All About Eve (1950) Written and Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, Gary Merrill, Celeste Holm, George Sanders and Marilyn Monroe

"Male behavior is so elementary. All About Adam could be done as a short."--Joseph L. Mankiewicz

All about Eve won the Best Picture Oscar in 1950. Mankiewicz won both for writing and directing, as he had in 1949 with A Letter to Three Wives. No one else has ever matched that feat. The film got 14 Academy Award nominations, a record only recently equaled by Titanic. The Academy Awards must figure in any discussion of this film, but the Oscars are often the result of politics and popularity more than merit. The Best Actor of 1950 was Jose Ferrer in Cyrano de Bergerac, a comparatively uninteresting prestige film of the kind so often favored by Academy voters. And, DeMille's lavish Samson and Delilah with Victor Mature and Hedy Lamarr was box office champ, easily outgrossing Eve, Sunset Boulevard, The Third Man, The Asphalt Jungle, and Father of the Bride, films that are considered classics today.

All About Eve was adapted from a brief story, "The Wisdom of Eve" by Mary Orr, and published in Cosmopolitan magazine (which is different from the current magazine with the same name). Orr had been told a story by "The Garbo of the Stage," Elisabeth Bergner, about an ambitious fan (Bergner called her "that terrible girl") who had insinuated herself into her life. Mankiewicz's adaption uses the story's cynical tone, but all the dialogue and most of the characters are his. Claudette Colbert was set to star, but broke her back right before filming started. Bette Davis, her career in decline, gratefully took over. She wrote in her autobiography, The Lonely Life: "Margo Channing was a woman I understood thoroughly. Though we were totally unalike, there were also areas we shared. The scene in which--stuck in the car--Margo confesses to Celeste Holm that the whole business of fame and fortune isn’t worth a thing without a man to come home to, was the story of my life…Hunched down in the front of that car in that luxurious mink, I had to work to remember I was playing a part…and keeping the tears back was not an easy job." She said, "Mankiewicz is a genius--the man responsible for the greatest role of my career. He resurrected me from the dead."

The cast never doubted they were making a memorable film although some off-screen relationships were rocky. Celeste Holm destested Davis; they got off on the wrong foot and never spoke when the cameras weren't rolling. Holm considered movies far beneath her more dignified theater career; she once said, "Hollywood is a good place to learn to eat a salad without smearing your lipstick." Marilyn Monroe shimmers in her brief appearance, though at the time few reviewers even noticed her. Davis and co-star Gary Merrill began a torrid affair on the set, much to the embarrassment of the cast and crew. They soon divorced their current spouses, and began a tempestuous ten-year marriage.

 

 

August is Thelma Ritter month at the North Carolina Museum of Art! A stage actress who lucked into a showy bit as an exhausted mom waiting in line for Santa in Miracle on 34th Street, she got 6 Oscar nominations in 12 years including for Eve, although she never won. She's also in Hitchcock's Rear Window.

Judy Holliday's sharp comic timing resulted in her winning the 1950 Best Actress Oscar for Born Yesterday. Perhaps, Davis and Baxter did split the Eve vote, and Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard was robbed. But in hindsight, Davis and Swanson were both playing assertive women lusting after younger men, and Holliday, as brilliant as she is, reinforces the socially repressive post-war status quo. All About Eve had a long life in film revival houses, due to the strong affinity of gay audiences for the film. Not only because of both Anne Baxter's Eve's and George Sander's Addison de Witt's ambiguous sexuality, but strong audience identification with glamorous Margo's Channing's fear of aging, fierce courage and savage wit.

 

Costume check photo with Edith Head's (?) notations. Davis wanted a blouse with softness near her face, so if her scripted insults were shot in extreme close-up there would be a contrasting feminity in her attire.

 

As it looked on the screen.

 

"Anne Baxter may be eccentric, but it all adds up to her being one of the best young actresses in Hollywood."

*

All About All About Eve, by Sam Staggs will certainly answer any other questions you may have.

(First Davis photo from her 1962 autobiography, The Lonely Life, second photo from a late 1960s fan magazine career article, cheesecake photo of Baxter from anonymous movie star scrapbook c. 1940. Costume photos from Hollywood Costume Design by David Chierichetti)

c.moviediva.2001RevisedSept2002