Thursday, August 27, 2009

Bette Davis's amazing year

This year, 2009, is the seventieth anniversary of what has been called the most amazing year in the history of American movies. In 1939, the studio system and their star-making abilities were at their zenith. So many classic films were produced that year that it almost boggles the mind.

Of all the major stars working in 1939, perhaps none had the year that Bette Davis had. In the year she won her Best Actress Academy Award* for Jezebel, Davis established herself as one of the biggest stars entering the 1940s. If Davis hadn’t made another film after 1939, she would still be regarded as a film legend.

While her rival’s (Joan Crawford) star was on the decline at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, with clunkers like Ice Follies of 1939, Davis was burnishing her reputation as a top star and serious actress on the Warner Brothers lot. Already a two-time Oscar winner for Best Actress, Davis had both popular and critical success. At the end of the thirties she appeared in no less than four classic films: The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, The Old Maid, Juarez, and Dark Victory. During this string of critical and box office successes, Davis worked with three legendary directors, including Michael Curtiz, Edmund Goulding (twice that year), and William Dieterle. Goulding’s direction of Davis in Dark Victory won her a fourth nomination for Best Actress.

By 1940, Davis was Warner’s biggest star, earning millions of dollars in box office receipts for her employer. From 1939 to 1943, she racked up five consecutive Academy Award nominations, a record she shares with Greer Garson.

Bette Davis would have many more successes after 1939, but few that can match that most amazing of all movie years.

*Awarded for her performance in Jezebel released in 1938
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