In 1944, the California Court of Appeals handed down its landmark decision in De Haviland v. Warner Bros ending the practice of studios extending personal service contracts beyond the statutory limit of seven years by adding suspension periods incurred during the contract term. “Suspension/extension” could double the term of an actor’s contract. The De Haviland case has justly received much attention, but an earlier case, Warner Bros. v. Nelson, in which Bette Davis also challenged the practice of suspension/extension, merits more attention than it has received.

In Warner Bros. Nelson, Davis argued that her studio contract should not be enforced on several grounds including that the suspension/extension clauses were inequitable. During the trial, the studio waived its powerful rights to suspension/extension for reasons previously unknown. Not until now has that waiver been properly contextualized with the help of archival research of studio records. Furthermore, archival research has uncovered that the studio explored revising and limiting its power of suspension/extension as a result of Davis’s arguments.

This Article reveals that Davis achieved much more than was previously understood. It discusses how these cases, in particular De Haviland, still resonate today in the sports and entertainment industries. It also suggests that the recent dispute between the Writers Guild of America and the Association of Talent Agents can be viewed as a consequence of these cases.