Amanda Blake was scared to work with Bette Davis on Gunsmoke
She was “absolutely petrified” at first, according to James Arness.
Over its 20-year run, Gunsmoke had some of the most famous faces in showbusiness play characters in Dodge City. Some were on before they hit it big, others after they had already become household names.
Actors like Harrison Ford, Dennis Hopper, Richard Dreyfuss and Jodie Foster were all on Gunsmoke. Even prolific TV producer Aaron Spelling appeared in one episode.
One of the most memorable guest stars on the series was Bette Davis in "The Jailer." She played the matriarch of a family of outlaws who holds Matt responsible for the hanging of her husband.
Her sons, led by a conniving Bruce Dern, kidnap Kitty knowing that Matt will come to her aid. When he does, they imprison him. Davis's character, Etta Stone, vows to hang Marshal Dillon just like her husband.
It takes a great performer to play someone so evil. Casting director Pam Polifroni knew exactly who could embody that part. In an interview with the Archive of American Television, she related how she pitched the idea to director Vincent McEveety when he asked for casting choices: "I said, 'Oh, I don’t know. I haven’t thought about it very much, but how about someone like Bette Davis?' And he said, 'Oh, come on, get real.'"
But Polifroni suggested they should at least try. As it turned out, Davis was a fan of the show and wanted to do it.
When the actors learned who they would be working with that week, they couldn’t believe it. James Arness told the Archive that Davis "was dynamite" and that Amanda Blake "was absolutely petrified at the idea of working with this great lady."
Davis and Blake's characters share many tense scenes together. "Amanda was scared to death," Polifroni said, but added that "they really did become great friends."
After her initial fear subsided, Amanda Blake got to know Bette Davis as more than just the legendary performer she admired. They were just two actors in a scene together and, as Arness put it, Davis was "right down to earth, no monkey business at all, and she went out of her way to work well with Amanda."
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For Perry Mason fans, an interesting take on her performance in that show and it's effect on her career at age 54 (in 1962) in is in this link: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/pinch-hitting-for-perry-mason/article4184273/#:~:text=Mason%2C%20a%20defence%20lawyer%20who,stars%20pinch%2Dhit%20for%20him.&text=In%201963%2C%20when%20Burr%20had,spot%20to%20a%20lesser%20light. Although the consensus is represented by this link:
Mason 4 episode absence was due to dental surgery. And (IMO) mega-guest stars were chosen to fill-in, not only to treat PM fans to stage worthy acting, but to assure Mr. Mason there would be no chance of viewers losing interest in the show without his presence! (What with Mr. Mason being a workaholic).
For GUNSMOKE fans: more about her appearance in this link: http://www.oldhollywoodfilms.com/2017/03/bette-davis-in-jailer-episode-of.html which gives high praise to her performance, and quotes: "By 1966 Davis was a two-time Academy Award winning actress, but that didn't mean it was any easier for the 58-year-old star to get work. Davis was mostly being offered parts in horror movies, so she turned to TV for the chance to play meaty roles like that of Etta (Davis had already appeared as a guest star on several TV shows, ..." and "asked [as to] why she was appearing in a weekly TV series, Davis replied, "legends have to eat too."
So very 'Ms. Davis' no doubt ... with those accompanying piercing eyes! 😉~😉