Bette Davis sizes up today's TV, films
Bette Davis is doing an imitation of Bette Davis.Skip to next paragraph
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She swings her elbows back and forth agitatedly and says, 'Petah, Petah . . . .'' Then she throws back her head and roars the great Bette Davis laugh which film and TV audiences have come to know so well. It is the Bette Davis of ''Jezebel,'' a few decades later.
This petite, mature beauty with ash blond hair streaked with gray is impeccably dressed in a trim classic navy-blue suit with blue pumps to match. She is a gentle lionness who sometimes roars like a lion. Miss Davis doesn't give interviews - rather she holds court.
''I think imitations are the greatest compliment in the world,'' she says. ''You're in the soup if nobody imitates you . . . because that means there's nothing very definite about your personality.
''But now the imitations of me are imitations of imitations. As a matter of fact I imitate myself in the one-woman show I have toured in across the country. One hour of film clips and one hour of me, answering questions.''
She is in New York City to talk about a new television drama she stars in - ''A Piano for Mrs. Cimino'' (CBS, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 9-11 p.m.). When the arriving interviewer starts to remove his slushy boots on entering her favorite suite at the stylish Lombardy Hotel, she says: ''No, don't bother. The rugs in this place have loads of spots already. A few more won't do them any harm.''
''Mrs. Cimino'' is what Miss Davis calls ''a worthwhile project.'' It is a study in how a loving family deals with what is mistakenly diagnosed as senility in their mother. Her home and music shop are taken from her and her financial future put in the hands of a bank. When, entirely through love and affection, she recovers completely, she goes to court to regain control over her own life.
It is a latter-day Miss Davis part she can sink her teeth in - and she does so admirably, making Mrs. Cimino a universally identifiable character. The film is a Roger Gimbel production, directed and produced by George Schaefer. Chances are this touchingly straightforward production will bring awards to everybody involved - especially Miss Davis.
''I've been fortunate,'' she says. ''I've had four fine films in the last few years - all on TV. I'm so tired of the professional snobbery toward TV films. I guarantee that you will find more great film specials on TV in the past eight years than those made for theatrical release. The only difference is that sadly the TV films have those commercials which interrupt.
''Exactly the same kind of thing is going on between movies for theaters and movies for television that used to go on between theater and movies. Pure snobbery. Half the Hollywood actors came back and saved Broadway - that's when they changed their tune. Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda, me - we all came back and did theater. Then there was no more sneering at Hollywood.''
She likens most current made-for-TV films to the ''B'' pictures of her day - the second part of the double-feature billing.
''But so what if the TV films must be made fast? We never had more than four or five weeks to work on a film in the '30s and '40s. 'Jezebel' was made in six weeks, 'Dark Victory' in four. We were trained that way.