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GEORGE C. SCOTT TO CROSS WWII BATTLE LINES AGAIN

Times Staff Writer

George C. Scott was in Yugoslavia this year, playing Benito Mussolini for NBC. After that, he decamped to England for CBS to essay one of the more prominent World War II enemies of the Italian dictator--Gen. George S. Patton Jr.

Scott, who won but refused to collect an Oscar in 1971 for his movie portrayal of the bombastic, hard-charging U.S. general, conceded that it was a little dicey to portray the flamboyant Mussolini, and then Patton about a month later.

“It was tight,” he said when asked if playing these powerful characters in back-to-back TV movies gave him a case of thespian schizophrenia. “But happily, I knew what I was doing with Patton.

“I wasn’t so sure with Mussolini because I don’t have Latin blood, I’m an Anglo-Saxon and I didn’t know whether I could do the part. I was very apprehensive.”

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Be that as it may, he said he read and loved Stirling Silliphant’s script. With the TV sequel to Scott’s film “Patton” not set to shoot until early spring, he decided to give both roles a go.

NBC will air his Il Duce effort on Nov. 24, 25 and 26 when it broadcasts “Mussolini: The Untold Story.” The miniseries traces the rise, fall and death of Italy’s Fascist leader.

But viewers will have to wait until next September, CBS says, to see Scott materialize again as the controversial U.S. general in “The Last Days of Patton,” based on the book of the same name by Ladislas Farago. That production dramatizes Patton’s restless, unhappy life after World War II, a life cut short in late 1945 by a collision in Germany between his staff car and an Army truck.

Scott recently discussed the two shows and other matters in the sunny Beverly Hills backyard of his press agent.

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The other matters include New York theater, where Scott’s acting career took off in 1957 when he starred in Joseph Papp’s production of “Richard III.” It is where he tends to be found nowadays when not fighting both sides of World War II for rival networks.

The rough-hewn, broken-nosed actor, who surprised more than a few Broadway critics several years ago as the sophisticated, world-weary main event in Noel Coward’s “Present Laughter,” said he plans to play Broadway again, probably in January.

This time, he said, the piece is “Africa,” a new 10-character play by novelist-film writer Steve Shagan.

“It’s about a broken-down Hollywood screenwriter trying to get to Africa because he can’t stand his way of life,” Scott said. He chortled, indicating that the way of life in Tinseltown is not for him, either.

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“It stars me, unfortunately. I was just supposed to direct it, and somehow they couldn’t get anyone else to do it (the lead role).”

After “Africa,” he has another stage piece in the wings, wherein he and Carroll O’Connor of “All in the Family” fame would share the boards in a play about Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn meeting again at age 65.

He allowed that it sounds odd to be planning two Broadway outings, let alone one, what with that neon-lit cow path said to be dying and even in dire straits.

“Aw, they’ve been saying that for 75 years,” Scott said. But in the same breath he fretted that ever-rising ticket prices and costs of play-producing--"Africa” is budgeted for more than $1 million--are making things tough along the Great White Way.

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“It’s just getting out of hand,” he said. “That’s what’s killing it. If you can’t come in on an expense account these days, you can’t go to theater.”

Why risk theater, then? He shrugged. “It’s the actor’s medium . . . with films, you’re at the mercy of technology.”

Speaking of films, Scott, 58, hasn’t been overly busy in theatrical movies of late. Is that deliberate?

“I haven’t given them up, they’ve given me up,” he said, laughing. “No, I get offers all the time, but it’s stuff I don’t want to do.” He referred, he said, to films that emphasize sex, violence, and sci-fi over substance:

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“The kind of movies they’re making today, that’s not my bag . . . ‘Up Your Jedi’ and all that. I never did films like that and I ain’t gonna start now.”

Why not, to coin a cliche, just take the money and run?

“Well, I’m as crass and commercial as anybody in the world,” Scott said. A mad grin crept across his bearded face. “But there are certain things I won’t do.”


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