By Heather Babcock
The odd one out in a sea of perfect cheekbones and symmetrical faces, Bette Davis was the closest thing to an “every-woman” that classic Hollywood ever got. Dismissed early on in her career by studio heads who didn’t find her “sexy” enough, the feisty trailblazing Davis went on to become one of the most popular, iconic and enduring figures of film and pop culture.
In some ways, Davis was the female Lon Chaney, “The Man of a Thousand Faces”. In films like Of Human Bondage (1934), Mr. Skeffington (1944) and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), she portrayed unlikable characters with a relish that bordered on sadomasochism and insisted on using “ugly” make-up to look more hideous than her directors thought necessary. In her breakout role as Mildred Rogers, the vile wretch who cruelly toys with poor, sensitive Philip Carey (Leslie Howard) in Of Human Bondage (1934), Bette, in her own words, “made it pretty clear that Mildred was not going to die of a dread disease looking as if a deb had missed her noon nap.” During the filming of Mr. Skeffington (1944), when her director Vincent Sherman balked at the over-the-top make-up she insisted on wearing to play Fanny Skeffington, a deteriorating socialite who has lost her looks to diphtheria, Bette shrugged. “My audience likes to see me do this kind of thing,” she replied.
Those large, infamous eyes were like that of a doe but onscreen Bette Davis often possessed the look of a startled rattlesnake. Like a razor blade hidden inside a tube of pink lipstick, her kiss – and words – had plenty of bite. In films such as The Letter (1940) and All About Eve (1950), Davis delivered cutting and suggestive lines with her own signature blend of caustic sensuality. Here is a look at some of Bette’s most unforgettable on-screen quotes (with a fabulous off-screen one thrown in for good measure):
- “Do you mind very much Mr. Shane, taking off your hat in the presence of a lady with a gun?” – Satan Met a Lady (1936)
- “After ya kissed me, I always used to wipe my mouth. WIPE. MY. MOUTH!” – Of Human Bondage (1934)
- “I’ll admit I may have seen better days, but I’m still not to be had for the price of a cocktail, like a salted peanut.” – All About Eve (1950)
- “I’d like to kiss ya, but I just washed my hair.” – The Cabin in the Cotton (1932)
- “One should never look for admirers while at the same time one is falling to bits.” – Mr. Skeffington (1944)
- “With all my heart, I still love the man I killed.” – The Letter (1940)
- “There comes a time in every woman’s life when the only thing that helps is a glass of champagne.” – Old Acquaintance (1943)
- “Fasten your seat-belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night!” – All About Eve (1950)
- “Why ask for the moon when we have the stars?” – Now, Voyager (1942)
- “My passions were all gathered together like fingers that made a fist. Drive is considered aggression today; I knew it then as purpose.” – Bette Davis, herself.