Happy Birthday, Bette Davis!

Unlike many of her contemporaries—Joan Crawford, Jean Harlow, and Greta Garbo—Bette Davis did not adhere to the mold of the Hollywood starlet. She was not a natural beauty; her personality was unconventional; and she did not have that affinity for glitz and glamour as others did. But these sentiments were exactly what Davis preferred. She was an actress in the truest sense of the word, and therefore did not feel the need to indulge in the excesses and frivolity of the movie business.

Films like Of Human BondageDangerous and Now, Voyager are testaments to how seriously Davis took her craft. Every wrinkle, every imperfection was highlighted to demonstrate the realness of the characters. Even before the Lee Strasberg’s Method Acting existed, Davis fully immersed herself in every script, showing the grotesque side, the flaws of human nature and disregarding her image as a leading lady. As Meryl Streep has said: “She tried to have an interesting career around a system that made people be one thing.”

Her legacy as one of the greatest thespians of the silver screen has been recognized and celebrated. But many aren’t aware of her devotion to her family. As a fervent New England patriot, she relished raising her children in the great outdoors, away from the glare of the Hollywood spotlight. She took pleasure in the simple things: making breakfast in the morning, gardening and being there for her children when they needed her. This is why she was crushed when her eldest child wrote a scathing tell-all book about her mom—an account that was panned by other family members and close friends. But Davis said, “If you’ve never been hated by your child, you’ve never been a parent”–facing this devastating event with the trademark stocism and aplomb that made her an actress and icon whose strength continues to inspire.