About this Famous Person
American actress of film, television and theater
Source : Tim DOWLING
Ruth Elizabeth Davis, known from early childhood as "Betty", was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, the daughter of Ruth Augusta "Ruthie" (née Favor) and Harlow Morrell Davis, a patent attorney; her sister, Barbara "Bobby", was born October 25, 1909. The family was Protestant, of English, French, and Welsh ancestry. In 1915, Davis's parents separated and Betty and Bobby attended a Spartan boarding school called Crestalban in Lanesborough, which is located in the Berkshires. In 1921, Ruth Davis moved to New York City with her daughters, where she worked as a portrait photographer. Betty was inspired to become an actress after seeing Rudolph Valentino in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921) and Mary Pickford in Little Lord Fauntleroy (1921), and changed the spelling of her name to "Bette" after Honoré de Balzac's La Cousine Bette. She received encouragement from her mother, who had aspired to become an actress.
She attended Cushing Academy, a boarding school in Ashburnham, Massachusetts, where she met her future husband, Harmon O. Nelson, known as "Ham". In 1926, she saw a production of Henrik Ibsen's The Wild Duck with Blanche Yurka and Peg Entwistle. Davis later recalled that it inspired her full commitment to her chosen career, and said, "Before that performance I wanted to be an actress. When it ended, I had to be an actress ... exactly like Peg Entwistle." She auditioned for admission to Eva LeGallienne's Manhattan Civic Repertory, but was rejected by LeGallienne who described her attitude as "insincere" and "frivolous". She was accepted by the John Murray Anderson School of Theatre, and studied dance with Martha Graham.
She auditioned for George Cukor's stock theater company, and although he was not very impressed, he gave Davis her first paid acting assignment anyway—a one-week stint playing the part of a chorus girl in the play Broadway. She was later chosen to play Hedwig, the character she had seen Entwistle play, in The Wild Duck. After performing in Philadelphia, Washington and Boston, she made her Broadway debut in 1929 in Broken Dishes, and followed it with Solid South. A Universal Studios talent scout saw her perform and invited her to Hollywood for a screen test.
- Category Actor