Sunday, April 4, 2010

Bette Davis with President Ronald Reagan

American actress Bette Davis (April 5, 1908 to October 6, 1989) was highly regarded for her performances in a variety of genres, from crime melodramas to historical and period films and comedies, though her greatest successes were her roles in romantic dramas. In 1999, Davis was placed second, after Katharine Hepburn, on the American Film Institute's list of the greatest female stars of all time.

After some Broadway plays, Davis moved to Hollywood in 1930. Until the late 1940s, she was one of American cinema's most celebrated leading ladies. She was the first female president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. She won the Academy Award for Best Actress twice, and was the first woman to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Film Institute. She continued acting until shortly before her death from breast cancer, with more than 100 films, television and theater.

She failed her first screen test but was used in several screen tests for other actors. In a 1971 interview with Dick Cavett, she related the experience with the observation, "I was the most Yankee-est, most modest virgin who ever walked the earth. They laid me on a couch, and I tested fifteen men... They all had to lie on top of me and give me a passionate kiss. Oh, I thought I would die. Just thought I would die." Carl Laemmle, the head of Universal Studios, considered terminating Davis's employment, but cinematographer Karl Freund told him she had "lovely eyes" and would be suitable for The Bad Sister (1931), in which she subsequently made her film debut. And she continued acting throughout life.

Davis's name became well-known to a younger audience when Kim Carnes's song "Bette Davis Eyes" became a huge hit and the best-selling record of 1981 in the U.S., where it stayed at number one on the music charts for more than two months. Davis's grandson was impressed that she was the subject of a hit song and Davis considered it a compliment, writing to both Carnes and the songwriters, and accepting the gift of gold and platinum records from Carnes, and hanging them on her wall.

A few months before her death in 1989, Davis was one of several actors featured on the cover of Life magazine. In a film retrospective that celebrated the films and stars of 1939, Life concluded that Davis was the most significant actress of her era, and highlighted Dark Victory (1939) as one of the most-important films of the year. Her death made front-page news throughout the world as the "close of yet another chapter of the Golden Age of Hollywood".

The United States Postal Service honored Davis with a commemorative postage stamp in 2008, marking the 100th anniversary of her birth. The stamp features an image of her in the role of Margo Channing in All About Eve (1950). The First Day of Issue celebration took place September 18, 2008, at Boston University, which houses an extensive Bette Davis archive.

In 1962 Bette Davis became the first person to secure ten Academy Award nominations for acting. Since then only four people have equaled or surpassed this figure, Meryl Streep (16 nominations and two wins), Katharine Hepburn (12 nominations and four wins), Jack Nicholson (12 nominations and three wins) and Laurence Olivier (10 nominations and one win).

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