My first taste of the classic film All About Eve and the woman that was Bette Davis came about when I was visiting Madame Tussauds in Hollywood at 14 years old. I was fascinated by a wax figure of a woman so tiny in stature but with a stare that was so fierce, I felt that she was alive and staring into my soul. It was Bette Davis as Margo Channing in All About Eve. The moment I came home, I watched the movie and was transfixed by such a strong woman and the strong performances from every player. And 10 years later, I am just as enamoured now as I was then.
Based on a short story by Mary Orr, All About Eve is about young aspiring stage actress Eve Harrington (Eve Baxter), who charms her way into the life of Broadway legend Margo Channing (Bette Davis). Margo takes Eve under her wing, believing her to be just a naive fan, but she proves to be an obsessed and conniving woman who would do anything to reach her own show business goals.
Many actresses were considered for the lead role of Margo Channing, including Marlene Dietrich, Ingrid Bergman and Claudette Colbert. The role went to Davis who accepted it immediately after realizing it was one of the best screenplays she had ever read. Relatively unknown Marilyn Monroe was cast as Miss Casswell after her agent campaigned for the role.
The ageing actress was a popular subject in the 1950. The start of the decade where the brightest stars of the 1930s and 1940s were beginning to hit 40+ (unthinkable for a woman in Hollywood!) and inspired both All About Eve and Sunset Boulevard starring Gloria Swanson, which would be released within months of each other.
All About Eve was released in October 1950 to overwhelmingly positive reviews. Abel Green of Variety Magazine commented that “All About Eve has substance in virtually every dramatic and romantic mood, which have been given proper shading and projection by producer Darryl F. Zanuck and (director and screenplay writer) Mankiewicz.” It was nominated for a record 14 Academy Awards, won six including Best Picture and for the first time in Oscar history, two leading ladies (Davis and Baxter) from the same picture were nominated for Best Leading Actress. They subsequently lost to Judy Holliday who won for her performance in Born Yesterday.
Bette salvaged her fading career with this role, which in some aspects mirrored her off-screen life. She had a lot in common with Ms Channing, least of all her taste in men. By the end of filming, Bette had decided she would marry her leading man and in July 1950, she married Gary Merrill. She later said in 1983 that starring in All About Eve was “…the greatest break at that point in my career that ever happened, there’s no question about it. As I told Mankiewicz, he resurrected me from the dead.”
All About Eve isn’t a classic by accident. Any actor can watch this and learn from Davis’ subtle performance that almost seems modern. There is such an underplayed realism to it, which is rare to find in a black and white film. Was this her greatest role? I loved her in Now, Voyager, The Letter and of course Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? But there is something extra special about Bette as Margo. She is a powerhouse and her performance is timeless. If you have yet to see this film, you won’t regret it once you do.
All About Eve
Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Producer: Darryl F. Zanuck
Screenplay: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Starring: Bette Davis as Margo Channing
Anne Baxter as Eve Harrington
George Sanders as Addison Dewitt
Celeste Holm as Karen Richards
Gary Merrill as Bill Sampson
Marilyn Monroe as Miss Casswell