9. Bette Davis
ALL ABOUT EVE, JEZEBEL, WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?, NOW VOYAGER, THE LITTLE FOXES
The average person’s impression of Bette Davis might be rooted in a superficial combination of classic lines and iconography – lines like “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night,” from All About Eve; her grotesque makeup in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?; and her shared cigarette with Paul Henreid in Now, Voyager. But digging into the actual performances, a viewer is richly rewarded on multiple levels. Unlike many of her peers, she took on roles ranging from slightly abrasive to monstrous – but the characters were never unsympathetic, and certainly not one-dimensional. Although she often played selfish, stubborn characters softened by love, she was too much of a forceful feminist presence to fall into a condescending “tamed woman” storyline. She wasn’t afraid to look silly (holding her own in screwball comedies like The Bride Came C.O.D.) or unglamorous (despite the studio’s protestations, she insisted on being aged up for her role in The Corn Is Green). The story goes that she wasn’t met by a studio executive when her train first arrived in Hollywood – one came, but left because he didn’t see anyone who “looked like an actress.” It’s a testament to her trailblazing career that she is now often thought to be the embodiment of the word.