On her 104th birthday, Life.com offers never-before-published photos of the tough-as-nails star

By Stephen M. Silverman
April 05, 2012 07:45 AM
Alfred Eisenstaedt/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

John Wayne may have carried a rifle, but Bette Davis was tougher – her very look could kill.

April 5 marks what would have been the 104th birthday of the screen icon, and to mark the occasion, Life.com has published never-before-seen photos of Davis in 1939, after her shattering Mildred in Of Human Bondage and Oscar role in Jezebel, and on the eve of the movie that would solidify her reputation as queen of Warner Bros. lot, Dark Victory.

Still to come would be indelible performances in The Letter, The Little Foxes, Now, Voyager, Mr. Skeffington, All About Eve, The Star and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? – each and every one earning her an Oscar nomination.

All the photos by Life‘s magazine’s own legendary Alfred Eisenstaedt were taken in Davis’s Beverly Hills home, many showing her with her trademark cigarette – nobody smoked like Bette Davis – polishing her nails and walking her pet Pekinese.

For someone who stood only 5’3″, Davis loomed large until her death in 1989, but as shown in the pictures she was also a very private person. She did, after all, title her 1962 autobiography The Lonely Life.

• To see all 14 never-before-pubished Life.com photos of Bette Davis, click here.