Meaning of “Bette Davis Eyes” by Kim Carnes

The song “Bette Davis Eyes” gives a shoutout to the iconic American actress Bette Davis, and she acknowledged the composers of this song for such. However, the woman being referenced in the song, who has this attribute to her appearance, is not someone to be appreciated. Rather, despite her alluring looks, the lyrics of track are basically warning the listener to be wary of such a female. 

She is very welcoming, seductive and will go out of her way to please the object of her affection. However, she is indeed “ferocious”. Yet despite having the reputation of being so, based on her outstanding looks, she seems to still be able to seduce men.

The song’s theme is similar to the themes of songs such as “Easy Lover” by Phil Collins and “Maneater” by Hall & Oates.

Bette Davis Eyes lyrics

Facts about “Bette Davis Eyes”

This classic was written by songwriters Donna Weiss and Jackie DeShannon.

The song has several different versions. The original of these versions was recorded in 1974.

Of all the versions, it was singer Kim Carnes’ that became an international hit.

Carnes’ version of “Bette Davis Eyes” was released in 1981. It came out as a single off of Kim Carnes’ 1981 album Mistaken Identity.

Kim Carnes’ rendition of “Bette Davis Eyes” spent nine weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1981. It was later dubbed the “biggest hit” of that year.

Outside America, the song charted at number one in many a country across the globe. In the United Kingdom, it reached number 10.

The track was produced by American record producer Val Garay.

The song was written after Donna Weiss watched a 1942 movie starring Bette Davis.

The record label this track was released on is EMI America.

This song went on to become the biggest hit of Carnes’ entire career. She had other successful songs, but none was as successful as this.

Owing to the raspy and throaty voice of Kim Carnes, many initially assumed it was singer Rod Stewart who sang “Bette Davis Eyes”.

Did “Bette Davis Eyes” win a Grammy Award?

Yes, it did. In 1982, the song won two Grammies in the following categories: Song of the Year and Record of the Year.

What did Bette Davis say about this song in honor of her?

Davis actually wrote thank-you letters to Carnes, Weiss and DeShannon once this song became famous. Davis was in her early 70s around that time. In addition to thanking the aforementioned trio, Davis also sent them flowers after the song won multiple Grammy Awards. Davis was reportedly glad that the song had made her part of the modern era. She said the success of the song also made her grandchild look up to her because she thought she was super cool.

Who first recorded “Bette Davis Eyes”?

It was first recorded and released by its co-writer Jackie DeShannon in 1975. This original version of the song appeared on DeShannon’s 1975 album titled New Arrangement.

The “Mistaken Identity” Album

Nominated for the “Album of the Year” of the Grammy Award, “Mistaken Identity” is the sixth studio album of Kim Carnes’s illustrious career. It was released in April 1981 under the label EMI America.

It is a forty minute, thirteen second album which features ten tracks. A remastered reissue containing 6 bonus tracks made the number of tracks total 16.

A number of prominent songwriters worked alongside Kim on this album. Some of these names include Donna Weiss and Jackie DeShannon.

American record producer and engineer Val Garay, handled the album’s production.

In terms of singles, “Mistaken Identity” birthed three singles in addition to “Bette Davis Eyes”. The other two are as follows:

  • “Draw of the cards”
  • “Mistaken Identity”

Who was Bette Davis?

She was a renowned American actress. Throughout her career that spanned about six decades, she starred in some of the Hollywood’s most memorable films. Some of her most notable films include 1935’s Dangerous, 1938’s Jezebel and 1952’s The Star. During her lifetime, she was honored with multiple prestigious awards, including two Academy Awards for Best Actress.

Bette Davis
This is a picture of a young Bette Davis taken in 1938. Bette is considered one of the most beautiful Hollywood actresses of all time.

Bette Davis, born Ruth Elizabeth Davis was esteemed as one of Hollywood’s most remarkable actresses with a career spanning over six decades. She achieved great success being a finalist for eight Best Actress Academy Awards and winning two of them.

Family Life

She was the first daughter born to lawyer Harlow Morrell Davis and Ruth Favor Davis, given the name Bette which she chose to use in her career. Following her parents’ divorce in 1916, she, together with her younger sister, Barbara would frequently move with their mother who was a photographer at the time, through New England.

Bette married four times, and had a daughter with her third husband, William Grant Sherry. She also adopted two children namely Margot and Michael, together with her fourth husband, Gary Merrill.

Education and Early Career

While attending high school, she began taking drama lessons and acting in plays, soon graduating from Cushing Academy with an aspiration to venture into acting. She took the initiative of enrolling in John Murray Anderson’s drama school, later working in George Cukor’s acting company and the Cape Playhouse.

In 1928, she landed her first major role in a stage production of The Earth Between. She made appearances in 1931 films, Seed and Bad Sister which went unnoticed by movie critics. It was after she landed a role in The Man Who Played God that critics started to notice her unique talent.

Film Career and Achievements

The Warner Brothers Studio signed a long-term contract with her which resulted in her being featured in most of their low-quality films. One of the few exceptions was Dangerous, in which Bette played the role of a failed actress who attempts to kill her husband. The other was The Petrified Forest, in which she featured alongside Leslie Howard and Humphrey Bogart. Dangerous (1935), earned her a Best Actress Academy Award.

As Davis grew disgusted at Warner’s studio offers, she refused to take on their roles. The studio in turn suspended her, and she retaliated with a lawsuit which rocked the movie industry. Her second Best Actress Academy Award was earned as a result of her performance in Jezebel (1938).

Bette had earned a name as the highest paid female in America by 1942. During World War II, she helped organize the Hollywood Canteen for soldiers who were passing through Los Angeles. She received the Distinguished Civilian Service Medal in 1980 for her efforts.

She garnered more attention with stunning performances in films such as the following:

  • All About Eve (1950), which won her the New York Film Critics Best Actress of the Year Award
  • Whatever happened to Baby Jane? (1904-1977)
  • Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1965)

She became the first female president of the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences. She was also the first woman to receive the American Film Institute’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

Bette Davis dies

Davis died on October 6, 1989. Her death came after years of battling with breast cancer and stroke.

Her son, Michael Merrill created The Bette Davis Foundation in honor of her. The foundation’s sole goal is to financially assist promising young actors and actresses.

29 Responses

  1. Jackie says:

    great article

  2. Roderick Pugh says:

    Betty Davis is arguably the greatest actress of all time. She went where no actresses dare to go

  3. Val says:

    Good Article, although there must be an error in the date under the last image.

    • SMF says:

      Thanks, Val, for bringing that to our attention. We have corrected the date. It was supposed to be 1938 instead of 1983. Highly appreciated.

  4. Honut Sinti says:

    Great article with depth.

  5. Candace Guthrie says:

    Very enjoyable read!! Thank you for an article as entertaining as it is enlightening!

  6. Jerry O. Harrington says:

    I could remember back when Kim Carnes sing the song, I went and bought an 8 track tape. I loved the whole tape it was interesting.

  7. Alfredo Mora says:

    Great article!

  8. J Greenburg says:

    Good article on a song that never gets old or dissipates in the feeling it gives me.
    I think I would love to hear Billie Eillish whisper her way through this song with a very eilish like track. THAT would be great.

  9. Helen says:

    The first thing everyone tells me when they meet me is that I have ” Bette Davis eyes ” .

  10. La Wanda says:

    My mom used to sing “Betty Davis Eyes” to e when I was little. I don’t have many fond memories of my mom unfortunately, but EVERY time I hear “Betty Davis Eyes” It feels as though she’s right there with me for being so shut off & I guess maybe even cold towards her because of the choices she made & things she subjected my baby brother & I to at VERY young ages. I have older sisters but they were not subjected to the same things we were, I guess maybe they were in school I don’t remember that part of things exactly. But MANY other things I remember perfectly….. unfortunately I suppose.
    Mom I wish I would have known you better & gave you more of a chance, I’m sorry for being so hard on you & expecting so much more from you as a mother. I should have just excepted you for who you were.
    Your youngest daughter ….the mother to your only son, my little brother. **Being put in a position to completely take care of a brand new baby when I was just 4 1/2yrs old is something that REALLY opened my eyes to the fact that you were not ok, as a mother, nor a person in general. I wish I would have been softer with you about it tho, maybe you would have pulled out of it & became an actual mother to me and my baby brother, you were one to our older sisters but I guess by the time we came along you were too into yourself to want us or to love us the way a mother SHOULD….idk

    • ALLEE says:

      sorry sweetie you will be all the stronger for what you have been through I promise

    • Valerie says:

      I can relate to your unfortunate childhood, as I was the first and oldest of 3 daughters of my mother. I was not only a slave, a nanny to my 2 sisters at the age of 5-6, but also neglected to the point, that I was molested by my drunken father for years and mother claimed, she never suspected anything. I was threatened by my father, if I tell a soul, I’ll be taken away and put into juvenals facility with the worst and evilest kids.
      I never forgive my mother’s neglect, the lack of love to a child, lack of affection, and the physical abuse I endured….. I remember I was about 7 yo. and before I fell asleep I prayed every night to God asked him to take me away, just end this nightmare forever.
      God had a purpose for me, cos I’m still alive.
      A mother of 2 beautiful kids I love and adore more than anything. The love I never received as a kid, I give as much as they can bare to my kids.
      Mother is 82 now, and I think her punishment is to live with her guilt for a long time.
      Everyone get what they deserve, that’s Karma.

  11. Matt K. says:

    Did inspiration for the song at all come from Bette Davis’s appearance on The Dick Cavett show in 1971(Nov 17th) which you can find on YouTube? At the beginning of the interview they discuss the word “precocious” referring to one of the characters she’s played and it hit me that it was in the song… ” She precocious and she knows just what it takes to make a pro blush”

  12. Scott Fenn says:

    Loved this article. Of course I also loved Bette Davis. I like how Bette wrote to Kim Carnes to express her approval and admiration for the popularity of the song. She knows just how to make a pro blush. Love the song too.

  13. thank goodness for TCM! says:

    great read. loved the song since the 80s when I didn’t know much about Bette Davis except that she was an actress. Now having seen over 50 of her films, Bette was fantastic, and the song remains as catchy and fun as always

  14. Anonymous says:

    Sanpanku Eyes

  15. Andy says:

    Very informative article. Thank you for all the information about her personal life and career.

  16. Alexis says:

    This song has evoked some very deep and interesting emotions from the reviews.
    Good job on a world class iconic song BETTE DAVIS EYES.

  17. Su says:

    Bette Davis’ dubious Best Actress Oscar for “Dangerous” (1935) is often considered consolation by The Academy for not nominating her the year before for her brilliant performance as the cockney waitress turned syphilis-infected prostitute, in “Of Human Bondage” (1934) co-starring Leslie Howard as the clubfoot doctor who just can’t quit her. Her performance proved exactly how far she’d go in an unglamorous role for the sake of authenticity! No other Actress would take such a risk at that time, but her dedication was the character, not to glamour, although she does flash those twinkling “Bette Davis eyes” in dinner scenes as she manipulates Leslie Howard’s character!

  18. dylan says:

    This song is right up there with the best songs ever to come out of a human’s mouth.
    Where are songs like this now?
    What lousy, vapid, shallow, auto-tuned drivel will come out next?
    “music” today and for years has been absolutely pathetic.
    That’s why Adele sells millions even when she doesnt do her best work all her last cd.
    Jesus no wonder the baddest streamed songs bow according to spotify are songs from the 80s. When music was great and worth listening to and obviously memorable.

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