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Joanne Woodward entered Oscar®'s winners circle with only her third film, The Three Faces of Eve (1957), beating such Hollywood veterans as Deborah Kerr (Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison), Lana Turner (Peyton Place) and the recently widowed Elizabeth Taylor (Raintree County). With the screen newcomer cast as a woman suffering from multiple-personality disorder, the veterans didn't stand a chance. Legendary director Orson Welles, who had been approached about playing the troubled woman's psychiatrist, had even predicted the role as "likely to lead the girl to an Academy Award®." The award set Woodward on the road to stardom, while her attitude towards it helped create the iconoclastic image that would delight her fans for decades.
Producer-director-screenwriter Nunnally Johnson had come across Dr. Corbett Thigpen and Dr. Hervey Cleckley's account of the case of South Carolina wife and mother Chris Costner Sizemore while it was still in galleys under the title A Case of Multiple Personality. With the recent success of Shirley Jackson's novel on split personality, The Bird's Nest, and news that Kirk Douglas was producing a film version for MGM under the title Lizzie, Johnson got 20th Century-Fox to snap up the film rights. He even met with the doctors and their publisher to discuss giving the book a more commercial title. In fact, it was Johnson who came up with The Three Faces of Eve.
With a showcase role allowing the leading lady to play three personalities -- repressed Eve White, oversexed Eve Black and comparatively normal Jane -- Johnson's main problem should have been choosing among the many established leading ladies eager to topline the film. Instead he couldn't find a star willing to take on the challenge. Jennifer Jones confessed to being terrified of the part. June Allyson demurred when husband Dick Powell convinced her she would be miscast. And Judy Garland at first thought it was a comedy. At that time, there was little public awareness of multiple personality disorder (MPD). In fact, the book and its screen adaptation were instrumental in publicizing the condition. Garland eventually decided she had to play the role after Johnson showed her films of Sizemore undergoing therapy. Then the star got cold feet.
At that point, Johnson convinced the studio their only hope was to go with a newcomer. He had been struck by young actress Joanne Woodward's performance in a television drama and suggested casting her. She was already under contract to Fox, although she had only made two films (Count Three and Pray , A Kiss Before Dying ) in her two years with them, so the studio simply assigned her to the picture. She read the script on the train from New York to Los Angeles and confessed that she was so afraid of the role she almost got off and returned east. Instead she got to work on the role, developing a clear physicality for each of the three personalities so Johnson could show her transformations without special effects. Just as Sizemore had displayed in the films of her therapy, Woodward used a Southern dialect for the two Eves (the actress was born in Thomasville, Ga.), but dropped it when she became Jane. One change Johnson suggested was making the transformations more slowly than Sizemore had. In the case study footage, Sizemore switched personalities rapidly, but the director felt that would not be believable to a movie audience unfamiliar with MPD.
To help prepare the audience for the unusual story, Johnson wrote an introduction and narration to be delivered by British journalist and television host Alistair Cooke, in his film debut. He had originally planned to have Sizemore interviewed from behind a screen in the film's prologue, but the woman's doctors decided she was not ready for the experience. They also counseled her not to attend the premiere of The Three Faces of Eve. In later years, Sizemore would reveal that one reason for that decision was the fact that the original book had exaggerated the success of her treatment. She continued to manifest new personalities after her supposed cure, 22 in all, until the 1970s. She did not see the film until 1974, when she found it moving if highly fictionalized. Sizemore would write the story from her own perspective in two books, I'm Eve (1977) and A Mind of My Own (1989).
Johnson and Fox agreed to delay the film's release until September 1957 so as not to hurt Kirk Douglas' film Lizzie at the box office. Nonetheless, The Three Faces of Eve stole the other film's thunder. Although Lizzie had received respectable reviews on its release earlier in the year, it was the later film that drew the most notice, culminating in Woodward's Oscar® victory. Woodward didn't campaign for the Oscar®. In fact, she often surprised interviewers by expressing a healthy cynicism about Hollywood and its most coveted award. When she was nominated, she stated that she didn't really think her performance had been that good and suggested that she would probably vote for Deborah Kerr. She told one interviewer, "If I had an infinite amount of respect for the people who think I gave the greatest performance, then it would matter to me." Her attitude enchanted many columnists, however, and on the strength of her performance Fox started building her up for stardom. On Oscar® night, she emerged the winner, though she roused some ire among Hollywood insiders by announcing that she had made her evening gown herself. Joan Crawford griped, "Joanne Woodward is setting the cause of Hollywood glamour back twenty years by making her own clothes." The remark must have stung at least a little. When Woodward attended the Academy Awards® in 1966, this time in a gown by Travilla, she said "I hope this makes Joan Crawford happy."
Producer/Director/Screenplay: Nunnally Johnson
Based on the book by Corbett H. Thigpen, M.D., and Hervey M. Cleckley, M.D.
Cinematography: Stanley Cortez
Art Direction: Lyle R. Wheeler, Herman A. Blumenthal
Music: Robert Emmett Dolan
Cast: Joanne Woodward (Eve), David Wayne (Ralph White), Lee J. Cobb (Dr. Luther), Edwin Jerome (Dr. Day), Nancy Kulp (Mrs. Black), Ken Scott (Earl), Alistair Cooke (Narrator), Vince Edwards (Soldier).
by Frank Miller
Screen Writer: Nunnally Johnson by Tom Stempel
Paul and Joanne by Joe Morella and Edward Z. Epstein
Inside Oscar® by Mason Wiley and Damien Bon