Bette Davis

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Bette Davis in The Petrified Forest (1936)

Ruth Elizabeth "Bette" Davis (April 5, 1908October 6, 1989) was a two-time Academy Award-winning American actress of film, television and theatre. Known for her willingness to play unsympathetic characters, she was highly regarded for her performances in a range of film genres; from contemporary crime melodramas to historical and period films and occasional comedies, though her best remembered films are romantic dramas. In 1999, Davis was placed second, behind Katharine Hepburn, on the American Film Institute's list of the greatest female stars of classic Hollywood cinema.


  • I think it was that picture, more than anything else, that gave me a horror of nobility. Ever since then I have fought against portraying saccharine characters. Give me the part of a vixen and I'm happy.
    • On Bad Sister (1931), Davis' screen debut; in "Bette Davis Tells Her Own Story," Ladies' Home Journal (July 1941), p. 116
  • That picture clinched my future as far as Universal was concerned. They felt that as I had not emerged as a glamour girl after being worked over by John Stahl, I had no possibilities. When I arrived in Hollywood, when I thought about it all, I considered myself as normally attractive; after that year at Universal I found that I was apologizing for living. Physically I considered myself as one to be avoided. I still cringe at the beating I took.
    • On Seed (1931); op. cit., p. 117
  • The act of sex, gratifying though it may be, is God's joke on humanity. It is man's last desperate stand at superintendency. The whole ritual is a grotesque anachronism, an outdated testament to man's waning power. It's all we've got and so we make the best of it. It is not, however, sufficient reason for matrimony.
  • I love my profession. I would never stop. Relax? I relax when I work. It's my life.
  • 'In the beginning was the Word,' and you must not be tempted with a script just because you have a great part. You want a great role to play, but the whole - the whole - must be good. It'll never succeed if it's just the role you like.
    • Louise Sweeney (December 28, 1987) "Bette Davis: On the heels of a new honor and a new film, a screen legend looks back over her 60-year career", Christian Science Monitor, p. 19.
  • I think Mr. Reagan has done very well under very difficult circumstances. He's had terrific problems physically and he's managed them very well. But my God, the witch hunt today! Is there any human being alive who hasn't done something bad in their youth - like maybe smoke marijuana once? And this man (Judge Ginsburg) found it necessary to admit it! My God! It would be like Mr. Jack Kennedy sitting down and listing all the women (he knew) before he got in.
  • I'm the nicest goddamn dame that ever lived.
  • May each of my grandsons know, at an early age, what his life's ambition is -- and may he be successful in his pursuit of that goal.
    • Cathy Collison (November 16, 1983) "Savitch Remembered Crim In Will", Detroit Free Press, p. 14D.


Portrait of Bette Davis by George Hurrell (June 1938)
  • Miss Bankhead isn't well enough known nationally to warrant my imitating her. (In response to accusations she imitated Bankhead in the role of Margo Channing in All about Eve. Bankhead resented Davis for the perceived imitation, which she considered mocking, and for portraying her Broadway Roles on film [Dark Victory, Jezebel, The Little Foxes].[1] This comment is unusual in that Davis usually tried to deflate the myth [started by Tallulah for amusement and publicity] of any sort of conflict between them, instead expressing her admiration for Bankhead. [2] Similarly, when Bankhead was asked to do an imitation of Davis, she said "Why should I dahling, she's been imitating me long enough". Before candidly remarking "But really, it's been sheer coincidence that Bette's been playing the leading roles in films like Dark Victory. I really admire her very much.")
    • Colin Jarman, The Book of Poisonous Quotes, McGraw-Hill Professional, 1993, ISBN 0809236818, p. 130.
  • Brought up to respect the conventions, love had to end in marriage. I'm afraid it did.
    • Ashton Applewhite, Tripp Evans, Andrew Frothingham, And I Quote: The Definitive Collection of Quotes, Sayings, and Jokes for the Contemporary Speechmaker, Macmillan, 1992, ISBN 0312068972, p. 383.
  • Discipline is a symbol of caring to a child. Discipline is guidance. If there is love, there is no such thing as being too tough with a child.
    • Noah BenShea, Great Quotes to Inspire Great Teachers, Corwin Press, 2001, ISBN 0761945407, p. 78.
  • When a man gives his opinion, he's a man. When a woman gives her opinion, she's a bitch.
    • William Martin, The Best Liberal Quotes Ever: Why the Left is Right, Sourcebooks, Inc., 2004, ISBN 1402203098, p. 204
  • Old age ain't no place for sissies.
    • Roz Warren, Rosalind Warren, Women's Lip: Outrageous, Irreverent and Just Plain Hilarious Quotes, Sourcebooks, Inc., 2006, ISBN 1402203918, p. 179.
  • You will never be happier than you expect. To change your happiness, change your expectation.
    • Gerhard Gschwandtner, Great Thoughts to Sell By: Quotes to Motivate You to Success, McGraw-Hill Professional, 2007, ISBN 0071475990, p. 89.
  • My passions were all gathered together like fingers that made a fist. Drive is considered aggression today; I knew it then as purpose.
    • Lorraine A. Darconte, Pride Matters: Quotes to Inspire Your Personal Best, Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2001, ISBN 0740718835, p. 56.

Quotes about Davis

  • She is a pro from start to finish. She always gives her best, and her best is really something. It's got power and force and meaning. Her contribution to any film is meaningful. It's probably her New England heritage, but she believes firmly in giving a good day's work for a good day's pay. She's a no-nonsense dame who's earned the respect of her colleagues by hard work and talent. She's been nominated for an Academy Award 10 times, the greatest number ever given anybody in this business, and she's won two Oscars. I don't know how many pictures she's made, 80 or 90, but she can work for me as long as she wants to.
    • Robert Aldrich, as quoted in "Bette Davis: She's Still Going Strong" by Lloyd Shearer, Arizona Daily Star (November 8, 1964), p. 65
  • Then I did Three on a Match—at the end director Mervyn Leroy boldly predicted Ann Dvorak would be a big hit, I'd have a solid career and Bette Davis would go nowhere. Bette hasn't spoken to him since.
    • Joan Blondell, as quoted in Conversations with Classic Film Stars: Interviews from Hollywood's Golden Era (2016) by James Bawden and Ron Miller, p. 156
  • Davis has nice eyes.
    • Karl Freund, cinematographer on Bad Sister, Davis's 1931 screen debut, in response to producer Carl Laemmle's dismissive assessment (see below); later credited by Davis with rescuing—albeit via maddeningly faint 'praise'—her then as yet non-existent film career; "Uncertain Glory: Bette Davis Tells Her Own Story," Ladies' Home Journal (July 1941), p. 117
  • She has about as much sex appeal as Slim Summerville.
    • Carl Laemmle, as quoted (without attribution) in "Bette Davis Likely for 1939 Honors; 'Juarez' Tops All Past Performances; Lives Her Roles; Success Due Partly to Willingness to Play Realistic Parts," Arizona Daily Star (October 31, 1939), p. 12; and by Davis herself in "Bette Davis: Still Going Strong" by LLoyd Shearer, Arizona Daily Star (November 8, 1964), p. 66
  • I could just about stand being in a southern plantation at 5 A.M. with Miss Crawford. But never Miss Davis!
    • Vivien Leigh, in a telegram declining Robert Aldrich's offer to replace an ailing Joan Crawford in Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964), as quoted, circa 1980, by Joseph Cotten, speaking with James Bawden; reproduced in Conversations with Classic Film Stars: Interviews from Hollywood's Golden Era (2016) by Bawden and Ron Miller, p. 208
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