In 1973, movie icons Bette Davis and Mae West met for the first time at a private party in West Hollywood. Wes Wheadon, a bartender at the event, made the good instinct to tape record the conversation between the film legends – albeit on a cheap cassette recorder. The recording was later restored to an acceptable (if not pristine) audio quality, and Wheadon directed this fun film in which look-alike actors playing Davis, West and their respective escorts mime to the old tape.
Most of the focus in this film is on Davis, who was a house guest of designer Charles Pollack – his residence was the location of the party – and Wheadon recalls her as being somewhat jittery over the prospect of meeting West. Indeed, Davis burned a blouse that she was ironing for the party – her liberal alcohol consumption failed to calm her nerves.
As for the party itself, Davis – not surprisingly – dominated the conversation in recalling her various career and romantic misadventures in a grandly dramatic style that was fueled by more than a few sips of alcohol. (At one point, Wheadon was ordered by the party’s host to water down Davis’ drinks.) But the great lady was hardly a bore – she offered a surplus amount of anecdotes relating to her professional duels with the Warner Bros. hierarchy and her personal obstacle course in finding domestic bliss.
West, who never drank alcohol (much to Davis’ surprise), was far more relaxed and earthy – to the initial bewilderment of Davis, who assumed the reel world West persona carried over to the real world. For her part, West offered a straightforward but cogent recollection of her taboo-busting endeavors on Broadway and her efforts to retain screen credit for her Hollywood output. She also spoke at length regarding her married life, a subject that she rarely acknowledged in media interviews.
The film offers multiple breaks to provide quickie background information and classic clips of both women at their respective peaks. The funniest old-time footage finds Davis teaching Jack Paar and Jonathan Winters how to imitate her iconic cigarette-smoking style – needless to say, everyone (including Davis) goes overboard with the melodramatic mannerisms and affected speech pattern.
As for the look-alike performers playing Davis and West – well, to be honest, they don’t quite look like their celebrated characters. But at least they perfectly mime the tape recording, and the film provides helpful subtitles when the audio quality is weak.
Fans of both stars will enjoy this distinctive and entertaining celebration of two extraordinary talents, and kudos go to Wheadon for bringing this long-unknown slice of Hollywood history to life.