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Bette Davis on TV: How Her Star Power Went Beyond the Big Screen

By    |   Friday, 08 May 2015 10:54 AM

Bette Davis, considered one of America's all-time greatest actresses even while she was still active, was initially hesitant to turn to the small screen for work as movie roles began to dry up when she reached her 40s. In his book, "Same Time, Same Station: Creating American Television, 1948–1961," author James L. Baughman writes that Davis believed TV lighting and home screens didn't allow women older than 25 to look the same as they did on the big screen.

Despite her reservations (and needing the money in her later years), Davis eventually jumped into TV with both feet, and for more than half a century took large and small roles, leading and supporting other actors, being serious and cutting up, and tackling dozens of broadcast genres. Here are five examples of how one of America's grand dames of Hollywood showed there are no small parts, only small actors.

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1. Daytime and Prime-time Series

Davis took roles on many network staples, including games shows such as "I've Got a Secret," "What's My Line?," westerns such as "Gunsmoke," "Wagon Train," and "The Virginian," and dramas, such as "Perry Mason," "Alfred Hitchcock Presents," and "It Takes a Thief." In 1979, Davis had a recurring role in the then-new television format, the mini-series, appearing in "The Dark Secret of Harvest Home." To add star power to one its new series, ABC cast Davis as a regular in 1983's "Hotel." While her Internet Movie Database biography states that Davis didn't like the series and refused to do more than the pilot, other sources suggest Davis left because of failing health.

2. Comedy and Variety Shows

Despite her status as one of America's most eminent dramatic actresses, Davis had fun sharing the stage with comedians, such as Bob Hope, the Smothers Brothers, and Carol Burnett. She even appeared in feel-good variety shows, making appearances on "The Hollywood Palace," "Dinah Shore Chevy Show," and "The Andy Williams Show."

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3. Award Galas and Salutes

Davis regularly appeared on award shows, salutes, and roasts. These included the Academy Awards, Golden Globe Awards, Tony Awards, Kennedy Center Honors, Dean Martin celebrity roasts, and Johnny Carson's "Sun City Scandals '72" salute to American entertainers. She hosted, "Warner Bros. Movies: A 50 Year Salute," and participated in tributes to Henry Fonda, Carol Burnett and Frank Capra, as well as President Jimmy Carter's inauguration.

4. TV Dramas

During the 1950s, Davis appeared on a number of commercially sponsored drama shows, making appearances on "General Electric Theater," "Ford Television Theater" the "Schlitz Playhouse of Stars," "Heinz Studio 57," and "The DuPont Show with June Allyson." After making mostly breezier television appearances during the 1960s, Davis appeared in more than a dozen made-for-TV movies during the 1970s and 1980s.

5. Talk Shows

Davis wasn't afraid to get personal on television. She made the rounds of the top talk shows, opening up to Jack Paar, Johnny Carson, Edward R. Murrow, Dick Cavett, Larry King, Mike Douglas, Dinah Shore, and England's Michael Parkinson.

Vote Now: Which of These Actresses Stands the Test of Time?

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Bette Davis, considered one of America's all-time greatest actresses, was initially hesitant to turn to the small screen for work as movie roles began to dry up when she reached her 40s. Despite her reservations she eventually jumped into TV with both feet.
bette davis, tv, actress, movies, films
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2015-54-08
Friday, 08 May 2015 10:54 AM
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