Here's Who Inherited Bette Davis' Fortune After Her Death

Born Ruth Elizabeth Davis in 1908, Bette Davis was a theater actress before she moved on to Hollywood. After a few small movie parts, she was noticed by Warner Brothers producers in 1932 and ended up starring in 14 movies over the following three years (per Biography). By 1934, she had already been nominated for an Oscar, the first of 11 over almost two decades (per IMDb). Davis only won twice, though: in 1935 for her role in "Dangerous" and in 1938 for "Jezebel" (via Retrogazing). 

Despite her professional success, Davis wasn't as "lucky" in her personal life. She ended up marrying four times and divorcing three times, had complicated relationships with her children, and was involved in an ongoing, bitter feud with actress Joan Crawford for decades, as reported by Vanity Fair. She also had problems on and off with Warner Brothers Studio head Jack Warner, which impacted her career and work. At one point, Warner Brothers even suspended her contract, and the two got entangled in legal battles. She lost in court, but it was a win anyway — by the time she returned to work, the studio was ready to offer her more money and better roles (via Britannica).

Davis was a hard-working actress

Although she was not earning as much as other major stars of the time, Bette Davis was still very much a financial success from early on in her career. When she was acting on Broadway in 1929, her $300-a-week salary was already quite impressive (via The New Yorker). According to the article (published in 1943), Davis' contract with Warner Brothers at the time paid her $5,500 per week for 40 working weeks a year. This was at a time when actors had salaries rather than being paid by the movie or receiving royalties. She was also earning an additional $50,000 for radio work.

Over the span of her career, Davis acted in over 100 films (per IMDb). She continued to work till later in life, acting in film and TV movies. In 1987, just two years before she died, she appeared in the film "The Whales of August" despite her ongoing health issues. All this work contributed to her net worth, but it was also a question of personal pride. According to The New York Times, she worked "because the money came in handy" but also because it provided a feeling of satisfaction. 

Who didn't get the money

Bette Davis had three children. This included one biological daughter, Barbara (B.D.), born during her marriage to artist William Sherry. The couple was only married for five years before they split in 1950. Less than a month later, she married actor Gary Merrill, who eventually adopted B.D. The couple also adopted two other children during their marriage: daughter Margot in 1951 and son Michael in 1952 (via The Sun).  

Davis' relationship with her daughters was nothing but estranged and difficult for most of her life. Margot was diagnosed as having brain damage when she was 3 years old and soon went to live at a special care facility. She never returned home and barely had a relationship with Davis, but Gary Merrill paid for her care until his death (and a trust he had set up continued to cover the costs after), as reported via Romper. In 1985, B.D. published "My Mother's Keeper," a memoir that portrays Davis as a "salty-tongued, egomaniacal, heavy-drinking performer" and bully (per The Washington Post). Davis — who at the time of the publication was in poor health and dealing with a stroke, a mastectomy, and a broken hip — never recovered from the betrayal. She spent time going on TV shows denying her daughter's accusations, but never spoke to B.D. again, Vanity Fair reports. When she died in 1989, Davis' will declared (via the Los Angeles Times), "I have intentionally and with full knowledge omitted to provide herein for my daughter, Margo, and my daughter, Barbara, and-or my grandsons, Ashley Hyman and Justin Hyman." 

And here's who did

While Bette Davis' daughters didn't get any money, her son did. Michael Merrill has always denied his sister's claims of abuse and remained close to his mother until her death, as reported via Romper. In her will, Davis left Michael half of her estate, which, after taxes and other payments, was valued close to $1 million (via AP News). She also left her daughter-in-law, Michael's wife, some of her personal clothing, and while there are no details on what that includes, it could potentially have included accessories and other personal items. 

The other half of Davis' estate went to Kathryn Sermack, her friend and personal secretary, who spent many years at her side. Sermack started working with Davis in 1979 when she was only 22 (per Closer Weekly). Over the next decade, she would become not only Davis' business ally and helper but also a close friend. For the last few years before Davis' death, Sermack lived with her in her Los Angeles apartment, becoming the closest person to her. 

In addition to half her estate, Davis also left Sermack a number of personal items, including jewelry, some furniture, books, and silverware marked with the letters "BD" engraved on them (her estranged daughter's initials). Davis also left a few small items to other people, including a painting and a pearl and sapphire watch to an old friend, and some silver containers to her niece, AP News reports.