skip navigation
Remind Me

The Big Idea Behind ALL ABOUT EVE

Sunday June, 23 2019 at 03:45 PM
Wednesday July, 24 2019 at 11:15 PM

Films in BOLD will Air on TCM *  |   VIEW TCMDb ENTRY

All About Eve began as a short story by Mary Orr called The Wisdom of Eve. The story about an ambitious young actress who backstabs her way to the top was originally published in the May 1946 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine. Orr had been inspired to write The Wisdom of Eve after hearing about an incident in the life of actress Elisabeth Bergner. Bergner had been performing in a stage version of The Two Mrs. Carrolls in 1943 when a devoted young female fan approached her. Bergner took the young woman under her wing and gave her a job as her personal assistant. It wasn't long before the fan became a burden, undermining Bergner and trying to emulate her style and every move. The association with the woman became a nightmare for Bergner, who forever regretted her decision to open her life to this person who became a parasite.

Even though The Wisdom of Eve had been good enough to be turned into a radio play, which ran on January 24, 1949 on NBC's Radio City Playhouse, it still took a few years for Hollywood to discover the potential for a great film lying in the pages of a 1946 Cosmopolitan magazine. Eventually, a story editor for 20th Century Fox named James Fisher read the story and passed it on to director/writer/producer Joseph Mankiewicz. Mankiewicz loved it and convinced the studio to pay Mary Orr $3500 for the rights to her story. Inspired, Mankiewicz drove to the San Ysidro Guest Ranch in California near Santa Barbara in the early fall of 1949 and pounded out an 82-page screenplay treatment titled Best Performance. Making some small changes from the original story and adding several new characters, Mankiewicz soon had a terrific completed script now called All About Eve. At first Mankiewicz thought that Margo Channing would be a plum part for the fiery actress Susan Hayward, but at 32-years-old she was ultimately considered too young. Eventually Claudette Colbert was hired.

Jeanne Crain was one of the top actresses considered for the part of Eve Harrington. When she became pregnant, however, it took her out of contention. Anne Baxter, an actress who had so far made a career out of playing supporting parts, had just won an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress in The Razor's Edge (1946), and Mankiewicz considered her one of the best young actresses around. He was happy to cast her as she was his first choice, anyway. Her resemblance to Claudette Colbert was also an asset, as Eve in the film would gradually transform into Margo visually.

For the juicy part of acid tongued critic Addison De Witt, actor Jose Ferrer was briefly considered, but the role eventually went to George Sanders. John Garfield and Ronald Reagan were among the names discussed to play Margo's love interest, Bill. That role went to Gary Merrill. With Celeste Holm and Hugh Marlowe rounding out the principal cast, all systems were set to go and shooting was scheduled to begin within a few weeks. However, disaster struck the production when Claudette Colbert, just before she was to begin filming All About Eve, badly injured her back while making Three Came Home (1950). It was a twist of fate that left Colbert permanently out of the picture.

Bette Davis, meanwhile, was finishing up her work on the film Payment on Demand (1951). When she received a phone call from Darryl Zanuck at 20th Century Fox, she thought it was a prank. She and Zanuck had not been on speaking terms for years ever since Davis had resigned from her Presidency of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Zanuck, who had sponsored Davis' AMPAS membership, warned her not to resign, telling her flat out, "If you resign, you will never work in this town again!" Davis resigned anyway, and Zanuck never spoke to her again-until now. When she realized that it really was Zanuck calling her so long after their falling out, she was both surprised and pleased. He told her about Claudette Colbert's injury and the part of Margo Channing, for which he knew she would be perfect. He would send her the script and if she liked it, he said, the only catch was that Davis would need to be ready to start filming All About Eve in a mere 10 days.

To her delight, Davis loved the script and agreed to take the role. "When I finished reading All About Eve, says Davis in her 1962 autobiography The Lonely Life, "I was on cloud nine. Any inconvenience was worth it." She knew that Margo was the role of a lifetime. Shortly before filming began, Davis met with Joseph Mankiewicz to discuss the character of Margo. Mankiewicz gave her a surprising piece of advice over dinner. "Mankiewicz very succinctly gave the key to the character of Margo Channing," Davis said in a 1974 interview. "'She is a woman who treats a mink coat like a poncho.'" Within days Davis would meet up with the rest of the cast in San Francisco to begin shooting. It would be a film that would change her life both professionally and personally.

Shortly before filming began, Joseph Mankiewicz received an ominous warning from writer/director Edmund Goulding, who had previously directed Bette Davis in four films including Dark Victory (1939) and The Great Lie (1941), phoned Mankiewicz and said, "Have you gone mad? This woman will destroy you, she will grind you down to a fine powder and blow you away. You are a writer, dear boy. She will come to the stage with a thick pad of long yellow paper. And pencils. She will write. And then she, not you, will direct. Mark my words." Mankiewicz made note of Goulding's advice and promised to keep an eye out for any trouble from Davis.

by Andrea Passafiume