Mankiewicz both wrote and directed All About Eve, and if there's anything we've learned from studying one of Hollywood's greatest screenwriters and filmmakers, it's to never repeat yourself unnecessarily. So Mankiewicz's biographical info is in our "Screenwriter" section. Check that out.
Joe's directorial career was just as illustrious. Mankiewicz directed 20 films over his lifetime, 16 for 20th Century Fox, the studio that released All About Eve. This film was a massive success for both the studio and the screenwriter/director. Mankiewicz took home an Oscar trophy for both writing and directing that year, just as he did the year before for A Letter to Three Wives.
Over the rest of his career, Mankiewicz would direct Marlon Brando twice—Julius Caesar (1953) and Guy and Dolls (1955)—and Elizabeth Taylor twice—in the Tennessee Williams adaptation Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) and the blockbuster Cleopatra (1963), which almost bankrupted the studio with its cost overruns and caused a huge scandal because of Burton and Taylor's off-screen romance. Mankiewicz's final film was Sleuth, a 1972 thriller with Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine.
He received his final Oscar nom for that film, and died about 20 years later of a heart attack. For all the anti-Hollywood wisecracks in All About Eve, Mankiewicz believed in the power of movies to engage an audience intellectually as well as emotionally (Source).
He was the ultimate Hollywood insider: He really did it all—and with style.
Legendary producer, screenwriter, and director—you'd never guess that Joseph L. Mankiewicz's first film job was translating intertitles (those title cards used in silent movies to explain the action) from German into English.
Hey, somebody had to do it.
Mankiewicz was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania on Feb. 11, 1909, where his father was a Professor of modern languages at a prep school there. Considering the snide remark about Wilkes-Barre in All About Eve (Bill calls it "backward"), we doubt he liked it very much. But a love of languages must have run in the family. After college, he worked in Berlin translating and writing movie subtitles. In 1929, 20-year-old Joe left Germany and graduated from translating to working with his older brother Herman, already a successful screenwriter who won an Oscar in 1941 for writing the screenplay for Citizen Kane. By 21, Joe already had an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay for Skippy. (Source)
Mankiewicz started out writing dialogue at Paramount, then moved on to producing at MGM. In 1943, he moved to 20th Century Fox where he got his first chance to direct. Mankiewicz wrote 48 screenplays during his career, including hits in genres as diverse as the musical Guys and Dolls, The Quiet American, and the historical epic Cleopatra. His screenplays were known for their sophisticated, sparkling dialogue and strong female characters, and he won back-to-back screenwriting Oscars for A Letter to Three Wives (1949) and All About Eve, which is considered his masterpiece. (Source)
Mankiewicz adapted All About Eve from a short story, "The Wisdom of Eve," written by Mary Orr and published in Cosmopolitan magazine in 1946 (Yes, that Cosmo. Alternate title: 12 Hot! Hot! Hot! Tips Broadway Actresses Use to Please Their Men!!) After "Wisdom" was performed on the radio, Mankiewicz purchased the rights, added some fresh new characters (like Addison DeWitt), and a classic was born. (Source)
Fun fact: Right after the success of All About Eve, Mankiewicz tried his hand at writing for Broadway.
…It didn't work out.
Mankiewicz directed All About Eve, too, so check out our "Director" section for more on that. Meanwhile, let's just thank the guy who brought us "Fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy night."
When you think of 20th Century Fox today, you might think of other aspects of the now 21st Century Fox corporation, like The Simpsons, the X-Files, and a certain polarizing news channel.
However, in the 1950s, Fox hadn't yet stooped to the cesspool of television. (At least that's how Addison DeWitt, theater-snob extraordinaire, would describe TV.) It produced serious grownup movies and contracted with megawatt stars like Betty Grable, Jayne Mansfield, Henry Fonda, and a screen legend whose tenth movie was All About Eve: Marilyn Monroe. Heard of her? In the 1950s, the studio made a bundle producing films of hit Broadway musicals like Carousel and The King and I.
Under studio head Darryl F. Zanuck (yep, the same one mentioned in All About Eve), Fox introduced the first widely used widescreen format, CinemaScope. It revolutionized movie production and boosted a movie audience that had begun to dwindle in the 50s as people started turning to television for entertainment.
Shot in black and white, All About Eve was one of the studio's hugest successes. The same year, Fox also released the original version of Cheaper by the Dozen, and the film adaptation of Tennessee Williams's The Glass Menagerie starring Kirk Douglas, but it was Eve that racked up a record-setting fourteen Oscar nominations (a feat not matched until Titanic in 1997) and brought the studio its first Academy Award win for Best Picture.
Studio executive and legendary producer Darryl F. Zanuck trimmed Mankiewicz's script from three hours to approximately two, and eliminated many flashbacks, some of which portrayed the same scene from different points of view. We think this might be one of the few cases when producers' meddling made a stronger film (source).
When Zanuck decided to cast Bette Davis in the film after Claudette Colbert (his first choice) injured her back, the two hadn't spoken in nine years. The last words he spoke to her were that she'd never work in Hollywood again. When he phoned her, she was convinced it was a prank call and vamped it up in true Bette Davis style. He couldn't convince her it was really him until he mentioned that Mankiewicz wrote the script. That got her attention. Zanuck was totally committed to the script and took on the film as one of his personal projects (source).
The rest, as they say, is cinematic history.
All About Eve is the gold standard of classic cinema. Shot entirely in black and white, interior scenes were filmed first in San Francisco and on the Fox soundstages in Los Angeles. Some location shots were done in New York City prior to beginning major shooting. A sixty-piece orchestra rehearsed the score, then played it again as the film was screened so the conductor could get just the interpretation he wanted (source). Mankiewicz uses his camera to show a variety of viewpoints, and bounces images off an assortment of mirrors as he tells his tale.
Close-ups are used frequently to show our glamorous leading ladies and men, but also to emphasize the difference in age between Margo (Bette Davis) and Eve (Anne Baxter). Davis is often shot without wigs or with creams on her face, or tired and drunk, while the youthful Eve and her youthful hands are almost always shown perfectly coiffed and radiant. The film both criticizes age discrimination and perpetuates it, by using the exact same techniques it condemns.
The film also employs one of the earliest uses of the freeze-frame, just as Eve reaches for her award… the action is frozen before she can grab it. That's the cinematic equivalent of Kanye interrupting Taylor's acceptance speech. We'll-ah let you finish Eve, but we want to say that Margo Channing is the best. (Source)
Just as Eve studies Margo, the camera also studies Margo from a variety of other characters' perspectives, whether it's the obsessive Eve or the loving Bill. The film also employs lots of mirrors—characters looking at themselves in mirrors, characters looking at others in mirrors. It's impossible to tell sometimes if you're looking at the actor or the actor's reflection. It's a brilliant way of illustrating how Eve is a reflection of Margo… but maybe the parts of Margo she wishes weren't reflected.
Alfred Newman was a pioneer of film score composition, scoring over 200 films during his career. Newman was a pioneer in the field, and his All About Eve score shows off his trademark dramatic style.
All About Eve is a film about the theater, and Newman's score is almost like an abbreviated version of a Broadway musical. It features an overture that Newman recalls throughout the film. Plus it's very 1950s in feel, full of sensational fanfare and Hollywood glamour.
However, because film scores weren't a big deal around Eve's time, his score is quite short, and featured only at key moments, like when introducing characters or during Eve's award ceremony. If Newman were alive during the time of Hans Zimmer or John Williams, his tracks would probably fill a double-length album, but as is, most of his songs are two minutes or less.
Although it's All About Eve and not All About Steve, this movie has a large following in the gay community. It has no out homosexual characters, and the ones suspected to be gay—Eve and Addison— are the most evil and conniving characters in the picture.
The reason for its popularity? Simply that gay men love the fabulous Bette Davis, the campy, catty diva who gets all the best put-downs (source). Her insults would have the drag queens on RuPaul's Drag Race read to filth.
Oh, and on the Bette Davis fan site, the votes are in: All About Eve is their favorite actress' best film.