FASTEN YOUR SEATBELTS, IT’S BETTE DAVIS IN ‘ALL ABOUT EVE’ ( 1950 )

 

“Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night!”

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They make our life more memorable and fun, they support you in all your latest endeavors, they give you total freedom to just be yourself, they are always there for you in your time of need, they make you feel valued when you feel that the rest of the world is against you, they are the confidante of our utmost secrets, but most of all, they are our best friends with whom we share a deep abiding friendship that is based on mutual understanding, loyalty, and trust.

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One of the most important things in life is friendship. Everyone needs at least one close friend. It is for this reason that the topic is often explored in fictional novels, motion pictures, and television series that in most cases epitomize the irreplaceable role of a true friend who helps to divide the good in life, and subtract the evil.

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Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s, All About Eve ( 1950 ) is a pivotal film when it comes to friendships. Adapted to the screen by Joseph L. Mankiewicz from a short story titled, The Wisdom Of Eve by Mary Orr, and featuring an all star cast, the film examines the many different types of human bonding and interpersonal relationships that are developed in the theater.

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There is only one person to thank for All About Eve, and that is Elisabeth Bergner, the notable stage actress, who became the unfortunate victim of an aspiring young hopeful whose only motives were to destroy and take advantage of her newfound employment that was granted to her by Bergner. Years later, Bergner reflected back on the past, and recalled the incident to Mary Orr about the young girl who she first met while performing in the stage play of The Two Mrs. Carrolls. Orr was that immersed in the story that it became the basis for her proposed mini project.

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The idea of a young ingenue upstaging and charting the territory of an already established actress was a worthy subject for a film. Previously, a similar premise had been generating in the minds of a few studio executives, especially Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who saw this sort of plot as great material. However, the thought quickly diminished until Mankiewicz read The Wisdom Of Eve, and suddenly realized that he could make movie magic with this type of story.

“I can think of no project that from the outset was as rewarding from the first day to the last. It is easy to understand why. It was a great script, had a great director, and was a cast of professionals all with parts they liked. It was a charmed production from the word go.”

( Bette Davis on All About Eve )

Euphoric with what he just read, Mankiewicz started to improvise plans for a screenplay, and sent a memo to producer, Darryl F. Zanuck about casting Susan Hayward in the lead role of Margola Cranston, which was later changed to Margo Channing. Like Mankiewicz, Zanuck was positive that this type of production would be well received by audiences and critics, but he rejected Mankiewicz’s request about casting Susan Hayward, who he considered too young for the role. Initially Zanuck wanted to hire Barbara Stanwyck to play Margo Channing. He thought that the part was tailor made for Stanwyck, but when word came back that Stanwyck was busy working on other assignments, he assigned the role to Claudette Colbert, who was later forced to withdraw from the project after suffering an injury. For a while Ingrid Bergman was being favored for the part. However Zanuck dismissed that idea, and contacted Bette Davis, who heavily campaigned for the role once she discovered that this was the type of film she needed to put her back on the pedestal.

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Bette Davis was definitely the inspired choice to play Margo Channing. Davis who had just ended an eighteen year association with Warner Bros., was desperately in need of a project that would help revive her career. When the offer for All About Eve came along, Davis instantly knew that this part was for her. Due to her willingness to play characters with an unpleasant nature, Mankiewicz adjusted the script to suit Bette Davis, and altered the personality of Margo Channing by making her more feisty and abrasive.

“Funny business, a woman’s career – the things you drop on your way up the ladder so you can move faster. You forget you’ll need them again when you get back to being a woman. That’s one career all females have in common, whether we like it or not: being a woman. Sooner or later, we’ve got to work at it, no matter how many other careers we’ve had or wanted. And in the last analysis, nothing’s any good unless you can look up just before dinner or turn around in bed, and there he is. Without that, you’re not a woman. You’re something with a French provincial office or a book full of clippings, but you’re not a woman. Slow curtain, the end.”

Once all the arrangements were made for Davis’ character, Margo channing, Joseph L. Mankiewicz started canvassing around for an actress to fulfill the role of Eve Harrington. Jeanne Craine whose career was in the middle of ascending to great heights was his first preference, but when Crain fell pregnant, the role went to Anne Baxter, an immensely talented individual, who was still being cast in supporting roles that very rarely garnered her the recognition she deserved.

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Altercations also ensued while trying to find actors for the remaining supporting parts. The role of Bill Sampson was initially intended as a starring portrayal for John Garfield or Ronald Reagan with Reagan’s future wife, Nancy in the role of Margo’s best friend, Karen Richards. That was until things changed, and Gary Merrill, and Celeste Holm were hired to fulfill the parts.

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Marilyn Monroe, who was still relatively unknown in Hollywood was assigned the role of Miss Casswell, a part that was originally slated for Angela Lansbury, while acting veteran, George Sanders won the role of Addison DeWitt over their first preference, Jose Ferrer. One part that wasn’t in the short story, but was written in the movie adaptation by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, was Birdie Coonan, who was played by the renowned character actress, Thelma Ritter. Mankiewicz, who had previously worked with Ritter in A Letter To Three Wives ( 1949 ), deeply admired Ritter, and considered her to be ideal to portray the first character to become suspicious of Eve Harrington’s motives.

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In addition to the relationships being formed on-screen, there were also a few memorable partnerships developing off-screen. During filming, Bette Davis fell in love with co-star, Gary Merrill, who was seven years her junior. The couple married in July 1950, and adopted two children, who they named Margot, after Davis’character, Margo Channing, and Michael. Aside from Gary Merrill, Davis built a great rapport with Anne Baxter, which resulted in the two becoming lifelong friends.

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All About Eve not only resurrected Bette Davis’ career, it also opened the door to many endless opportunities, as well as creating a new life for her and Gary Merrill. In Davis’ autobiography, The Lonely Life, Davis wrote, “I found out Gary had spent all his summers in Maine. He had gone to Loomis in Windsor, Connecticut, where he was born and brought up. I had known the current headmaster, Frank Grubbs, years ago. Gary use to vacation as a child at Prouts Neck, Maine-just across the bay from Ocean Park, Maine, where I spent all my summers as a child. I found him an excellent actor to work with-one with integrity. Our scenes went well together. By the time we played out our story and the actress had retired to be the little woman, I had fused the two men completely. Margo Channing and Bill Sampson were perfectly matched. They were the perfect couple. I was breaking every one of my rules. I always swore I’d never marry an actor. Gary told me that years before he had been inducted into the army directly behind Ham. Everyone had realized Ham had been married to me. Gary had said, “How the hell could a guy let himself get into a deal like that?”. Now here he was. The cards were all reshuffled and we didn’t either of us see the jokers in the pack.”

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On its release, the film was a triumphant success, and received fourteen Academy Award nominations. Bosley Crowther from The New York Times wrote, “It is a fine Darryl Zanuck production, excellent music, and on air ultra-class complete the superior satire.”. Bette Davis’ performance also garnered critical acclaim with Roger Ebert from Chicago Sun Times, stating, “Bette Davis’ character, veteran actress, Margo Channing in All About Eve was her greatest role.”, while Boxoffice.com, stated, “It is a classic of the American cinema – to this day the quintessential depiction of ruthless ambition in the entertainment industry, with legendary performances from Bette Davis, Anne Baxter and George Sanders anchoring one of the very best films from one of Hollywood’s very best Golden Era filmmakers: Joseph L. Mankiewicz. It is a film that belongs on every collector’s shelf – whether on video or DVD. It is a classic that deserves better than what Fox has given it.”

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THE PLOT:

Partially based on true events, All About Eve, follows the story of Margo Channing ( Bette Davis ), an aging stage actress whose success has transformed her into a distinguished icon of the theater. Because Margo is an established star, who is presented as a legendary figure, she very rarely allows fans to get a glimpse into her personal life, but when she does hire Eve Harrington ( Anne Baxter ), a young fan with a facade of innocence, she soon realizes that she made a big mistake that proves to be threatening when she discovers that the conniving and duplicitous, Eve has mapped out a plan to eclipse her career in every way possible by stealing her parts and fiance, as well as breaking up relationships.

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All About Eve may not be categorized as a vehicle about best friends, but while the film mostly revolves around performing arts, the subject of friendship is rather dominant throughout the picture. In fact, relationships and companionship is an underlying theme in All About Eve.

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When you think about it, All About Eve is really a movie about an association of theater folks, who maintain solid friendships with other people of their caliber. The chief protagonist in this close knit group of individuals is Margo Channing, who despite her abrasive manner is friends with just about everyone in their circle. To outsiders, Margo is often considered to be a self-centered egotist, who utters a cavalcade of harsh and rather offensive remarks, but in truth, Margo is a lonely person, who is in desperate need of a man to welcome her home each evening. She relies solely on her boyfriend, Bill Sampson, and her close friend, Karen Richards, who has remained her pillar of strength through thick and thin.

“I’ll admit I may have seen better days, but I’m still not to be had for the price of a cocktail, like a salted peanut.”

Even though the friendship between Margo and Karen is real, the film also makes an effort by detouring away from the true and glorious friendships that are often depicted in movies. Instead it addresses another aspect of friendship that is largely common today, but is very rarely approached in movies. This is the subject of betrayal and deceit, in which All About Eve paints a clear picture of the topic by representing Eve Harrington, an aspiring young hopeful, who is befriended by Margo and Karen after delineating her admiration for Margo, and sharing a moving story that personifies her as the poor victim. However, Eve Harrington is far from the embodiment of a sweet and innocent ingenue, who cares for the welfare of Margo Channing. She is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Her ambitions stretch far and beyond, and her main goal is to antagonize Margo Channing, and her fellow friends and acquaintances, just so she can attain a part in a play, and capitalize on her own undeserved success.

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The key scene in All About Eve that really exemplifies the importance of maintaining a solid friendship is displayed prominently in the Cub Room scene when Karen’s husband, playwright, Lloyd Richards, delivers an honest acknowledgement and toasts, “To each of us and all of us, never have we been more close, may we never be farther apart.”. This is a very poignant and touching moment of the film. After watching this scene, it is clearly evident that they have an enduring friendship that is their foundation for support.

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All this and more is the result of a masterfully crafted production that still manages to evoke positive memories from movie enthusiasts worldwide. In addition to the intriguing plot that is filled with amiable and scheming characters, All About Eve is blessed with memorable crisp and sharp dialogue that gloriously stains every scene. This is the epitome of the fine art of movie making.

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TRIVIA:

All About Eve was the first of only two films to receive 14 Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture.

Bette Davis‘ marriage to William Grant Sherry was in the throes of breaking up while she was making the film. Her raspy voice in the film is largely due to the fact that she burst a blood vessel in her throat from screaming at her soon-to-be-ex-husband during one of their many rows. Director Joseph L. Mankiewicz liked the croaky quality so he didn’t have Davis change it.

Upon learning that he had cast Bette Davis, one of her former directors, Edmund Goulding, rang up Joseph L. Mankiewicz and warned him that she would grind him down into a fine powder. This proved to be an unnecessary warning as Davis knew better than to mess with Mankiewicz’s finely tuned screenplay. In fact, Mankiewicz found her to be one of the most professional and agreeable actresses he’d ever worked with.

Bette Davis filmed of all her scenes in sixteen days.

In 1970 the story was adapted into a Broadway musical called “Applause” and in 1973 a made-for-TV movie (Applause (1973)). Lauren Bacall played Margo Channing. When Bacall left the show, the actress who took over the role was Anne Baxter, who had played the role of Eve in the film.

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CAST:

Bette Davis: Born Ruth Elizabeth Davis on April 5th, 1908 in Lowell, Massachusetts. Died: October 6th, 1989 in Neuilly, Sur Seine, France. Aged 81. Cause of death: Breast Cancer.

Anne Baxter: Born Anne Baxter on May 7th, 1923 in Michigan City, Indiana. Died: December 12th, 1985 in New York. Aged: 62. Cause of death: Brain Aneurysm.

George Sanders: Born George Henry Sanders on July 3rd, 1906 in Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire. Died: April 25th, 1972 in Barcelona, Spain. Aged 65. Cause of death: Suicide.

Celeste Holm: Born April 29th, 1917 in New York. Died: July 15th, 2012 in New York. Aged: 95. Cause of death: Heart attack.

Gary Merrill: Born Gary Fred Merrill on August 2nd, 1915 in Hartford, Connecticut. Died: March 5th, 1990 in Falmouth, Maine. Aged 74. Cause of death: Lung Cancer.

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This post was written for the You Gotta Have Friends Blogathon, which is being hosted by Moon In GeminiTo view the other articles being exhibited during this event, please click here.

 

 

 

 

 

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10 thoughts on “FASTEN YOUR SEATBELTS, IT’S BETTE DAVIS IN ‘ALL ABOUT EVE’ ( 1950 )

  1. Mike Noonan says:

    Thanks Crystal. Excellent piece about an excellent film!! thanks for all the background info. Didn’t realize all the starts who were mentioned for roles in the film. has many great lines. No Agnes Morehead this time – lol.

    Like

  2. says:

    Fantastic post! I loved the backstage stories, how not one of the first options was cast, and also Bette’s romance with Gary Merrill. It was a swell read!
    Don’t forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! 🙂
    Kisses!
    Le

    Like

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