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All About Eve is one of the most entertaining movies ever made. It's full of old-fashioned larger-than-life stars -- Bette Davis, Marilyn Monroe, Gary Merrill, Anne Baxter, George Sanders, Thelma Ritter, Celeste Holm -- and it's the source of dozens of famous lines, including the immortal "Fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy night."
But there's more -- much more -- to know about All About Eve. Now, for the first time, the full story is told. Sam Staggs has written the definitive account of the making of this fascinating movie and its enormous influence both in film and popular culture. He tells readers all about the picture and all about those who made it -- nothing short of everything.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.81(w) x 8.57(h) x 1.36(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
An Excerpt from All About All About Eve by Sam Staggs
Chapter 1: Fire and Music
A terse headline in Variety on September 27, 1951, told the news: MANKIEWICZ, 20TH SEVER CONTRACT. Many in the industry were surprised that Joseph L. Mankiewicz, the Hollywood director and screenwriter, was quitting 20th Century-Fox, where he had spent the better part of a decade. His separation from Fox was amicable, as such things go; his valedictory to Los Angeles less so. Mankiewicz referred to the City of Angels as "an intellectual fog belt."
Manhattan, he felt sure, would salute him. There he could breathe finer air. He expected to be smartly quoted all over town, and when he tossed out a bon mot his New York listeners wouldn't miss a beat. Nor would anyone complain, "What's that supposed to mean?" as they had done since his first day in the intellectual fog belt.
Two Bekins moving vans that would transport everything the Mankiewicz family owned across the country to their new home in New York were packed. One van was filled with household goods. The other contained what was irreplaceable: the writings of Joseph L. Mankiewicz, his papers, his many awards and citations.
Mankiewicz told a reporter he was off to Broadway to "make my pitch for the theatre." Although he spent the rest of his life in New York, he never completed a play, and he never directed one.
Celeste Holm, in her apartment on Central Park West, answered the phone herself. After hearing a description of the book in progress, titled All About All About Eve, she asked, "Why the hell do you want to write that book?"
"Why? Because millions of people love the movie. And also because no one has told the story of how it came about and why All About Eve is considered both a Hollywood classic and a cult film."
"I don't get it," she snapped. "A work of art speaks for itself! I think a book like that is a waste of time. If people are interested, let them see the movie."
"I've seen it thirty times."
"Then see it thirty more!"
"Look, Miss Holm, it's not backstairs gossip I'm after. But since Mankiewicz lost all his papers in the fire--"
"I guess you want to talk to me about Bette Davis?" Celeste Holm demanded, and without waiting for an answer she continued. "I've talked to everybody in the world about that movie!"
"Bette Davis? No. I'd rather hear about you."
"All this crap about books, I don't get it."
"Suppose I send you a detailed letter about the book. Your memories of shooting All About Eve are important."
"Well...maybe. I don't know. Good-bye."
She never answered the letter.
Told about the unproductive phone conversation with Celeste Holm, Kenneth Geist, Joseph L. Mankiewicz's biographer, remarked, "When you're the last Mankiewicz survivor in New York, you've probably had enough."
"I'm not a dinosaur, you know," harrumphed Celeste Holm when a reporter in Los Angeles asked her if All About Eve is the movie people best remember her for.
"Didn't you see Tom Sawyer last year?" she scolded. "I played Aunt Polly. That was a hit too.... Actually, I can tell a lot about somebody just from the movie of mine he mentions first. If you like All About Eve so much it probably means you're a Bette Davis nut, a late-show freak. The Broadway musical fans want to know about my playing Ado Annie in the original production of Oklahoma. And the socially conscious crowd, the urban liberals, talk about Gentleman's Agreement."
Volumes of plays -- Ibsen, Oscar Wilde, Kauffman and Hart, Rostand, Moli�re, Beaumont and Fletcher, even Clyde Fitch and old melodramas -- all of these crackled in the fire as if this were Berlin in 1933. Theatre histories, the works of Sigmund Freud, scripts and diaries, biographies of Minnie Fiske and Sarah Siddons and the Barrymores blazed up for a few minutes and then were gone. Mementos saved from movie sets melted like candle wax.
The fire grew and fattened, consuming every molecule of oxygen. It lapped up half a lifetime of memories. The highway itself seemed on fire, while inside the overturned Bekins van ugly smoke gnawed away at wooden crates, cardboard boxes, and metal file cabinets, which, despite their greater strength, would not survive.
A distant siren started up as photographs of Bette Davis charred in the flames like bacon strips. Nearby, a carton flared and that was the end of letters covering several decades: to and from Joe Mankiewicz and his brother, Herman, their sister, their parents, wives, nieces and nephews, and telegrams to them from half of Hollywood. Packed on the bottom of this box was a book of addresses: Celeste Holm in Manhattan, Thelma Ritter in Queens, Mr. and Mrs. Gary Merrill in Maine, Darryl Zanuck's private phone number in his spacious suite of offices at 20th Century-Fox.
When the call came, Joe Mankiewicz must have felt that the grandest era of his life had perished. The loss was devastating. Destroyed were hundreds of files dating back to 1929, the year he arrived in Hollywood as a twenty-year-old whose first assignment at Paramount was writing titles for silent movies. Had they survived, those files, along with manuscripts, correspondence, countless personal and professional items detailing two decades of Hollywood history, would now belong to an important university, or perhaps to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills.
Years later, an interviewer asked Mankiewicz to enumerate all the awards for his most famous picture, All About Eve. He shook his head and said nothing, remembering the enormity of the fire. But losing track of the many awards for that film was the smallest part of his misfortune. "Forgive me," he said at last, "but I can't attach much importance to the fact that somewhere in those melted filing cabinets was the dust of a few more back-patting certificates or statuettes. I don't mean to sound ungrateful. It's just that I miss so terribly all of my project notebooks, my manuscripts, my letters and diaries, the private documentation of my twenty-year stretch out there."
Joe Mankiewicz liked fire imagery; he often used it in his work. Three examples from All About Eve come to mind. Bette Davis on Miss Caswell, played by Marilyn Monroe: "She looks like she might burn down a plantation." Addison DeWitt describes Eve's first onstage reading of Lloyd's play as "something made of music and fire." And when Bette says "Remind me to tell you about the time I looked into the heart of an artichoke" and Eve replies "I'd like to hear it," Bette's sardonic punch line is "Some snowy night in front of the fire."
In his two or three best works, Mankiewicz was a comic, cynical Prometheus who snatched fire from Hollywood and sent it out across the world to millions of delighted moviegoers. The Mankiewicz flame from his best work as a writer/director -- The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947), which he didn't write, and A Letter to Three Wives (1949) and All About Eve (1950), both of which he wrote and directed, burns as bright today as it did a half-century ago.
Joe Mankiewicz owed his start in Hollywood to his older brother, Herman J. Mankiewicz, the witty, hell-raising screenwriter best remembered as co-author of Citizen Kane. It was Herman who brought Joe out to California in 1929 and introduced him to the right people. In later years Joe repaid the favor many times.
The other author of Citizen Kane was Orson Welles. It's not clear whether Herman Mankiewicz or Welles wrote the scorching end of that movie, but if it was Mankiewicz, the thundering irony is almost too painfully clear. That final operatic holocaust of Charles Foster Kane's effects recurred somewhere on a stretch of highway that day in 1951 when Herman's kid brother, Joe, lost the papers and mementos that meant more to him than anything else he had acquired in Hollywood.
Did Joe Mankiewicz, too, have some secret, half-forgotten "Rosebud" that vanished in the moving-van fire? And if so, did his, like Kane's, represent an unhealed wound? Or, more likely, was the Joe Mankiewicz "Rosebud" a comic one, etched in irony and drenched with a certain kind of wit that later would assume the flashy name of "camp"?
That final fire at Xanadu, and the later one that consumed the Mankiewicz moving van, rhyme like a combustible couplet. It's right out of a movie, you think. And then you say: Why not? In Hollywood, where life and art always overlap, who can tell the difference?
"I am too beautiful to be a hausfrau!" shrilled the young woman, slinging the script across the sofa into a mound of cushions. "I vant to be an actress again!"
"But you're a splendid housekeeper, my dear, you said so yourself. You said, 'Every time I get a divorce, I keep the house.'"
Her husband's cool rejoinder was too much. She burst into tears and slammed out of the room, followed by Josephine, her devoted boxer bitch, whose sharply barked laments on the stairs echoed those of her mistress.
A few miles west of Hollywood, in the mountain vastness of Bel Air, there lived a happy couple. He was Russian but, owing to his Oxbridge accent, his suave brittleness, and his waxy polish, he passed for an Englishman. The lady was a Magyar from Budapest who had once passed for an actress, though her stage debut was far away and long ago. As a thespian, this young woman was forgotten by the world, since her acting contained but a single line.
Few in Hollywood had heard of an operetta called Der Singende Traum ("The Singing Dream"), much less of the soubrette with the given name of Sari who frolicked across the stage in Vienna a few years before World War II. But Sari Gabor Belge Hilton Sanders remembered the applause. She recalled gypsy violins at romantic suppers with gentlemen after performances, and ranks of roses in her dressing room. She craved new glories in America.
Sari Gabor, nicknamed Zsa Zsa, was desperate. Everyone she knew was famous: her sister Eva, starring on Broadway in The Happy Time; two of her ex-husbands, Turkish government press director Burhan Belge, and Conrad Hilton, the multi-millionaire hotelier; and Zsa Zsa's third husband, George Sanders, had just landed the role of Addison DeWitt in Joseph Mankiewicz's next movie, All About Eve.
At the age of thirty, give or take a little, Zsa Zsa had prospered, certainly; she wasn't the former Mrs. Hilton for nothing. But to be an actress, to make films like her sister Eva and so many other girls she knew, now there was something worth making sacrifices for.
George and Zsa Zsa had been married not quite a year. Their nuptials (a word often used by Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper to announce a new Filmland alliance) had taken place on April 1, 1949, in Las Vegas. And George had been making movies ever since. He and Zsa Zsa had recently returned from Spain, where he filmed Captain Blackjack.
Later that afternoon, tears dried and makeup freshened, Mrs. George Sanders reemerged.
"Vy not, Georgie?" she said, smoothing the lapel of his smoking jacket. "Phoebe, ze high school girl, it's a small role vich comes only at ze end of the picture."
"My dear, I believe you might be a trifle mature for the part. Let's see, Phoebe must be seventeen or so, and you were born in..."
"Look at ze script, George," Zsa Zsa implored. "Zis girl stands in front of three long mirrors. Sink how lovely, three Zsa Zsas."
A waft of his wife's perfume brushed his nostril, and George wavered.
"Look here, I suppose..."
"Three Zsa Zsas at ze end of the picture," she gurgled, tilting her exotic Hungarian head.
George disliked it when she gurgled. He reconsidered the threefold prospect of his wife.
She sucked in her breath and chattered on: "It's only a walk-on at ze end, you know."
George Sanders frowned. "It's more than a walk-on," he informed her with a certain superiority. "Besides, it's unlikely that Darryl would give the role to an untried actress. And I'm not the least convinced that you know how to behave on a set."
"Tell Darryl Zanuck that if I'm no good, ze studio can cut me off." She made a sweeping gesture with her arms.
George Sanders didn't say the first thing that came to mind. Instead he paused for a long moment, looked down at his drink, then slowly replied, "Don't be silly. Acting isn't for you."
A half-century later, one might say that he was absolutely right. And wrong!
For Zsa Zsa soon made her debut in Lovely to Look At (1952), quickly reached her A-list zenith in John Huston's Moulin Rouge the same year, and has been the Potboiler Princess ever since, most famously in Queen of Outer Space.
It was 1950, and Hollywood seemed fascinated with itself.
At Paramount, Billy Wilder was putting the finishing touches on Sunset Boulevard, with Gloria Swanson as silent screen star Norma Desmond, a glamorous old vamp, and William Holden as a down-at-the-heels screenwriter. Nicholas Ray was directing In a Lonely Place at Columbia, with Bogart also playing a screenwriter, this one suspected of a film-noir murder. Over at MGM they were contemplating Singin' in the Rain, the gloriously energetic, tuneful, tap-dancing story of Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen), another silent star, this one with a screechy voice that dooms her when talkies arrive. Even Marlene Dietrich was about to play a sultry actress resembling herself in the early airplane film No Highway in the Sky, speaking throaty lines such as "My films are a few cans of celluloid on the junk heap someday." And at 20th Century-Fox, Joseph L. Mankiewicz had just started All About Eve, a film that, while technically about Hollywood rather than Broadway, in fact amounted to exploratory surgery on the dysphoric underbelly of show business.
It was something of a miracle that his movie got made at all, at least the way it did, for Bette Davis hadn't spoken to Darryl Zanuck, the producer, in nine years. And besides, Claudette Colbert had already signed to play the role of Margo Channing. Variety and The Hollywood Reporter had announced the Colbert coup late in 1949.
Zanuck, moreover, had John Garfield in mind for Bill Sampson, Margo's lover. He also thought Jose Ferrer would make a fine Addison DeWitt, and he wanted Jeanne Crain for the role of Eve Harrington. All these possibilities, and others, Zanuck jotted in pencil on the inside back cover of Mankiewicz's original treatment of Eve. Zanuck's early casting notes reveal Barbara Stanwyck, in addition to Claudette Colbert, as a possibility for Margo Channing. From the start, however, he favored Celeste Holm for Karen, Hugh Marlowe for Lloyd Richards, and Thelma Ritter for Birdie.
In early April 1950 Bette Davis was finishing The Story of a Divorce at RKO. This film, later retitled Payment on Demand, was her first after leaving Warner Bros., where she had been under contract for eighteen difficult years.
One day, during a lull in shooting while Curtis Bernhardt, the director, conferred with his cameraman, Bette got word that she was wanted on the telephone. Since filming had stopped for a time, she was able to leave the set and take the call in her dressing room. She had on one of the rather matronly dresses designed for her to wear in the picture.
"Hello, Bette, this is Darryl Zanuck," said the production chief of 20th Century-Fox. His high-pitched Nebraska accent, full of sharp r's and words bitten off at the end, was in marked contrast with Bette's r-less New England speech, naturally full of broad a's that had broadened even further as she acquired the florid stage diction of the time.
Bette knew Zanuck's voice, and she didn't believe this was Zanuck. Always suspicious, on screen and off, she assumed it was a friend playing a joke. After all, the last thing Zanuck had said to her, during their falling-out in 1941, was "You'll never work in Hollywood again!"
"Hello, Darryl dear," Bette crooned, sounding more Broadway-British than ever. "Lovely to heah from you."
"Bette, I've got a script I want you to take a look at," Zanuck said. "I think you'll like it. And I hope you'll want to do it."
"Anything you say, my deah." She sounded even saucier on the phone than she did on-screen. "If I like it, I will do it," she said with a trace of malice and a soup�on of insolence. Bette couldn't figure out which one of her friends was pretending to be Darryl F. Zanuck, so she decided to have a little fun herself, string him along, do an imitation of Bette Davis. Why not? Everyone else did.
By the end of the conversation, she expected this young man -- who on earth could it be? -- to end his charade with a guffaw. All the while, of course, Bette was puffing her cigarette like...well, just like Bette Davis.
"The only thing is, Bette, if you like it you've got to be ready to start shooting in ten days, wardrobe finished and all."
"Right away, Darryl deah." Bette said it as though she were Judith Traherne, the Long Island playgirl and horsewoman she played in Dark Victory.
"So you're interested in the script?" Zanuck continued, making allowances for star extravagance.
"Anything you say, Darryl dahling."
"Wouldn't you like to know the name of the picture?"
"Oh, why not surprise me?" Bette said airily. She flung her cigarette hand over her shoulder like a boa.
"Bette, this script is by Joe Mankiewicz. It's the picture Claudette Colbert was going to do before she broke her back."
"Broke her back?" Bette yelped.
And then it dawned!
"Darryl! Is that really you?"
They talked for four or five minutes, during which Zanuck made her one of the best offers any film actress ever received. Bette jumped at the chance to read the script of All About Eve, which ultimately, as the critic Ethan Mordden has said, "might be the film that ruined Davis or the film that made her immortal." Perhaps it did both.
Betty Lynn, playing the daughter in Payment on Demand, recalled later that Bette's eyes were blazing when she returned to the set. Speaking at breakneck speed, Davis told her younger co-star that the phone call was from Zanuck and that he was sending over a script that had Hollywood in a buzz.
An even smaller part than that of Phoebe, the young schemer who ends All About Eve, was the role of Miss Caswell. If Zsa Zsa Gabor had read the script carefully, she might have tried to grab that little bonbon of a role: Miss Caswell, given name Claudia, whom George Sanders describes as "a graduate of the Copacabana School of Dramatic Art." In the script, Mankiewicz describes her merely as "a blonde young lady."
Ironically, though Zsa Zsa coveted the part of Phoebe, she was fleetingly considered for "the blonde young lady." On the 20th Century-Fox casting director's list, under the heading "Miss Caswell," are the following names, most of them forgotten but two or three are unforgettable: Virginia Toland, Barbara Britton, Karin Booth, Marie McDonald, Mary Meade, Joi Lansing, Adele Jergens, Marilyn Maxwell, Gale Robbins, Joyce Reynolds, Leslie Brooks, ZaZa Gabor, Lois Andrews, Myrna Dell, Angela Lansbury, Pat Knight, Cleo Moore, Ellie Marshall, Marilyn Monroe, Dolores Moran, Marian Marshall, Randy Stuart, Marjorie Reynolds, Arleen Whelan, Angela Greene, and Rowena Rollins.
At every studio, such lists amounted to little. They were devised when the casting director and his associates, thinking out loud, jotted a quick roster of possibilities. In this instance, at Fox, the casting office soon received a skeleton list from Zanuck and Mankiewicz. Later the casting director winnowed these starlet names. It's impossible to determine how Zsa Zsa made it that far, though it's likely that George Sanders mentioned her to Mankiewicz. Life at home no doubt became sweeter with the announcement, "I've submitted your name." But Zsa Zsa wasn't yet blonde, nor had she launched her Hollywood career. Soon she and all the others were out of the running.
Instead, Marilyn Monroe played Miss Caswell, and of the actors who appeared in All About Eve she is the only one whose career was to ascend. For others in the cast, Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, Gary Merrill, Celeste Holm, Hugh Marlowe, George Sanders, Thelma Ritter, and for Mankiewicz himself, All About Eve was the climax. Never did a single one of them surpass, or even equal, what he or she did so brilliantly, with such verve and wit, in this film. For all of them the picture was a watershed that separates what they hoped to accomplish in the movies from the actual roles that life, or Hollywood, dealt from its unmarked deck.
Marilyn Monroe went up, and up, and up, but for the others a long descent began the day All About Eve was in the can. If not for this movie, half the cast would be forgotten.
Excerpted by St. Martin's Press. Copyright © 2000 by Sam Staggs.
Table of Contents
|1.||Fire and Music||1|
|2.||When Was It? How Long?||15|
|3.||Minor Awards Are for Such as the Writer||29|
|4.||Zanuck, Zanuck, Zanuck||43|
|5.||Miss Channing Is Ageless||58|
|6.||The End of an Old Road, the Beginning of a New One||65|
|7.||San Francisco, An Oasis of Civilization in the California Desert||73|
|8.||How Could I Miss Her? Every Night, Every Matinee||82|
|9.||To Margo. To My Bride-to-Be||88|
|10.||A Graduate of the Copacabana School of Dramatic Art||91|
|11.||Killer to Killer||101|
|12.||A New Word for Happiness||110|
|13.||A Little Taking In Here and Letting Out There||116|
|14.||A Career All Females Have in Common||121|
|15.||The General Atmosphere Is Very Macbethish||136|
|16.||I Call Myself Phoebe||142|
|17.||The Time I Looked Through the Wrong End of the Camera Finder||154|
|18.||And You, I Take It, Are the Paderewski Who Plays His Concerto on Me, the Piano?||174|
|19.||Wherever There's Magic and Make-Believe and an Audience, There's Theatre||181|
|20.||I'll Marry You If It Turns Out You Have No Blood At All||191|
|21.||You'll Give the Performance of Your Life||197|
|22.||Those Awards Presented Annually by That Film Society||206|
|23.||Waiting for Me to Crack That Little Gnome on the Noggin With a Bottle||217|
|24.||I Could Watch You Play That Scene a Thousand Times||232|
|25.||Tell That to Dr. Freud Along With the Rest of It||247|
|26.||Real Diamonds in a Wig||257|
|27.||Why, If There's Nothing Else, There's Applause||282|
|Postscript: Tell Us About It, Eve||319|
|Brief Lives, Etc.||336|
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
'Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night.' But before 'All About Eve' was a tag line it was just an excellent film. This sophisticated backstage story about a shy newcomer who eventually upstages her mentor, a mature leading lady, was nominated for 14 Oscars, won 6, played neighborhood theaters for months, became a staple on TV, (not to mention Bette Davis' witty lines grist for a thousand female impersonators), and of course formed the inspiration for the Broadway musical 'Applause.' Sam Staggs takes us there, from the writing of the screenplay, the casting, the filming, publicity, reception, Oscar buildup, the post-'Eve' careers of the actors and actresses, the creation of 'Applause' the musical, and (quite fittingly) as a climax we get to meet the real inspiration for the Eve character--judge for yourself how much difference there is between reality and celluloid. About the only complaint I have is that this book runs well over 300 pages. But I would rather have too much than not enough, so I don't consider that a real liability. This is a truly enjoyable book about a classic movie that is now 50 years old, and so much of this book would be impossible to research just a few years in the future. Buy the tape or DVD, and then buy All About 'All About Eve.'