try her hand at being a fashion plate while maintaining her streak of character parts. Vale begins the movie as a dowdy unfashionable spinster, held back by her overbearing mother. When away from her mother’s grasp, Vale blossoms, finds romance and reinvents herself with a wardrobe of furs, sequined gowns and floral day dresses.
The role of Margot Channing in ‘All About Eve’ (1950) is one of Davis’ best-known performances, and includes her most celebrated fashion moments. Edith Head designed Margot’s memorable off the shoulder, fur-trimmed gown, eclipsing Eve’s attempt at imitating her style. The film won six Academy Awards, including Best Costume Design.
For her contributions to the industry, Bette Davis was the first woman to receive the American Film Institute’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 1977.