In the Oscar-winning movie All About Eve, Anne Baxter, as the conniving schemer Eve Harrington, stole the role of an older star, Margo Channing, played by the nonpareil Bette Davis. Thirty-four years later Baxter has done it again—sort of—this time on ABC’s smash series Hotel. Shortly after completing the two-hour fall pilot, Davis was forced by ill health to withdraw from the role of Laura Trent, owner of San Francisco’s swank St. Gregory Hotel. That’s when Baxter checked in, on 72 hours’ notice, lugging her own clothes and jewelry.
Unlike those fanged rivals Harrington and Channing, Anne and Bette have, over the years, remained “excellent acquaintances,” says Baxter. Last June the husky-voiced Baxter had the Divine Miss D “to dinner and to dish” at her Connecticut home. “I had never seen her so thin,” says Anne. “She seemed a little preoccupied. I think perhaps she knew she wasn’t well. Soon after that I heard she had gone into the hospital.” (Davis had a mastectomy, a stroke, and shortly after broke her hip.)
When it became evident that Davis wouldn’t make the first episode, producer Aaron Spelling called Baxter, proposing she take on the role of Victoria, Laura’s sister-in-law. “My initial reaction was concern that Bette might be distressed,” says Anne. “I was told she knew perfectly well what was happening and wanted me.” So Baxter will continue to run the St. Gregory next season.
Anne did talk to Davis by phone just before Christmas: “She was full of beans. I think she felt much, much better, but she didn’t have the old stamina.” As for Baxter’s get-up-and-go: “I have to rest at noon when I’m working. I take a 40-minute catnap in my dressing room after I eat my rabbit food and take my vitamins.” Up at 3:45 a.m. to prepare for a 7:30 a.m. call, Anne goes for her morning “dash”—short bursts of speedy walking, followed by a 20-minute slowdown. “I want to rev up, not exhaust myself.”
Strongly independent, the Indiana-born granddaughter of architect Frank Lloyd Wright hates pomposity. The $25 word is never as good as plain speaking, she says, and she has no interest in fudging her age. “Honey,” she says exuberantly, “I’m 61.” Her oldest daughter, Katrina (by Baxter’s first husband, actor John Hodiak), is about to make the actress a first-time grandmother. Neither Katrina, 32, nor her sisters, Melissa, 22, and Maginel, 21 (both by second husband Randolph Gait), want to follow in their mother’s footsteps. In fact, Melissa, who has a degree in hotel management from Cornell, recently handed Mom a 12-page critique of the St. Gregory’s shortcomings. (“Tell her if we shot episodes based on the hotel rule book, nobody would watch,” said Baxter’s co-star, James Brolin.) Anne did manage to scratch one item off the list when she asked the actor playing the doorman to remove his dark glasses.
A 47-year show business veteran, Baxter landed a lead role on Broadway at 13. Eleven years later she won a best supporting actress Oscar for The Razor’s Edge, playing the drunken Sophie. In the early ’60s she interrupted her career to play a rancher’s wife. While working on Cimarron with Glenn Ford, she had met Gait, a Yale graduate six years her junior, who was obsessed with living in the Australian outback. They married and settled on a 37,000-acre cattle station called Giro in New South Wales, where Anne raised vegetables, dealt with the ravages of nature and bore two girls. After some three and a half years she had seen all she wanted of the wilderness. Galt and Baxter tried working out their differences by buying a 17,000-acre ranch in New Mexico, but Anne found that even worse. In 1970 she and Randolph divorced.
While Anne was rehearsing Noël Coward in Two Keys in 1973, co-stars Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy introduced her to investment banker David Klee. Four years later they married and began fixing up their dream house in Easton, Conn. That year, shortly after his 70th birthday, Klee died following a triple bypass operation. “It was a terrible blow. But we had good quality of time together, if not the quantity.”
A gutsy woman, Baxter has no idea why “whenever I put down a root, I am uprooted.” She isn’t the type to brood on it either. “Life always takes me by the scruff of the neck,” she says, “and tosses me into something else.”