Thursday, March 3, 2011
Part 2 of 6: Bette Davis.
Traveling by train with her mother, Davis arrived in Hollywood, on December 13, 1930. Unfortunately, She failed her first screen test. Her second test was, for the film, A House Divided (1931). The director of the film William Wyler, was not that impressed with her. Carl Laemmle, the head of Universal Studios, was just about ready to let Davis go, when cinematographer Karl Freund, told him she had "lovely eyes" and would be perfect for the film, The Bad Sister (1931), in which she made her first film debut.
The film is about young woman named Marianne, bored with her life, falls in love with a con artist Valentine Corliss, who is looking for someone to swindle. He soon has Marianne, forging her wealthy father's name on a letter of endorsement, which he uses to purchase the things he wants from the merchants of the town. As he is making his plans to leave before he is found out, marries Marianne and after their wedding night in a sleazy hotel, abandons her. Heartbroken, she returns home and begs forgiveness from her fiance Dick Lindley, but.. he wants nothing more to do with her.
Universal Studios renewed her contract for three months and she performed in a small role in the film, Waterloo Bridge (1931) before being loaned out to Columbia Pictures for the film, The Menace and to Capital Films for the film, Hell's House (all 1932). After six unsuccessful films, Laemmle did not renew her contract. George Arliss hired Davis for the lead female role in the film, The Man Who Played God (1932), and for the rest of her life, Davis credited him with saving her career. The Saturday Evening Post compared her to Constance Bennett and Olive Borden. After which, Warner Bros. signed her to a five-year contract.
After more than 20 films, her role in, Of Human Bondage (1934), a film adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham's novel, earned Davis her first major success. The story is about, sensitive club-footed man named Philip Carey, who enrolls in medical school and falls in love with illiterate waitress Mildred Rogers. She runs off with a salesman and returns unmarried and pregnant. Philip helps her get a apartment and they become engaged. It is not before long Mildred runs off with another medical student. Philip takes her back again, this time with her baby and she turns his life upside down. He gets a job as a salesman, has surgery on his foot and returns to school where he learns Mildred is dying. Davis used this opportunity to show the range of her acting skills. She insisted that she be portrayed realistically in her death scene, and said, "the last stages of consumption, poverty and neglect are not pretty and I intended to be convincing-looking".
The film was a success, Life magazine wrote that she gave "probably the best performance ever recorded on the screen by a U.S. actress". Davis was hoping that now Warner Bros. would cast her in more important roles, and was disappointed when Jack Warner refused to lend her to Columbia Studios to perform in the film, It Happened One Night, instead cast her in the melodrama, Housewife.
Next Davis performed in the film, Dangerous (1935). The story is about Don Bellows, a New York architect, who is engaged to the wealthy Gail Armitage, when he meets down on her luck Joyce Heath, who was once a successful actress on Broadway. Her performance as Juliet is what inspired him to become an architect. Joyce, warns him that she is a jinx. Don does not believe her and breaks his engagement with Gail. He backs Joyce's next Broadway show and before opening night, he proposes marriage, but Joyce turns him down, hiding the fact she is already married to Gordon Heath. Joyce goes to Gordon and begs him for a divorce. When he refuses, she causes a car accident which cripples him for life. Her own injuries keep her from opening in the show. Don learns that Joyce has deceived him, he calls her a very selfish woman. She re-opens the show and the show is a success. She won the Academy Award for Best Actress for the role.
In her next film, The Petrified Forest (1936), Davis co-starred with Leslie Howard and Humphrey Bogart, but Bogart, in his first important role, received most of the attention. The story is about a young girl named Gabby, who works for her father's small diner out in the lonely desert. She really wants to go and live with her mother in France. In walks Alan, down on his luck, who is traveling to the pacific. Also, killer Duke Mantee and his gang plan to meet up at the diner with Mantee's girl.