Study Guide

All About Eve

All About Eve Introduction


Release Year: 1950

Genre: Drama

Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Writer: Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Stars: Bette Davis, George Sanders, Anne Baxter


  

Stop us if you've heard this one.

The five stages of an actress' career:

  • Who's Ava Gardner?
  • Get me Ava Gardner!
  • Get me an Ava Gardner type.
  • Get me a young Ava Gardner.
  • Who's Ava Gardner?

Showbiz has always been in love with youth. In a cutthroat industry where actresses in their 40s have trouble finding work, careers can fade fast.

1950's All About Eve is a backstage drama about Margo Channing, an iconic and brassy Broadway diva, and the young protégé Eve Harrington aiming to dethrone her idol. Played by film legend Bette Davis, Margo is worried about her age and finds herself having to watch her back when Eve (Anne Baxter) proves to be a manipulative, conniving upstart who wants to steal her career and her man. 

Written and directed by Joseph Mankiewicz (who would later direct Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra), All About Eve wasn't just a Best Picture winner. It racked up a whopping 14 nominations, a record that wouldn't be matched until James Cameron's Titanic did it in 1997. It didn't win all the awards, though. Only the men did; the women were snubbed. Ironic for a movie about the challenges women face in the entertainment industry, eh?

The movie may not have swept the Oscars, but it swept silver screens. Everyone wanted to see Bette Davis smoldering and dishing on screen in a movie considered to be her big comeback (source). You may know Bette Davis from another faded-actress drama, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) or the Kim Carnes song "Bette Davis Eyes."

Or maybe you're just thinking, "Who's Bette Davis?"

Davis didn't have to carry All About Eve alone. She starred alongside other big names of the day, like Celeste Holm (Karen) and George Sanders (Addison). Oh, and there was also a little-known actress in a bit part—an actress who went by the name Marilyn Monroe. Heard of her? Almost a decade before people realized that some like it hot, they got to know something about Marilyn in All About Eve.

But what was the big deal? Well, if the E! network has taught us anything, it's that people love behind-the-scenes celebrity drama, no matter what decade you're in. All About Eve had it all: writer-on-actor verbal violence, seduction, smarmy theater critics, melodramatic leading ladies, and a scheming, lying ingénue who'll do anything for fame.

Fasten your seatbelts, Shmoopers; it's going to be a bumpy guide.

What is All About Eve About and Why Should I Care?

"In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes" (Andy Warhol, 1968).

All About Eve tells a timeless tale: the insatiable hunger for fame. Andy Warhol didn't know how right he was. Today, people can be celebrities, or try to be, without leaving their house. Apps like Vine, YouTube, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and any of the dozens of new ones that have been invented in the last twenty-four hours feed into our mania for celebrity. Everybody gets their 15 minutes of fame. Maybe even a half-hour.

Celebrity obsession has risen to new heights. Everyone wants Taylor Lautner's abs, Jessica Alba's makeup, Selena Gomez's hair, Pharrell's hat, and Kim Kardashian's…wardrobe. YouTube stars are now the most popular celebs, even more than TV or movie stars.

In Eve and Margo's time, though, you actually had to get off the couch to be famous.

Eve doesn't simply grab a webcam; she treks from Wisconsin to New York City, creates a new identity for herself, and works tirelessly for her goal of being a Broadway star. We almost want to root for her, but Eve is totally crazy-go-nuts, not caring who she steps on or how many lies she has to tell to become a famous actress. She almost succeeds in destroying the life of her Broadway idol, Margo Channing, just to hear those magical waves of applause.

The film pokes at our obsession with fame. Is it worth what you have to do to get it? (Don't get us started on plastic surgery and starvation diets.) Is it compensation for something missing in our lives? What happens when the public's attention moves on to the next best thing because you're too old or made some bad movies, and you fade into obscurity? Marilyn Monroe (allegedly) said, "Fame doesn't fulfill you. It warms you a bit, but that warmth is temporary" (source).

She should know. Fame destroyed Marilyn, and we don't think it'll save Eve.

What would you do for 15 minutes of fame?

Hey, we liked that concluding sentence. Excuse us while we log on to our Twitter account. Can you do us a quick favor and re-tweet it?

Trivia

Bette Davis showed up on the set with a hoarse voice after breaking a blood vessel in her throat from screaming at her soon-to-be ex-husband during an argument. Mankiewicz loved the voice and insisted she film the whole movie with it. (Source)

The Sarah Siddons Society isn't just a musty old boring group of self-congratulatory actors as depicted in the movie; it's a real-life musty old boring group of self-congratulatory actors who founded the society in 1952 after seeing the movie. Actually, we're sure they're all lovely and interesting people. Fun fact: Bette Davis received the award in 1973; Anne Baxter presented it to her. The real Sarah Siddons statuette was designed to be identical to the one in the film. (Source)

Margo Channing wasn't the only one who found love in All About Eve. Bette Davis, who plays Margo, had an affair with Gary Merrill, who plays Bill, and married him after filming. In another example of art imitating life, Bette said they divorced because he thought he was marrying Margo Channing, not Bette Davis, and she thought she was marrying Bill Sampson. (Source)

Edith Head, the costume designer for All About Eve, always wore tinted glasses; it helped her see how the fabric and colors would look in black and white. (Source) Oh, and she was also the inspiration for Edna Mode in The Incredibles. Look familiar?

Anne Baxter (Eve) made All About Eve's fiction a reality when she stole Bette Davis's role. Fine, she didn't steal it, but Anne Baxter played Margo Channing in Applause, a Broadway musical adaptation of All About Eve. In a way, she also "stole" Davis' Best Actress Oscar by insisting she also be nominated in the same category; the resulting split vote gave the Oscar to Judy Holliday. (Source)

All About Eve Resources

Websites

All About All About Eve
Explore more about Eve on the film's IMDB page.

It's Perfect
Check out Rotten Tomatoes' 100% rating.

More About Eve
Tons of info about the film, including a long plot synopsis that you don't really need 'cause you've got Shmoop.

Book, Stage, or TV Adaptations

Applause, Applause!
The Broadway Musical Applause, with Lauren Bacall as Margo Channing, was based on All About Eve. It won the 1970 Tony Award for Best Musical, and Bacall was named Best Actress.

From Silver Screen to Small Screen
There's never been an Eve on TV, but the Applause musical was adapted for TV, starring Lauren Bacall and Larry Hagman.

She Done Her Wrong
Loni Anderson plays a country-western star with a young fan (Linda Hamilton) who's really trying to usurp her career and her man in this 1982 TV movie based on All About Eve. Seriously.

Articles and Interviews

Critic's Choice
New York Times critic Bosley Crowther (a name that gives Addison DeWitt a run for its money) approves of this movie, and warns Broadway to watch its back, 'cause here comes Hollywood. One of the original 1950 reviews.

Thumbs Up
The late great Roger Ebert reviews the film on its 50th birthday.

Hollywood 1, Broadway 0
The original New Yorker review thinks that Hollywood showed Broadway folks just what it thinks of them.

Women's Glib
The Guardian laments the lacking number of female leading roles in modern-day cinema. Who'd have thought we'd go backward?

All About Bette
In this original review, Kate Cameron believes that Bette Davis is at the top of her game in this film.

Trivia Time
Not-so-secret secrets of All About Eve.

Aging Well
The New York Times reminisces about the film on its 50th anniversary re-release.

Hottest Guy in Hollywood
Just before the release of Eve, the New York Times dished on Joseph L. Mankiewicz and how he took the industry by storm.

Video

All About Her Mother
Bette Davis speaks with Barbara Walters about Eve, and her own daughter's scathing tell-all book.

Smoking Screen Siren
In 1983, Bette Davis, still smoking and fabulous (emphasis on the smoking) briefly talks about Eve in this video.

Backstory
Art totally imitated life in the making of All About Eve.

Hooray for Hollywood
New Yorker film critic Richard Brody thinks that Hollywood people can be as ruthless as Broadway people, but at least they're open about it.

Audio

Cheap Sentiment
Does Margo love Liszt's "Liebestraum" or not? We don't know. Listen to it yourself.

Black Widow, Baby
NPR's Susan Stamberg analyzes Eve to figure out what she's all about.

Tell All
Mankiewicz's protégé Paul Attanasio (as far as we know, he isn't a male Eve) talks about Eve.

Images

Ageless
We'd see Aged in Wood, the fictional play within the movie, based on the poster alone.

Curtain Call
The cast almost looks like they all get along in this shot of the entire cast.

Does This Suit Make Me Look Old?
A costume test photo from the film, which won the Oscar for Best Costume Design (Black and White).

Collect 'Em All!
A Margo Channing Doll. Really.

Say Yes to the Dress
Ever wonder what those glamorous dresses looked like in real life? Margo's party dress was a luscious brown.

Barbie as Bette
Someone had to do it.

The Divine Miss B
Glam shot of Bette from an All About Eve poster.

Art Imitating Art
Bette dresses up as Sarah Siddons for a living tableau for "The Pageant of the Masters." The tableau was based on a famous portrait of Sarah Siddons that Mankiewicz used in All About Eve. It's hanging in the stairwell of Margo's apartment.