On October 12, 1989, Bette Davis was laid to rest during a private ceremony at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Los Angeles. The two-time Oscar winner, whose career spanned 50 years, was buried beside her mother and sister beneath an epitaph Bette had chosen herself. “She did it the hard way,” it reads.

In her lifetime, Bette received fame, fortune and a record-setting 10 Academy Award nominations, but they came at a very high price. She endured three divorces, sudden widowhood, a shocking betrayal by her own daughter, and the loss of the only man she’d ever truly loved. “If I was a fool in my personal life, I can’t blame acting for that. I chose very foolishly,” Bette reasoned. “None of my husbands was ever man enough to become Mr. Bette Davis.”

Her Hollywood success may not have guaranteed relationship doom, but it presented a big obstacle in her marriages. Her first husband, musician Harmon Nelson, who had been Bette’s boarding school sweetheart, was laughed at in the press for making 10 times less a week than his famous bride. “She married him because he was a sweet guy, but he felt emasculated by her fame and success,” Julia A. Stern, author of Bette Davis Black and White, tells Closer. When they divorced in 1938 after six years of marriage, he complained in their legal papers that all Bette ever wanted to do in bed was read scripts. “That was his humorous way of expressing that she had sort of abandoned him to a non-marriage,” says Stern.

To be fair, Bette was not an easy personality. A perfectionist, she could not tolerate disorder. She was also very driven. “Her ambition made her a workaholic,” says Stern. “But she didn’t care about being a movie star. She was really interested in acting as an intellectual engagement. She was not good at playing with others.”

But Bette loved working with William Wyler, who directed three of her best films: 1938’s Jezebel, which won the actress her second Oscar, The Letter in 1940 and The Little Foxes in 1941. “When he would direct her, they would fight about what he wanted versus what she wanted,” says Stern, who adds that Bette found their spirited interaction exciting. “He was her intellectual match and creative interlocutor.” Naturally, they fell madly in love, even though Bette was already married. “The love of her life was Willie Wyler. She always stated that,” Kathryn Sermak, Bette’s longtime assistant and the author of Miss D & Me tells Closer.

The pair came close to marrying once, when Bette was between husbands. “They got into a fight, but he sent her a letter proposing marriage. He wrote, ‘You have a week to respond or I am out of your life,’” says Stern. “She was so p—ed off, she didn’t open the letter. Then she heard on the radio he had married someone else.”

Bette gave birth to daughter Barbara, known as B.D., during her marriage to painter William Grant Sherry. She adopted two more children, Margot, who was discovered to be mentally disabled, and Michael, during her final marriage to Gary Merrill, her costar in 1950’s All About Eve. “She told me she would have stayed married to Gary, but he had a drinking problem,” says Sermak, who adds that Bette feared he might harm the children. “It was affecting B.D., so that’s what broke them up.”

Motherhood became Bette’s highest calling, but she was too permissive — especially with B.D. “There were no limits or boundaries and she let her get married at 16,” says Stern. “She bought homes for her. B.D. was willful and conflicted about her mother.”

That turmoil led B.D. to publish My Mother’s Keeper in 1985, in which she portrayed Bette as a bullying, self-centered alcoholic. The timing could not have been worse. It appeared on bookshelves while Bette was recovering from a stroke and mastectomy. “She loved B.D. more than anyone else in the world,” says Sermak. “But they never reconciled.”

Bette lived long enough to fire back in her own 1987 memoir, This ’n That. “I hope someday I will understand the title My Mother’s Keeper,” Bette wrote. “If it refers to money, if my memory serves me right, I’ve been your keeper all these many years.” She left her fortune and legacy to her son, Michael. “He’s devoted to her memory and has created a foundation to give out acting scholarships to students,” says Stern.

When Bette passed on at age 81, she expressed few regrets about her eventful life. “I believe in one thing in this world,” she said. “Out of everything comes some good, even if you just learn something.”