All About Eve (1950)

138 mins | Drama | November 1950

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HISTORY

The working title of this film was Best Performance. In the onscreen credits, the character of the director is called "Bill Simpson," but he is referred to as "Bill Sampson" throughout the film. Voice-over narration spoken by the characters of "Addison DeWitt," "Karen Richards" and "Margo Channing" is heard intermittently throughout the film. Although he is listed in the onscreen cast credits, singer Eddie Fisher's part was cut from the final film. All About Eve was his motion picture debut. Mary Orr adapted her short story, "The Wisdom of Eve," into a radio play before selling the film rights. It aired on NBC's Radio City Playhouse on 24 Jan 1949, starring Claudia Morgan and Marilyn Erskine. Orr received no onscreen or official credit for her story, which Twentieth Century-Fox purchased for $3,500. In 1951, the screenplay of All About Eve was published in book form. According to the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department, located at the UCLA Arts--Special Collections Library, screenwriter-director Joseph L. Mankiewicz received two-thirds of the profits, Orr one-third.
       Orr revealed in an 11 Oct 1950 Var news item that the story was inspired by the actual experience of Polish-born actress Elisabeth Bergner, who had once befriended an unscrupulous young actress. In a modern interview, however, Orr noted that "Eve Harrington" was "a combination of many young actresses I had met, including a great deal of myself." In a modern interview, Mankiewicz disclosed that the archetype for the character Margo Channing was 18th century English actress Peg Woffington, adding that she represented "every woman for whom acting was identical with ... More Less

The working title of this film was Best Performance. In the onscreen credits, the character of the director is called "Bill Simpson," but he is referred to as "Bill Sampson" throughout the film. Voice-over narration spoken by the characters of "Addison DeWitt," "Karen Richards" and "Margo Channing" is heard intermittently throughout the film. Although he is listed in the onscreen cast credits, singer Eddie Fisher's part was cut from the final film. All About Eve was his motion picture debut. Mary Orr adapted her short story, "The Wisdom of Eve," into a radio play before selling the film rights. It aired on NBC's Radio City Playhouse on 24 Jan 1949, starring Claudia Morgan and Marilyn Erskine. Orr received no onscreen or official credit for her story, which Twentieth Century-Fox purchased for $3,500. In 1951, the screenplay of All About Eve was published in book form. According to the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department, located at the UCLA Arts--Special Collections Library, screenwriter-director Joseph L. Mankiewicz received two-thirds of the profits, Orr one-third.
       Orr revealed in an 11 Oct 1950 Var news item that the story was inspired by the actual experience of Polish-born actress Elisabeth Bergner, who had once befriended an unscrupulous young actress. In a modern interview, however, Orr noted that "Eve Harrington" was "a combination of many young actresses I had met, including a great deal of myself." In a modern interview, Mankiewicz disclosed that the archetype for the character Margo Channing was 18th century English actress Peg Woffington, adding that she represented "every woman for whom acting was identical with existence."
       Some reviews claimed that Bette Davis based her Margo characterization on husky-voiced star Tallulah Bankhead, and despite Davis's denials, these rumors persisted. In a modern interview, Davis said, "Tallulah herself, more than anyone else, accused me of imitating her as Margo Channing. The problem was that I had no voice at all when I started filming All About Eve due to emotional stress as a result of [fighting with her husband, artist William Grant Sherry, with whom she was engaged in acrimonious divorce proceedings]....This gave me the famous husky Bankhead voice. Otherwise, I don't think the similarity to Bankhead in my performance would ever have been thought of." Bankhead performed Margo, to Mary Orr's Karen, in a 30 Nov 1952 radio adaptation of the film on The Theatre Guild on the Air. Orr later recalled, "During the course of the rehearsals, Tallulah said to me, 'Of course, I was the prototype of Margo, wasn't I?' I assured her that she wasn't, and that I had Elisabeth Bergner in mind only. This made her so angry, she never spoke to me again, except on the air."
       The character of acerbic critic Addison DeWitt was widely believed to have been based on New York critic George Jean Nathan, but Mankiewicz maintained that there was "[no] basis for a serious identification" of the real and fictional critics. Mankiewicz invented both the Sarah Siddons Society and the Sarah Siddons Award for the film. To his surprise, the award that he "dreamed up as an object of satire" was taken seriously, and in 1952, a real Sarah Siddons Society, inspired by the great English tragic actress (1755--1831), was founded in Chicago. The first Sarah Siddons Award, which was an exact replica of the statuette used in the film, was bestowed on Helen Hayes.
       Mankiewicz and producer Darryl F. Zanuck initially considered Susan Hayward for the role of Margo, but decided she was not old enough. Claudette Colbert was cast as Margo in Feb 1950, but was forced to withdraw from the production when she injured her back. Modern sources provide the following information: Zanuck then suggested casting Marlene Dietrich as Margo, Jeanne Crain as Eve, John Garfield as Bill Sampson and José Ferrer as Addison DeWitt. Mankiewicz sought noted stage actress Gertrude Lawrence for the role of Margo, but her attorney, Fanny Holtzman, insisted that the screenplay be changed so that Lawrence did not smoke or drink in the picture, and would sing a torch song about Bill in the party scene. Zanuck also sought Ingrid Bergman to replace Colbert, but the actress refused to leave Italy, were she was living, for the production. A 16 May 1950 HR news item adds Gertrude Astor and Franklyn Farnum to the cast, but their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed.
       Some scenes in the film were shot at San Francisco's Curran Theatre, and at The Stork Club in New York. Location shooting was also done in New York before principal photography began. During filming, Davis and co-star Gary Merrill, who was married at the time, became romantically involved. Davis and Merrill married in Jul 1950 and adopted a baby girl, whom they named Margot. They were divorced in 1960. According to a HR news item, the studio promoted the film with trailers in which magazine reporters Leonard Slater and Stanley Gordon conducted onscreen interviews of the leading ladies.
       With the release of All About Eve, Twentieth Century-Fox inaugurated a revolutionary "scheduled performances" screening policy, which required exhibitors to show the film only at designated times, with no late seating. The Har review explained, "The purpose is to make patrons see the picture from the beginning so that they may fully understand and enjoy the proceedings, and thus give it favorable word-of-mouth advertising." The studio also stipulated in its exhibition contracts that the film receive single billing: no other feature-length picture could be shown on the same program. This policy was tested at the film's world premiere run at New York's Roxy, but after a week of scheduled performances, the Roxy reverted to the established practice of running the film continuously and permitting patrons to enter at any time. According to an 18 Oct 1950 news item in HR, "confusion arose because of the public's deeply ingrained habit of going to a movie show at any desired hour, when most convenient or on impulse. A HR item the following day described the failure of Twentieth Century-Fox's screening experiment but applauded the studio for trying to change the public's viewing habits.
       A 1 Nov 1950 HR news item reported that All About Eve would be dubbed or subtitled into twenty-seven languages, which, according to Twentieth Century-Fox, was the largest number of translations for any American film. When All About Eve was released in Vienna in 1952, the daughter of Austrian playwright Marco Borciner brought suit against Twentieth Century-Fox, claiming that the film plagiarized Borciner's 1909 play Hinter dem Vorhang ( Behind the Curtain ). The outcome of that suit is not known.
       All About Eve received fourteen Academy Award nominations--a record that remained unbroken until 1998, when it was tied by Titanic. All About Eve received the following Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (George Sanders), Best Sound Recording and Best Costume Design (Black and White). Mankiewicz, who had won Academy Awards the previous year for writing and directing A Letter to Three Wives, became the only person ever to receive the award in both categories for two consecutive years. Davis and Anne Baxter were both nominated for Best Actress, marking the first time two actresses were nominated for starring roles in the same film, but they lost to Judy Holliday in Born Yesterday. Celeste Holm and Thelma Ritter were nominated for Best Supporting Actress, but they lost to Josephine Hull in Harvey.
       The film also received nominations for Cinematography (Black and White), Art Direction (Black and White), Music (Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture) and Film Editing. All About Eve was awarded the Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, at which Davis won the Best Actress prize, won the British Film Academy Award for best film from any source and received New York Film Critics Circle Awards for best picture and best female performance (Bette Davis). According to a 7 Mar 1951 Var news item, Twentieth Century-Fox did not enter the film in the International Film Festival in Montevideo, Uruguay, because the State Department feared that the story of a ruthlessly ambitious actress might be seen as paralleling the career of Argentina's first lady (and former actress) Eva Peron. All About Eve was ranked 28th on AFI's 2007 100 Years…100 Movies--10th Anniversary Edition list of the greatest American films, moving down from the 16th position it held on AFI's 1997 list.
       According to the legal records, after the film's release, the studio received dozens of letters from people interested in producing Mankiewicz's screenplay as a play, but Orr had retained the dramatic rights to her story. In 1964, Orr and her husband, director-playwright Reginald Denham, published a play titled The Wisdom of Eve, which was produced off-off-Broadway in 1979. In 1970, Orr and Twentieth Century-Fox agreed to a musical theater adaptation. The musical, Applause, opened on Broadway on 30 Mar 1970, with a book by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and a score by Charles Strouse and Lee Adams. Lauren Bacall won a Tony Award for her portrayal of Margo Channing. Anne Baxter later replaced Bacall in the role. Applause was adapted as a television movie and broadcast on CBS-TV on 15 Mar 1973, with Bacall and Penny Fuller repeating their Broadway roles. Radio adaptations of All About Eve were broadcast on the Screen Guild Players on 8 Mar 1951, with Davis, Baxter and Sanders reprising their screen roles; on Lux Radio Theatre on 1 Oct 1951, with Davis, Baxter and Gary Merrill repeating their roles and Reginald Gardiner as Addison; and on Lux Radio Theatre on 23 Nov 1954, with Claire Trevor, Ann Blyth, William Conrad and Don Randolph. More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
16 Sep 1950.
---
Daily Variety
8 Mar 50
p. 1.
Daily Variety
13 Sep 1950.
---
Daily Variety
17 Oct 50
p. 1, 8
Film Daily
13 Sep 50
p. 3.
Harrison's Reports
16 Sep 50
p. 146.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Feb 50
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Mar 50
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
24 Mar 50
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
31 Mar 50
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
14 Apr 50
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
16 May 50
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
2 Jun 50
p. 7, 15
Hollywood Reporter
9 Aug 50
p. 1, 4
Hollywood Reporter
5 Sep 50
p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Sep 50
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
11 Oct 50
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Oct 50
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
19 Oct 50
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
23 Oct 50
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
30 Oct 50
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Nov 50
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Dec 50
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Oct 1986.
---
Motion Picture Herald
3 Mar 1951.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
16 Sep 50
p. 485.
New York Times
14 Oct 50
p. 13.
Variety
13 Sep 50
p. 6.
Variety
11 Oct 1950.
---
Variety
18 Oct 50
p. 1, 16
Variety
7 Mar 1951.
---
Variety
5 Mar 1952.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
2d asst dir
2d asst dir
Dial dir
PRODUCERS
WRITER
Wrt for the screen by, Wrt for the scr by
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
Cam asst
Gaffer
Stills
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dec
Prop master
COSTUMES
Ward dir
Cost for Miss Bette Davis des by
MUSIC
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec photog eff
Eff
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Makeup
Makeup
Body makeup
Hairstylist
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod mgr
Unit prod mgr
Scr supv
Key grip
Grip best boy
Crane grip
Crane grip
Best boy
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the short story "The Wisdom of Eve" by Mary Orr in Hearst's International-Cosmopolitan (May 1946).
AUTHOR
MUSIC
"Liebestraum" by Franz Liszt
"Stormy Weather," music by Harold Arlen.
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Best Performance
Release Date:
November 1950
Premiere Information:
World premiere in New York: 13 October 1950
Production Date:
10 April--early June 1950
Copyright Claimant:
Twentieth Century--Fox Film Corp.
Copyright Date:
13 October 1950
Copyright Number:
LP572
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Recording
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
138
Length(in feet):
12,432
Length(in reels):
14
Country:
United States
PCA No:
14544
SYNOPSIS

At the Sarah Siddons Society's annual banquet, imperious theater critic Addison DeWitt, playwright Lloyd Richards and his wife Karen, producer Max Fabian and legendary actress Margo Channing watch as Eve Harrington is presented with the theater's most prestigious award. Karen recalls when Eve first entered their lives: On a rainy October night, Karen arrives at the theater where Margo is starring in Lloyd's play, and is approached by Eve, who has been to every performance. Touched by the young woman's devotion to Margo, Karen brings her backstage. In Margo's dressing room, Eve describes her childhood in the Midwest and her marriage to Eddie, an Air Force radio technician who was killed in the war. Eve explains that her life changed when she happened to see Margo in a play in San Francisco, and when the production moved to New York, Eve followed. Director Bill Sampson, Margo's younger boyfriend, comes to say goodbye before leaving for Hollywood to direct a film. Eve accompanies Margo and Bill to the airport, and so endears herself to them that Margo moves Eve into her guestroom. Eve quickly makes herself indispensable as Margo's assistant, to the displeasure of Margo's maid, retired vaudevillian Birdie Coonan. Their relationship becomes strained, however, when Eve arranges a homecoming birthday party for Bill without telling Margo. The night of the party, Margo and Bill quarrel about Eve, and he chides Margo for her jealousy and insecurity about her age. The tension between them escalates as the guests begin to arrive, and Margo gets drunk and grows maudlin. Max takes Margo aside and says he has foolishly agreed to audition ... +


At the Sarah Siddons Society's annual banquet, imperious theater critic Addison DeWitt, playwright Lloyd Richards and his wife Karen, producer Max Fabian and legendary actress Margo Channing watch as Eve Harrington is presented with the theater's most prestigious award. Karen recalls when Eve first entered their lives: On a rainy October night, Karen arrives at the theater where Margo is starring in Lloyd's play, and is approached by Eve, who has been to every performance. Touched by the young woman's devotion to Margo, Karen brings her backstage. In Margo's dressing room, Eve describes her childhood in the Midwest and her marriage to Eddie, an Air Force radio technician who was killed in the war. Eve explains that her life changed when she happened to see Margo in a play in San Francisco, and when the production moved to New York, Eve followed. Director Bill Sampson, Margo's younger boyfriend, comes to say goodbye before leaving for Hollywood to direct a film. Eve accompanies Margo and Bill to the airport, and so endears herself to them that Margo moves Eve into her guestroom. Eve quickly makes herself indispensable as Margo's assistant, to the displeasure of Margo's maid, retired vaudevillian Birdie Coonan. Their relationship becomes strained, however, when Eve arranges a homecoming birthday party for Bill without telling Margo. The night of the party, Margo and Bill quarrel about Eve, and he chides Margo for her jealousy and insecurity about her age. The tension between them escalates as the guests begin to arrive, and Margo gets drunk and grows maudlin. Max takes Margo aside and says he has foolishly agreed to audition Addison's date, the breath-taking Miss Casswell, and Margo promises to read with her. She then asks Max to give Eve a job in his office. Meanwhile, Eve tells Karen that she would like to replace Margo's pregnant understudy, and Karen promises to speak to Max. On the day of Miss Casswell's audition, Margo shows up late and encounters Addison in the lobby of the theater. Addison tells her that Miss Casswell already read with Margo's new understudy, Eve, adding that Eve performed brilliantly. Margo argues bitterly with Lloyd and accuses Bill of rehearsing Eve on the sly. When they are alone, Bill asks Margo to marry him, as he has many times before, and when she says no, he walks out. Lloyd goes home and raves to Karen about Eve's performance, and comments that he longs to see Margo put in her place. Recalling that they are scheduled to spend the weekend in the country with Margo, Karen comes up with an idea to teach Margo a lesson, and places a call to Eve. At the end of a tense weekend, Lloyd and Karen are driving Margo to the train station when the car suddenly runs out of gas. While Lloyd sets off to find help, Margo apologizes to Karen for her recent bad behavior and Karen looks guilt-stricken. Eve goes on in Margo's role that night, with Addison and several other critics in attendance, all of them invited that afternoon. After the show, Addison goes backstage and overhears Eve making a play for Bill in her dressing room. When Bill rejects her, Addison comes in and offers to help promote her career. The next day, Addison's column sings Eve's praises and makes snide remarks about "mature" actresses playing youthful roles. Bill returns to Margo's side to comfort her. Later, Lloyd tells Karen that he would like to put his next play into production right away, with Eve as "Cora," the role that was to have been Margo's. That night, after the show, Lloyd and Karen join Bill and Margo at the Cub Room, and Bill announces that he and Margo are engaged. The waiter brings an urgent note from Eve, asking Karen to meet her in the ladies' room. Eve asks for the lead in Lloyd's new play, adding that Addison will print the truth about Margo's missed performance if her demand is not met. Karen shakily returns to the table, only to hear Margo declare that she does not want to play "Cora." On the night of the play's New Haven opening, Eve tells Addison that Lloyd is going to leave Karen and marry her. To Eve's surprise, Addison coldly vetoes her plans, saying he has uncovered her scandalous past, and that Karen told him about Eve's attempt to blackmail her. Addison tells her that she belongs to him, and Eve wretchedly submits. Back at the awards banquet, Eve gives a humble acceptance speech and promises to return to the theater after her upcoming assignment in Hollywood. After the banquet, Eve is tired and depressed, and returns to her apartment, where she finds a young woman, Phoebe, waiting in her room. Phoebe says she is the president of one of Eve's fan clubs and took the subway from Brooklyn in the hope of meeting her idol. When the doorbell rings, an exhausted Eve asks Phoebe to take care of things. Phoebe opens the door to Addison, who has brought Eve's award, which was left in the taxi, and takes it into the bedroom. Fondling the award with a determined gleam in her eye, Phoebe tries on Eve's cape and stands before the mirror, posing and bowing. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

Celeste Holm on ALL ABOUT EVE

William Friedkin on ALL ABOUT EVE

Candice Bergen on Bette Davis

The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.