Kim Carnes' Inspiration Toasts 'their' Hit Record and Smiles with Bette Davis Eyes

updated 07/06/1981 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/06/1981 AT 01:00 AM EDT

People used to say, 'Have you heard Bette Davis Eyes?' And I thought, 'What the hell is that?' Then one day a friend brought me the record. Well, I almost flipped." That is unmistakably Bette Davis' voice discussing the smash single she inspired. "My grandson, Ashley, is very rock-and-roll conscious," the 73-year-old Davis continues. "He thinks it's very funny his grandmother has a hit."

There's joy also in the household of the singer of Eyes, Kim Carnes, 34, who parlayed the accompanying LP, Mistaken identity, into her first chart topper. "I wanted to roll down the windows of my car on the freeway and yell out, 'Do you know my album went No. 1?' " exults Carnes.

Though Kim has long been a successful composer, Jackie De Shannon and Donna Weiss wrote Eyes. "The one thing that always stuck in my mind," says De Shannon of Davis, "was the look in her eyes when Paul Henreid handed her a cigarette in Now Voyager." Hearing the De Shannon-Weiss lyrics—"She'll expose you when she snows you/Off your feet with the crumbs that she throws you"—Davis dashed off a note saying, "How did you know so much about me?"

"Not being a Rita Hayworth or a Jean Harlow," Bette recalls, "my eyes were probably my biggest asset. In 1930 Universal was going to drop my option, but decided I had beautiful eyes."

Carnes, a longtime Davis fan and fellow L.A. resident, first met Bette six years ago taping Mike Douglas. On that occasion, when Davis heard Carnes' trademark Rod Stewart rasp, she exclaimed: "Something's wrong with your voice." More recently they were brought together by the record at Bette's L.A. apartment.

Kim is just now learning some lessons Davis has long since mastered on handling celebrity. "It's harder having a family and career for a woman," says Carnes, married 10 years to her song-writing collaborator Dave Ellingson and mother of a son, Collin, 6. "I want to devote a lot of time to Collin and still put the hours into my career." She's planning a national tour this summer with her band, including Ellingson on guitar. "I have no intention of losing Dave to attain fame," Carnes vows.

Her four marriages aside, Davis seems a role model to Kim. "She doesn't compromise and doesn't take guff from anybody," Carnes says. "In her apartment she has a pillow with a perfect motto embroidered on it: NO GUTS, NO GLORY."

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