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The Religious Affiliation of Actress
Bette Davis


From: Randall Riese, All About Bette: Her Life from A to Z, Contemporary Books: Chicago (1993), pages 370-371:
RELIGION:
Bette's family religious background was Baptist. Her grandfather (on her father's side) was the deacon of the Baptist Church in Augusta, Maine. Still, Bette's father, Harlow Davis, was an atheist. Bette's maternal grandmother was deeply religious, involved in the First Baptist Church in Lowell, Massachusetts. Her uncle, Paul Favor, was an Episcopalian minister. To appease the mother of one of her would-be husbands, Bette decided to become a Catholic. She went so far as to meet with a priest to discuss the specifics of the conversion. However, when the relationship ended, so did Bette's plans to become a Catholic. During another period, she also dabbled in the teachings of Christian Science, introduced to her by her mother, Ruthie.

In 1985, following her stroke, a reporter asked Bette if she was religious. She acknowledged that she was, but not in the traditional sense. She wasn't much of a churchgoer, and she did not believe in life after death or in heaven and hell. "All my life," she said, "morality has been more important to me than religion; honesty, integrity, character--old-fashioned virtues preached by people like Emerson, Thoreau, and my New England grandmother."

When asked, months before her death, if she believed in God, Bette replied, "Oh, of course! Of course! My religious beliefs can be capsulized in two ways. One is 'To thine own self be true' and 'God helps those who help themselves.' Another is 'You get back what you give'--not always true."

Source: Lawrence J. Quick, Fasten Your Seat Belts: The Passionate Life of Bette Davis, William Morrow and Company, Inc.: New York (1990), pages 15-16:
Bette Davis was born... in the mill city of Lowell, Massachusetts, on April 5, 1908... Her father, Harlow Morrell Davis, was... descended from the Welch James Davis, who had come to New England in 1634 and had helped found the community of Haverhill. Her mother, the former Ruth Favor, was a descendant of seventeenth-century English and Huguenot pioneers. [Huguenots were French Calvinist Protestants who left predominantly France to escape religious persecution.] The Huguenot Favors had blended their blood so thoroughly with the old Brahmins as to qualify as bluebloods through and through. There was even a Salem witch in the ancestry.

Her [agnostic] father was a cold, unemotional, detached man; her mother... a woman who lived in her emotions... They separated when "Betty" [Bette]... was seven and her younger sister... was six. Three years afterward... came a full-fledged divorce... in an era when divorce was almost a synonym for depravity... Later she... said, 'I was fed on impermanence and insecurity. Men made vows they did not keep. The left women in the lurch, as my father left my mother. Nothing lasted--not love, not even life itself...'

At the beginning--the very beginning--she got off to a bad start with her father. He had married her mother on July 1, 1907, and she arrived nine months later, almost to the day. Her father had not planned to have a child so soon... He tried to force the idea of an abortion on her mother, which horrified Ruth's brother, an Episcopal clergyman. Harlow Morrell Davis [Bette's father] was an agnostic, a pragmatist. He dealt with facts. The rest was romantic fluff. Dissuaded from his intention to terminate Betty's life before it had ever begun, he punished her for it later with unloving coldness and indifference. This was an attitude that Davis was to maintain toward both his daughters all his life.

Quick, page 19:
...Bette attracted a number of beaux, most of whom she kept at a friendly distance. Ruthie [her mother], who harbored firm puritanical attitudes toward the opposite sex, drummed into the girls [Bette and her sister] that the loss of virginity before marriage was the worst thing that could happen to a woman. Boys and men, she declared, were passionate, driven creatures, slaves of their genital urges; they sought only to pleasure themselves, leaving the consequences--venereal disease, pregnancy, the loss of reputation and self-respect--to their hapless female encounters of the moment. Ruthie told the girls that a woman's virginity was her integrity, her suit of armor, her defense against the rampaging, predatory male. Retain it and men would accord respect from a dutiful distance; surrender it and they would treat her as a plaything to be discarded. Total love, total surrender were only to be found in marriage... The girls reacted to this advice according to their differing natures... to self-confident, strong Bette it spelled aggression, challenge, and role-playing. The first man to get through Bette Davis's defenses emotionally, but certainly not sexually (she remained a virgin until she finally married him at twenty-four), was the shy, gangling Harmon Oscar "Ham" Nelson...
Quick, page 65:
Ruthie [Bette's mother], as usual, suggested the time and place and terms of the wedding, which took place on August 18, 1932... [Bette] set out with Ham, her mother, and [her sister] Bobby for Yuma, Arizona. They had decided on Arizona because California insisted on a six-week waiting period... an Indian mission minister married them... Right after the uninspiring, perfunctory ceremony, they headed straight back to California and Zuma Beach, where Davis was living.
Although while young she clearly subscribed to her mother's "puritanical" sexual ethics, it does not appear that Bette Davis was actively religious while growing up or as an adult. Davis intentionally became pregnant with her husband Ham twice, but both times went along with his insistence that she abort the baby, even though in "1933 there was a stigma on abortion even for married people" (Quick, page 75). After her first marriage Davis led a frequently promiscuous lifestyle.

Bette Davis's second marriage, to Arthur Farnsworth (Quick, page 225):

On hand for the living-room ceremony, conducted by a Methodist minister at Farney's suggestion (and his stern Methodist mother's insistence), were...
Quick, page 446:
...October 6, 1989, in Paris... Bette Davis, feisty and realistic to the end [died]... Harold Schiff and Michael Merrill made arrangements to ship her body back to Hollywood, where her funeral was held on October 12 at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, with the Reverend Robert M. Bock of the First Christian Church in North Hollywood officiating.
The following article is about Narrow is the Way, a book written by Bette Davis Hyman, the daughter of film legend Bette Davis. When this daughter wrote this book, she was an adult who had embraced Evangelical Protestantism. The daughter and this article express a view of what it means to "be a Christian" or "become a Christian" which is not necessarily biblical or historical, but it is a view shared widely by Evangelicals, particularly since the 1920s. Bette Davis the film actress clearly did not embrace her daughter's Evangelical Christianity (her daughter joined the Pentecostal denomination the Assemblies of God). The degree to which Bette Davis's daughter was agnostic prior to her conversion supports the notion that Bette Davis was largely a non-churchgoer and inattentive to organized religious worship during most of her adult life. It appears that Bette Davis raised her daughter with little religious experience or training. From: "Bette Davis Hyman story" on Media House International website (a Evangelical Protestant Christian website), article dated June 1989 (http://www.forerunner.com/forerunner/X0038_Bette_Davis.html; viewed 29 July 2005):
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA (FR) - Some Hollywood columnists have called her a profit-hungry writer cruelly capitalizing on the mistakes of her movie star mother. But Bette "B.D." Hyman says she hopes that her mother will be able to experience the saving power of Jesus Christ, and she continually prays for her.

After publishing her first book, My Mother's Keeper, which chronicled her life with film legend Bette Davis, Hyman wrote a sequel, Narrow is the Way, which is the story of her faith in Jesus Christ. The first book was written "as a plea for her to hear me before it was too late," Hyman said. "I also believe that it gives an insight into aspects of her struggles that are of interest." Her faith in Jesus Christ, she said, helped her cope with the subsequent publicity surrounding the controversial book.

Although to date Bette Davis has not become a Christian, and rarely communicates with her daughter, Narrow is the Way echoes B.D.'s hope for salvation and reconciliation with her mother.

Five turbulent yet peaceful years have passed since B.D. and her husband, Jeremy, became Christians. Both of their sons, Justin and Ashley, are also Christians. Their conversion from agnosticism began when a Christian businessman unexpectedly visited them during the winter on their farm in Pennsylvania. "A man came to the door to deliver books for the Chamber of Commerce, and I agreed to buy one. It was the middle of winter, so we invited him in." Mr. Serafino Fazio, a West Virginia businessman and outspoken Christian, was "half frozen," and starved for outside company when they invited him into their home.

"We were bored and decided to bait the holy roller," said B.D. "If there was one thing Jeremy liked more than prying into other people's business, it was cornering holy rollers and arguing with them." Educated in England, Jeremy Hyman went to church six times a week and twice on Sunday when he was a child. "He liked to say that he had not graduated from school but had escaped from church. But he and I were devout agnostics and considered religion to be for people who needed something to lean on. We only went to church for weddings, funerals and the odd christenings and were happy to keep it that way."

B.D. related that they tried to trick the Christian gentleman with loaded questions. "We asked Serafino three questions: 'Who do I have to give money to?,' 'Who's church do I have to join?,' and 'What kind of religion is this?' He didn't quote any scripture, but said that Christianity wasn't a religion because religion is man-made. We didn't have anything in common, but invited him over for dinner a few times until he had to return to his office in West Virginia."

The businessman sparked Mrs. Hyman's curiosity about Christianity and she began watching "The 700 Club" and reading the Bible. "I was interested, but I wasn't doing anything about it until a few weeks later," she said. "It was 7:20 a.m., and I had just put my son on the bus. Suddenly, I was surrounded by the presence of Jesus and felt urged to make a solid commitment to Jesus Christ. I made a commitment, but didn't tell Jeremy about it."

She told her husband two nights later about her decision, but he viewed it as a temporary, emotional experience. "It was strange because we had been married for 20 years and this was the first time I stepped out and did something before my husband. We discussed Jesus a lot, and I asked him what it would take for him to believe. He said if I got healed of my back condition then he could believe."

B.D. lived on pain pills and had a rare disease which rotted the ligaments in her back and caused them to literally wither away. "I was watching Pat Robertson on 'The 700 Club' when he began to pray for someone with my condition," she explained. "He described my age, location, and back problem. The show had a one week tape delay, but I knew it was me he was talking about. I claimed it and was instantly healed!"

That same day she did some heavy lifting in her barn, and realized that she was healed. "I didn't take any pills, and by the end of the day I did calisthenics. I was exhausted. But at home, when my husband Jeremy looked at me, he got teary-eyed and said, 'The Lord is real.' " He soon became a Christian as a result of the miracle.

B.D. said her mother responded to her newly found faith by asking questions about Christianity. She even watched a few segments of "The 700 Club" because of her daughter's testimony. However, the rift in their relationship continued to grow as B.D. grew in her faith. Eventually her mother stopped writing or calling her. In the meantime, the Hyman family moved to the Bahamas and joined an Assembly of God Church.

After a whirlwind three-week book tour for Mother's Keeper, in which she was interviewed by U.S.A. Today, People, television talk show hosts, newscasters, and radio reporters, she returned to the Bahamas and began writing the sequel. "I wanted everyone, particularly Mother, to know that joy, to know that oneness with the universe and its Creator. It suddenly became important that I write to my mother. My book was in stores everywhere but it wasn't enough. I had to let her know where I was and what I was doing. I had to remind her that nothing was over unless she wanted it to be over. I had to write to her and keep on writing.

"She wouldn't answer my letters - I couldn't even be certain that she would read them - but it was important to tell her that I loved her. Perhaps she would save the letters and take them out in moments of loneliness. She would know that I was still thinking of her. I wondered whether she would be angry that my life was better than ever and so full of joy. Would she try to figure out why? Was there really a chance that something, sometime, would awaken in her the knowledge that there was a gaping lack in her life?

"... What can convince her that we have to measure up now in order to inherit the future? What can convince her that fame cannot work a ticket to heaven, that Oscars will not fit the keyhole? What can possibly convince her that the only way is to say, 'I accept you, Jesus, as my personal Lord and Savior?"

"I don't know what will convince her, and it doesn't matter that I don't know. God knows ... I won't preach - I won't even try to witness - I'll just let her know what's going on in my life and that I love her. Publishing my book has solved my problem but not hers. Praying for her isn't enough. The least I can do is give the Holy Spirit the opportunity to work in her through the expression of my love."

Today, B.D. and her family reside in Charlottesville, Virginia and her husband, Jeremy, is an illustrator of children's books.

Bette Davis's father urged his wife to have an abortion when she was pregnant with Bette. Obviously she did not go ahead and kill the unborn Bette Davis, hence Bette was born. Ironically, Bette herself seems to have been unmoved by her own brush with getting aborted, and she had abortions herself and was apparently a supporter of abortions, at least in part. In the quote below, note that Bette Davis specifically states that she believes abortion is not murder when a mother is one month pregnant. Certainly this not an unequivocal expression of limitless abortion rights, but nor does Bette in any way reflect the beliefs that would likely have been held by her Baptist forebearers. From: Riese, page 1:
Abortions
Bette had at least two, and perhaps more, abortions while married to Ham Nelson in the 1930s. They were performed, reportedly, at the urging of her mother and husband, when her career was burgeoning. Bette had another abortion after her divorce from Nelson, during the 1940 shooting of The Letter. As for her political and religious views on abortion rights, Bette told Playboy in 1982, "I believe abortion is better than having 10,000,000 children you can't support. . . . the Catholic church's big argument being that you're killing a human being. Perfect nonsense! Ridiculous, this murder thing. There is no child involved if you get an abortion at one month. . . . There are many great women who were just never meant to be mothers, that's all."
From: Riese, page 328:
In 1983, then in her 70s, Bette was asked if she would have done a nude scene when she was younger: "Me? Never. Not for a million dollars! I did a lot of things in my time--privately. I was naughty, but I never did it before a camera."

Actually, Bette did once pose nude. It was for a statue, and she was a Boston teenager at the time.

From: Riese, page 81:
[In 1965 Bette Davis said:] "We're not in business for children. Let their parents censor for them. As for [female] nudity, there's nothing wrong with it, if it suits the part and she's a beautiful dame. But being naked isn't really very sexy."
From: Riese, page 387:
One of Bette's favorite expressions was "Sex is God's joke on human beings." Late in life she believed it. She wasn't, of course, always so cynical. Nor was she, despite the good upstanding Yankee image she liked to project, prudish.

In her younger years Bette's sexual fantasy had been to make love on a bed of gardenias. Bette, married at the time, had an affair with orchestra leader Johnny Mercer, who was also married. One day Bette walked into her suite at the Waldforf-Astoria Hotel in New York to find the bed covered in sheet of gardenias, and she and her orchestra leader proceeded to [commit adultery].

From: Riese, pages 92-93:
Bette Davis was not a Communist, but her liberal leanings made her suspect to many in Washington. The January 15, 1945 edition of The Daily Worker heralded, "Bette Davis Joins Sponsors of New Political Action Committee." The accompanying article stated that Bette had joined the recently organized Hollywood Independent Citizens Committee of the Arts, Sciences, and Professions (HICCASP). Later, in July 1946, when the group was being perceived as Communist-dominated, Bette, like other Hollywood notables, resigned. Shortly thereafter, she joined another liberal group, Americans for Democratic Action (ADA), which sought to distance itself from communism...

In later years Bette would acknowledge (though she would not provide a name) that she had had a romance with a man, a member of the Communist party, who unsuccessfully tried to recruit her into the party.

From: Riese, page 154:
During her heyday at Warner Brothers in the forties, Bette pushed to play the part of evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson [founder of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel], but the proposed project was reportedly nixed by the studio censor. Some 30 years later Bette was given the opportunity to play not Sister Aimee but the secondary role of the evangelist's mother. Initially Ann-Margret was going to play Sister Aimee. Bette, who had played Ann-Margret's mother years before in Pocketful of Miracles and was fond of her, signed for the part. However, shortly before production was to start, Ann-Margret backed out of the project, and Faye Dunaway was signed to replace her.

[More about this film, not excerpted here.]

"The Disappearance of Aimee" was directed by Anthony Harvey... It was produced by Tomorrow Entertainment, and aired on NBC in 1976.

From: Riese, pages 135-136:
In early 1947 Ruthie [i.e., Ruth Davis, the mother of actress Bette Davis] separated from, and later divorced, Robert Palmer. By the spring of 1949 Bette was consumed with her own failing marriage... a declining career, and the raising of her two-year-old daughter, Barbara. After years of activity and purpose [including lending strong support to Bette Davis's career], Ruthie finally found herself with time on her hands and no one to console and control but herself. Thus, at the age of 64, she announced her plans to embark on an acting career.

It was a short-lived proposition. Ruthie was to make her professional debut in a summer stock play in Laguna Beach. Instead she met a retired army officer named Captain Otho Budd. The two eloped to Nevada in April 1950. Bette, on the set of All About Eve, received a telegram from her mother that read: "Married Captain O. W. Budd in Immanuel Community Church, Las Vegas..." Like her proposed new career, however, Ruthie's marriage was not to last. After months of separation she was granted a divorce on December 11, 1951...

Ruth Davis died at the age of 76. On her tombstone Bette had engraved the following tribute:

Ruthie, you will always be in the front row.
Bette Davis's funeral was held at the First Christian Church of North Hollywood, located at 4390 Colfax Avenue, North Hollywood. This church is affiliated with the Stone-Campbell denomination known as the "Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)." This church is widely available for use by non-members and advertises that most people married (and presumably memorialized) there are not members of the congregation or the denomination. Bette Davis was probably not connected to the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). From: Riese, page 188:
On Thursday morning, October 12, 1989, Bette Davis was laid to rest at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Burbank, California. The private ceremony and graveside service were restricted to 25 relatives and close friends. The services were conducted by Reverend Robert Bock of the First Christian Church in North Hollywood.
From: Riese, page 226:
Rumors aside, Bette was anything but homosexual or bisexual. In fact she harbored ambivalent feelings about the subject of homosexuality itself and sometimes professed that she didn't understand how anyone could want to be intimate with a person of the same sex. It baffled her. She refused to publicly endorse or support gay causes, and in private life she would sometimes make flippant antigay remarks.

On the other hand, Bette certainly believed in equal rights for all people, regardless of their age, religion, or sexual orientation. She was also well aware that a good deal of her enduring popularity came from the gay community. "A more appreciative, artistic group of people for the arts does not exist," Bette was once quoted as saying. "Conceited as it may sound, a great deal of it has to do with their approval of my work. They are knowledgeable and loving of the arts. They make the average male look stupid."

From: Riese, page 374:
Casey Robinson
Considered Warner Brother's preeminent screenwriter of the period, Robinson scripted the [Bette Davis] pictures It's Love I'm After (1937),Dark Victory (1939), The Old Maid (1939), All this, And Heaven Too (1940), Now, Voyager (1942), and The Corn is Green (shared credit, 1945).

Casey Robinson (1903-1979) wrote screenplays for other pictures, including Captain Blood (1935), Kings Row (1942), and The Macomber Affair (1947).

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