Challenging Roles Of Betty Davis, One Of The Most Celebrated Leading Actresses Of American Cinema In 1940s
Here's the problem with clichés - most of the time, they are true, but people dismiss them quickly. Now, here is a popular one - "Fortune favors the bold." The actress, Bette Davis, was definitely favored by fortune for her boldness.
In the middle to late 20th century, most female actresses refused to play female character roles that were considered cynical or unsympathetic. That was because it wasn’t going to earn them a favorite spot in the hearts of their adulating fans.
And then, there was Bette Davis. She not only played such sardonic and cynical female characters, but she excelled in them. She also pushed the boundaries, opting to play characters older than she was. Davis was not afraid to push for perfection from herself and people she worked with.
Her willingness to take on challenging roles eventually secured her a place as the first woman to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Film Institute. No small feat for a lady born in the Highlands neighborhood of Lowell, Massachusetts.
Bette Davis' acting career: The early beginnings
Davis moved to Hollywood in 1930 and, initially, worked with Universal Studios, but after a string of appearances that were neither pleasing to her, the fans, nor the critics, she was looking for a new employer and even considered returning to New York.
In 1932, she took a gamble and signed a 5-year contract with Warner Bros. This gamble would eventually pay off. She landed her first role when actor George Arliss chose Davis for the lead female role in the Warner Bros. picture The Man Who Played God (1932). For the rest of her life, Davis would continue to credit Arliss with helping her get her "break" in Hollywood.
She would remain with Warner Bros. for the next 18 years, making a fortune for both herself and Warner Bros. But it wasn't a smooth ride with Warner.
Bette Davis vs. Warner Bros.
In 1936, after a succession of mediocre films, Davis accepted an offer to appear in 2 films in Britain.
She fled to Canada to avoid being served with legal papers by Warner Bros. and opted to present her case in a court in Britain hoping to receive a favorable decision. However, Sir Patrick Hastings, who represented Warner Bros., successfully depicted her as "a naughty young lady" and that she wanted more money.
Davis lost the case and had to return to Warner, but this would lead to one of the most successful periods of her acting career
Bette finds success with Warner Bros.
Bette appeared in Marked Woman in 1937 and got the Volpi Cup at the 1937 Venice Film Festival for her portrayal of a prostitute in a contemporary gangster drama inspired by the case of Lucky Luciano.
Throughout the '40s, she was listed in the annual "Quigley Poll of the Top Ten Money Making Stars."
And this was only just the beginning. Davis would go on to win 2 Academy Awards for Best Actress and be the first person to secure 10 Academy Award nominations for acting. She also won an Emmy Award for her performance in Strangers: The Story of a Mother and Daughter (1979).
Bette Davis had an illustrious career and would go on working until her death in 1989 despite being diagnosed with breast cancer 6 years earlier.
Davis challenged the norms throughout her career, demanded perfection, and got it. She played sardonic characters that other actresses were too scared to tackle. And history rewarded her immensely for it. Indeed, fortune does favor the bold.