Bette Davis was, without a doubt, a legend. And her dedication to her craft is especially evident in her commitment to roles.
“Because I was dissatisfied [with my appearance], I was ready to experiment as an actress. I was very ready to look awful. Or plain or older. I sometimes did my best to look my worst,” she said, reflecting on her career.
“My fans love me because of my personality, not my looks or clothes, for heaven’s sake! I always looked the way my character should look – ugly or pretty.”
Below are some of the times Davis took on appearance altering roles!
1. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
Talking about her changes in appearance, Bette said, “Sometimes I even outdid myself, and it hurt. Naturally, it was worse when I was older. When I first saw myself as Baby Jane, I cried.” Davis' appearance was dramatically changed for the role including a wig, shockingly white makeup, and frumpy clothing. Davis said, “I wanted to look outrageous, like Mary Pickford in decay.” The role earned Bette an Oscar nomination for Best Actress.
2. Now, Voyager
Bette Davis went from spinster to independent woman in Now, Voyager. Her body was padded to make her appear larger, and she wore bushy eyebrows. The stark contrast between the two versions of the character showed her transition and helped Davis portray her. Speaking about herself, Davis once said, “I was beautiful, but not a beauty. There’s a difference there.”
3. Mr. Skeffington
For Mr. Skeffington, Bette wanted a makeup masterpiece. Her character was supposed to go from a beautiful socialite to a woman scarred by diphtheria. Davis’ makeup became so heavy that the director, Vincent Sherman, feared she looked like a mummy. At times, the cosmetics were so heavy and itchy that Bette had to focus so she wouldn’t ruin a take.
4. A Stolen Life and Dead Ringer
Bette Davis took on dual roles in A Stolen Life and Dead Ringer, playing herself and her own twin. Her “change” in appearance was internal this time and required expertise to distinguish the characters. Speaking about playing twins, she said, “It is balm for your ego! No need to battle your co-star, that’s true. But my, it is hard work, it really is!”
5. The Corn Is Green
While Davis didn’t do anything too drastic for The Corn Is Green, she did insist on wearing a wig, since she felt her own hair didn’t fit the part. The original wig was round with gray highlights through red hair. Davis was unhappy with the option, and after doing wig tests, settled on the one she wore in the film, which she thought best captured the teacher’s character.
6. Of Human Bondage
Of Human Bondage was a breakout role for Davis. She played a manipulative, hard-edged waitress who meets an unfortunate end. Knowing that the part called for realism, Bette decided to do her own makeup. “My Mildred wasn’t going to die of a dreaded disease looking like a debutante who’d missed her afternoon nap. I’ve simply never understood why Hollywood actresses allow themselves to be made up to look like Hollywood actrsses no matter what the part calls for.”