Bette Davis – American Film Institute

Bette Davis

5th AFI Life Achievement Award Honoree

Bette Davis

It wasn’t much of a trick for the Trustees to select Bette Davis as the recipient of the 1977 Life Achievement Award. Go out on the street and ask any passerby to give you the name of a great movie actress, and Bette Davis will rank high on that list. Ask anyone to name an enduring superstar, and you will find Bette Davis among that illustrious few. She is a life achievement — a woman whose drive, guts, energy, and talent have molded her life and her career.

Much of this evening will be devoted to celebrating that career — its brilliance, its range, its power. But a career is only a reflection of the person. And at this moment, when there is a healthy resurgence of women into pride and confidence in themselves and their talents, Bette Davis stands as a beacon for all.

She is a woman who has always spoken her mind, fought her own battles, giving no quarter and accepting none. She has never courted favor, or traded on her sex. She has lived her life with style and without fear, taking the risks, accepting the costs, daring to be lonely. And, even more difficult, she has managed to survive fame with grace and humor.

In a demanding profession, she has made her own demands — fighting a historic battle with the studio for the right to have roles of substance and challenge, and, by her stand, making the battle easier for those who came after her. Both in life and in her art, she has always “known her lines.” And, somehow, you are sure that she always will. She is that rarest of creatures — the consummate professional. For what she has given us, for what she is — we salute her.




The AFI Life Achievement Award — the highest honor for a career in film — was established by the AFI Board of Trustees on February 23, 1973 to celebrate an individual whose career in motion pictures or television has greatly contributed to the enrichment of American culture.

The award is given to a “recipient whose talent has in a fundamental way advanced the film art; whose accomplishment has been acknowledged by scholars, critics, professional peers and the general public; and whose work has stood the test of time.”

In 1993, the AFI Board of Trustees extended the criteria to encompass individuals with active careers and work of significance yet to be accomplished.