– Margo Channing (Bette Davis) in “All About Eve” (1950)
“Bill is 32. He looks 32. He looked it five years ago. He’ll look it 20 years from now. I hate men!” – Margo Channing
Bette Davis and Anne Baxter in ‘All About Eve’ at Roxy Theatre
The good old legitimate theatre, the temple of thespis and art, which has dished out a lot of high derision of hollywood in its time, had better be able to take it as well as dish it out, because the worm has finally turned with a venom and Hollywood is dishing it back. In “All About Eve,” a withering satire – witty, mature and worldly-wise – which Twentieth Century-Fox and Joseph Mankiewicz delivered to the Roxy yesterday, the movies are letting Broadway have it with claws out and no holds barred. If Thespis doesn’t want to take a beating, he’d better yell for George Kaufman and Moss Hart.
As a matter of fact, Mr. Kaufman and Mr. Hart might even find themselves outclassed by the dazzling and devastating mockery that is brilliantly packed into this film. For obviously Mr. Mankiewicz, who wrote and directed it, had been sharpening his wits and his talents a long, long time for just this go. Obviously, he had been observing the theatre and its charming folks for years with something less than an idolater’s rosy illusions and zeal. And now, with the excellent assistance of Bette Davis and a truly sterling cast, he is wading into the theatre’s middle with all claws slashing and settling a lot of scores.
If anything, Mr. Mankiewicz has been even too full of fight – too full of cutlass-edged derision of Broadway’s theatrical tribe. Apparently his dormant dander and his creative zest were so aroused that he let himself go on this picture and didn’t know when to stop. For two hours and eighteen minutes have been taken by him to achieve the ripping apart of an illusion which might have been comfortably done in an hour and a half.
It is not that his characters aren’t full blown, that his incidents aren’t brilliantly conceived and that his dialogue, pithy and pungent, is not as clever as any you will hear. In picturing the inside story of an ambitious actress’ rise from glamour-struck girl in a theatre alley to flinty-eyed winner of the Siddons Prize, Mr. Mankiewicz has gathered up a saga of theatrical ambition and conceit, pride and deception and hypocrisy, that just about drains the subject dry.
Indeed, he has put so many characters – so many vivid Broadway types – through the flattening and decimating wringer of his unmerciful wit that the punishment which he gives them becomes painful when so lengthily drawn. And that’s the one trouble with this picture. It beats the horse after it is dead.
But that said, the rest is boundless tribute to Mr. Mankiewicz and his cast for ranging a gallery of people that dazzle, horrify and fascinate. Although the title character – the self-seeking, ruthless Eve, who would make a black-widow spider look like a ladybug – is the motivating figure in the story and is played by Anne Baxter with icy calm, the focal figure and most intriguing character is the actress whom Bette Davis plays. This lady, an aging, acid creature with a cankerous ego and a stinging tongue, is the end-all of Broadway disenchantment, and Miss Davis plays her to a fare-thee-well. Indeed, the superb illumination of the spirit and pathos of this dame which is a brilliant screen actress gives her merits an Academy award.
Of the men, George Sanders is walking wormwood, neatly wrapped in a mahogany veneer, as a vicious and powerful drama critic who has a licentious list towards pretty girls; Gary Merrill is warm and reassuring as a director with good sense and a heart, and Hugh Marlowe is brittle and boyish as a playwright with more glibness than brains. Celeste Holm is appealingly normal and naive as the latter’s wife and Thelma Ritter is screamingly funny as a wised-up maid until she is summarily lopped off.
A fine Darryl Zanuck production, excellent music and an air of ultra-class complete this superior satire. The legitimate theatre had better look to its laurels.
“Based on the story The Wisdom of Eve by Mary Orr, All About Eve is an elegantly bitchy backstage story revolving around aspiring actress Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter). Tattered and forlorn, Eve shows up in the dressing room of Broadway mega-star Margo Channing (Bette Davis), weaving a melancholy life story to Margo and her friends. Taking pity on the girl, Margo takes Eve as her personal assistant. Before long, it becomes apparent that naïve Eve is a Machiavellian conniver who cold-bloodedly uses Margo, her director Bill Sampson (Gary Merrill), Lloyd’s wife Karen (Celeste Holm), and waspish critic Addison DeWitt (George Sanders) to rise to the top of the theatrical heap.
Also appearing is Marilyn Monroe, introduced by Addison DeWitt as “a graduate of the Copacabana school of dramatic art.” This is but one of the hundreds of unforgettable lines penned by writer/director Joseph L. Mankiewicz, the most famous of which is Margo Channing’s lip-sneering admonition, “Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.” All About Eve received 6 Academy Awards, including Best Picture.” – Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide
A young and almost unknown Marilyn Monroe plays the amusing, Miss Caswell, making the most of a very brief appearance.
Casting for All About Eve
“Bette Davis was cast as Margo Channing after Claudette Colbert severely injured her back and was forced to withdraw shortly before filming began. Davis, who had recently ended a 19-year association with Warner Brothers after several poorly received films, later commented she had read the script in one sitting and immediately accepted the role after realizing it was one of the best she had ever read. Channing had originally been conceived as genteel and knowingly humorous, but with the casting of Davis, Mankiewicz revised the character to be more abrasive. Among other actresses considered before Colbert were Mankiewicz’s original inspiration, Susan Hayward, rejected by Zanuck as “too young,” Marlene Dietrich, dismissed as “too German,” and Gertrude Lawrence, who was ruled out of contention when her agent suggested, “Wouldn’t it be nice if Gertie sat by the piano and sang?” Zanuck favored Barbara Stanwyck, but she was not available. Mankiewicz praised Davis for both her professionalism and the calibre of her performance, but in later years continued to discuss how Colbert would have played the role.
Anne Baxter had spent a decade in supporting roles and had won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for The Razor’s Edge in 1947. She got the role of Eve Harrington after the first choice, Jeanne Crain, became pregnant. Crain was at the height of her popularity and had established a career playing likable heroines; Zanuck believed she lacked the “bitch virtuosity” required by the part, and audiences would not accept her as a deceitful character.
The role of Bill Sampson was originally intended for John Garfield or Ronald Reagan. Reagan’s future wife Nancy Davis was considered for Karen Richards and Jose Ferrer for Addison DeWitt. Zsa Zsa Gabor actively sought the role of Phoebe without realizing the producers were considering her, along with Angela Lansbury, for Miss Caswell.
Mankiewicz greatly admired Thelma Ritter, above, and wrote the character of Birdie Coonan for her after working with her on “A Letter to Three Wives” in 1949. As Coonan was the only one immediately suspicious of Eve Harrington, he was confident Ritter would contribute a shrewd characterisation casting doubt on Harrington and providing a counterpoint to the more “theatrical” personalities of the other characters. Marilyn Monroe, relatively unknown at the time, was cast as Miss Caswell, referred to by DeWitt as a “graduate of the Copacabana School of Dramatic Art.” Monroe got the part despite Zanuck’s initial antipathy and belief she was better suited to comedy. Smaller roles were filled by Gregory Ratoff as the producer Max Fabian, Barbara Bates as Phoebe, a young fan of Eve Harrington, and Walter Hampden as the master of ceremonies at an award presentation. – Wikipedia
“All About Eve” was nominated for 14 awards and won 6 Oscars: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (George Sanders), Best Director (Joseph L. Mankiewicz), Best Screenplay (Joseph L. Mankiewicz), Best Sound Recording, and Best B/W Costume Design. Four actresses in the film were nominated (and all lost). It holds the record for the film with the most female acting nominees.
Bette Davis’ leading (but not title) role as Margo Channing has generally been considered her greatest career performance and her most memorable, signature role. [Other choices for the role included Claudette Colbert, Gertrude Lawrence and Marlene Dietrich.] Her part as an aging, 40-year old Broadway actress fit the 42-year old Davis perfectly, at a time when acting roles were drying up for her. Davis played opposite co-star Gary Merrill – with whom she had an affair during filming, and soon married (it was her fourth – and last – marriage, that lasted from 1950-1960) after waiting for each other’s divorce. More about the film