Actress. Born Ruth Elizabeth Davis, on April 5, 1908, in Lowell, Massachusetts, the elder of the two daughters of Harlow Morrell Davis, a patent lawyer, and Ruthie Favor. Her parents divorced when Davis was seven. She and her sister were raised, often in trying circumstances, in New England by their devoted mother, who became a portrait photographer. Davis attended several boarding schools and, in her teens, began calling herself Bette after Honoré de Balzac's nineteenth-century novel Cousin Bette. She acted in school plays and in semiprofessional stock productions and, in the summer of 1925, studied interpretive dance at New Hampshire's Mariarden artists' colony. After graduating from Cushing Academy in Ashburnham, Massachusetts, in 1927, she studied acting in New York City at the John Murray AndersonRobert Milton School, where her dance teacher was Martha Graham. Davis got a small role in a Rochester stock company production of Broadway (1928), acted and ushered on Cape Cod, and then rejoined the Rochester company. She made her New York City debut off Broadway at the Provincetown Playhouse in The Earth Between (1929), after which she toured with Blanche Yurka's repertory company, appearing in two plays by Henrik Ibsen, The Wild Duck and The Lady from the Sea. Davis then acted on Broadway in Broken Dishes (1929) and Solid South (1930). Failing her first screen test for Samuel Goldwyn that year, she passed her second for Universal Pictures and signed her first Hollywood contract. Davis eventually made eighty-seven movies. Her first was as the good sister in Bad Sister (1931), and, with her natural ash-blond hair considerably lightened, she was soon churning out four to six mostly disposable films a year. On August 18, 1932 Davis married her high school boyfriend Harmon ("Ham") Oscar Nelson, Jr., a musician. They had no children. Her career was boosted when she played opposite George Arliss in The Man Who Played God (1932). That year she signed a long-term contract with Warner Brothers, with whom she made many of her most memorable films. In a series of nasty battles with the studio head Jack Warner over her roles, scripts, salary, directors, and contractual restrictions, she complained that stars at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) were given the royal treatment, while Warner Brothers' stars were treated like factory workers.
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Bette Davis biography
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