Happy Birthday Bette Davis 

U.S. #4350 was issued for Davis’ 100th birthday.

Ruth Elizabeth Davis was born on April 5, 1908, in Lowell, Massachusetts.

Known as “Betty” from an early age, she attended a Spartan boarding school before moving with her family to New York City in 1921. It was around this time that she changed her name to “Bette” after Honoré de Balzac’s novel La Cousine Bette.

Ghana #1849-50 includes a stamp honoring Bette Davis.

In 1926 Davis attended Henrik Ibsen’s production of The Wild Duck, starting Peg Entwistle. Davis later claimed that it was Entwistle that inspired her to join the theater. She found her first paid acting job as a chorus girl in the play Broadway. Then in 1929 she was hired to play Entwistle’s role in The Wild Duck. Davis went on to perform in theaters in Philadelphia, Washington, and Boston before making her Broadway debut in Broken Dishes in 1929.

The following year Davis moved to Hollywood for her first screen test. Though her first two screen tests didn’t go well, cinematographer Karl Freund remarked that she had “lovely eyes” and recommended her for a part in Bad Sister, which would mark her film debut. Davis then had small parts in a string of unsuccessful movies, which led to plan to move back to New York. But then actor George Arliss suggested she play the female lead in The Man Who Played God. The film was a success and Davis always credited Arliss with helping her get her break in Hollywood.

U.S. #4350 – Davis Plate Block First Day Cover.

Davis then signed a five-year contract and would remain with Warner Brothers for 18 years. By 1934, she had appeared in 20 films and took on the controversial part of Mildred in Of Human Bondage, a role many other actresses turned down. But Davis was glad to take it to show her acting range. Her gamble paid off and she earned major acclaim for her performance. Life magazine said she delivered “probably the best performance ever recorded on the screen by a U.S. actress.”

Davis and many others were surprised that she wasn’t nominated for an Academy Award for her performance in Of Human Bondage. However, she did win one the following year for her role in Dangerous. Davis’ next film was The Petrified Forest, which was also Humphrey Bogart’s first major role.

U.S. #4350 – 2008 Davis mint stamp sheet pictures her character in Jezebel.

In the coming years Davis appeared in several poorly received films and attempted to get out of her contract, but to no avail. She then appeared in Marked Woman and Jezebel, which she called “the time in my life of my most perfect happiness.” Her performance as a spoiled southern belle earned her a second Academy Award. This marked the start of the most successful part of her career. Davis then appeared in Dark Victory, which was one of the top films of the year, and earned her another award nomination. Davis’ other successes at this time included The Old Maid, Juarez, and The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex.

U.S. #2765g from the 1943: Turning the Tide World War II stamp sheet.

In 1941 Davis briefly served as the first female president of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor she joined the war effort selling war bonds. In two days she sold $2 million in bonds and sold a picture of herself in Jezebel for $250,000. She also joined Hattie McDaniel, Lena Horne, and Ethel Waters in performing for African American troops. In 1942 she helped create the Hollywood Canteen, a nightclub to entertain servicemen before they left to fight in the war. Davis later received the Distinguished Civilian Service Medal for this work.

U.S. #4414n from the 2009 Early Television Memories sheet.

In 1949 Davis was let out of her contract with Warner Brothers and appeared in All About Eve. She considered the script to be the best she ever read and won several awards for her role. She also had several famous lines including, “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.” Davis didn’t have many hits in the 1950s, but found renewed success in 1962 with What Ever Happened to Baby Jane. Davis then appeared in an episode of Perry Mason, and had a few more successful movies, including Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte.

Davis continued to appear in films and on television. In 1979, she was given a Best Actress Emmy. Davis continued to work into the 1980s and also wrote some autobiographies in later life. Her final role was in The Whales of August in 1987. Davis appeared in over 100 films, and was the first actress to receive ten Academy Award nominations. She was also the first woman to receive the American Film Institute’s highest honor, the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Suffering from cancer in her later years, Davis died on October 6, 1989.

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  1. “She’ll tease you, she’ll unease you… Bette Davis Eyes”
    Luv that song by Kim Carnes.

  2. “But stand close by Bette Davis, because hers was such a lonely life.” I love that song by the Kinks.

  3. I love these mini history lessons. I thought I knew Bette Davis’ whole story but I never knew she performed for African American troops during World War. What a classy lady!

  4. It was great to read about her service to our country in raisng war bonds, entertaining African American troops, as well as contributing to the creation of the Hollywood Canteen.

  5. Enjoyed today’s Mystic TDIH feature of Bette Davis enough to read some of the press relating to the stamp’s release. Found out the the USPS removed the cigarette and cigarette holder that made this photo such a classic. Still, a nice photo for a great movie star.

  6. One classy lady! I’ve seen many of her excellent films and she was super in the Perry Mason episode. I would love to have her stamps blown up to poster size. Sure would look nice hanging on my wall.

    1. Go online and buy a poster, they may not have an exact duplicate of the stamp but they’ll have many, many more. Might even have the original photo complete with cigarette and holder. In fact, I’d be willing to bet on it.
      She was a very intense actress, quite commanding.

  7. I recall seeing Ms. Davis on the Tonight show with Johnny Carson. She had just finished filming a movie directed by Ron Howard, the title of which I do not recall. She stated that she was a bit miffed by being told what to do by this kid, who she knew had been Opie or something and felt like, but did not say, do you know who I am. Upon completing the scene she reflected on the the direction and admitted to Carson that he was not only correct and remarkable in his direction but had the potential to be a successful director. Quite a ringing endorsement for young Ron. …….and yes Ms. Davis, we sure know who you are!

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