ADDISON (V.O.): The Sarah Siddons Award for Distinguished Achievement is perhaps unknown to you. It has been spared the sensational and commercial publicity that attends such questionable "honors" as the Pulitzer Prize and those awards presented annually by the film society...
Addison DeWitt is the ultimate theatre snob. He believes the Sarah Siddons Award is superior—because theater is superior—and he relishes its relative obscurity, yet at the same time he slyly demeans the audience by talking down to them about this unknown award.
ADDISON: The minor awards, as you can see, have already been presented. Minor awards are for such as the writer and director, since their function is merely to construct a tower so that the world can applaud a light which flashes on top of it and no brighter light has ever dazzled the eye than Eve Harrington. Eve... but more of Eve, later. All about Eve, in fact.
Addison tells us that the writer and director are viewed just as scaffolding for an actress to climb atop. This is Addison's stab at the idea of celebrity, when it's really the writers and directors who create the art but don't get the glory. There are plenty of arguments in the movie about this. Do you know who wrote the screenplay for The Hunger Games or American Sniper?
EVE: There was a Little Theater Group... like a drop of rain in the desert.
Eve is pretty melodramatic. She clearly adores the theater, so this theater group is a small bit of culture for her in what's otherwise a Wisconsin wasteland.
BILL: The Theatuh, the Theatuh—what book of rules says the Theater exists only within some ugly buildings crowded into one square mile of New York City? […] Want to know what the Theater is? A flea circus. […] Wherever there's magic and make-believe and an audience, there's Theater. […] The Theater's for everybody, you included, but not exclusively, so don't approve or disapprove. It may not be your Theater, but it's Theater of somebody, somewhere.
Bill's the opposite of Addison. He loves and respects the theater, but he doesn't see it as an exclusive club. He's fine with accepting Hollywood, or any form of entertainment, as a version of theater in a way because it speaks to someone.
BILL: When you start judging an idealistic dreamy-eyed kid by the barroom, Benzedrine standards of this megalomaniac society, I won't have it! Eve Harrington has never by word, look, thought or suggestion indicated anything to me but her adoration for you and her happiness at our being in love! And to intimate anything else doesn't spell jealousy to me; it spells a paranoiac insecurity that you should be ashamed of!
Bill's comparing Eve's innocence and naïveté to the jaded, narcissistic world of theater people. He thinks this right up until the moment she makes a shameless pass at him.
LLOYD: I shall never understand the weird process by which a body with a voice suddenly fancies itself as a mind. Just when exactly does an actress decide they're her words she's saying and her thoughts she's expressing?
MARGO: Usually at the point when she has to rewrite and rethink them to keep the audience from leaving the theater!
LLOYD: It's about time the piano realized it has not written the concerto!
Oh, snap! Lloyd's famous for his plays, but it must frost him to see Margo getting all the glory delivering lines he's written. This is what Addison was talking about when he said that writers and directors are considered as just building the scaffold for the actress to perch on top. Joseph Mankiewicz had heard prior to filming that Bette Davis was a terrible actress to work with because she brought a yellow pad to shoots and marked up all the dialogue. He was happy to find out that in this case, she left every word just as it was.
LLOYD: A Hollywood movie star just arrived.
MARGO: Shucks, and I just sent my autograph book to the cleaner.
Great example of the disdain that serious dramatic actors had toward their silver screen counterparts. Not worth the time of day. "Real" actors never got a "take two" or "take twenty-two."
KAREN: Nothing is forever in the Theater. Whatever it is, it's here, it flares up and burns hot, then it's gone.
Since Karen's a relative outsider, not a writer, actor, or director, she's not caught up as much in all the quest for fame and adulation she sees around her. She's seen people come and go, and she sees her good friend Margo looking at the end of her career just because she's 40.
KAREN: A part in a play. You'd do all that just for a part in a play.
EVE: I'd do much more for a part that good.
Karen, as an outsider, is shocked to see just how far Eve would go to get a good part. Eve resorts to blackmail and threatens worse. Could she be taking her art too seriously? Is it even about art at this point?
MARGO: Don't get stuck on some glamour puss. […] you're a setup for some gorgeous wide-eyed young babe.
Bill's eight years younger than Margo. This conversation between them is our first indication of Margo's insecurity about her age. She's constantly afraid Bill will leave her for someone younger. Someone like Eve. To his credit, Bill's completely indifferent to their age difference.
MARGO: You bought the new girdles a size smaller. I can feel it.
BIRDIE: Something maybe grew a size bigger.
MARGO: When we get home you're going to get into one of those girdles and act for two and half hours.
BIRDIE: I couldn't get into the girdle in two an' a half hours...
It's not just romance that Margo's insecure about. With age, she has to work harder to maintain her figure. It's not just vanity. It's critical for a woman in her profession to look slim and glamorous.
MARGO: Don't let me kill the point. Or isn't it a story for grownups?
Margo lashes out at Eve. Here she uses her age to her own advantage, insulting Eve for being too young. She's also trying to make sure that Bill knows Eve is too young for him.
BILL: I've always denied the legend that you were in Our American Cousin the night Lincoln was shot...
This is one of many jokes about Margo's age. Bill references it to both tease her for her sensitivity about her age, and to show that he defends her from her critics. He's not worried about her age because he knows how he feels about her. Margo's the one always on the defensive about it.
MARGO: A milkshake?
Eve is offered a drink and Margo suggests a milkshake. Margo may be angry for always being described as "too old," but she has no problem trying to insult Eve's youth. Is this hypocritical behavior on Margo's part?
MARGO: "Cora." She's still a girl of twenty?
LLOYD: Twentyish. It isn't important. […] Margo, you haven't got any age.
MARGO: Miss Channing is ageless. Spoken like a press agent.
Margo has no illusions about what it means in the theater to be her age. The longer she attempts to play younger parts, the more likely she is to be considered delusional vs. ageless. Another Oscar-nominated film released in 1950 was Sunset Boulevard, in which an aging silent film star is clearly considered delusional for wanting to get back in the spotlight.
MARGO: (reading Addison's column) […] "Miss Harrington had much to tell, and these columns shall report her faithfully, about the lamentable practice in our Theater of permitting, shall we say…mature actresses to continue playing roles requiring a youth and vigor of which they retain but a dim memory."
"Professional mud-slinger" Addison has no problem brutally criticizing Margo in his column. He's perpetuating ageist beliefs in an attempt to benefit Eve by taking down Margo.
EVE: It got so that I couldn't tell the real from the unreal except that the unreal seemed more real to me... I'm talking a lot of gibberish, aren't I?
We think this might be one of Eve's many stellar performances. She knows perfectly well the difference between the real and the unreal, and she uses that to her advantage in order to manipulate people into not knowing what is true. She's presenting herself as just a star-struck dreamer in love with make-believe.
EVE: I mean, you haven't had a minute alone yet, and…well, I could take care of everything here and meet you at the gate with the ticket... if you'd like.
Can you be any more thoughtful than sweetly allowing the lovely couple to have a few moments alone? Here Eve finagles her way into getting a job as Margo's assistant. It's probably the least manipulative of her techniques, because she is useful, and she's good at what she does. However, her ulterior motive is to go from managing Margo's life, to having Margo's life for herself.
ADDISON: Eve was incredibly modest. She insisted that no credit was due her, that Lloyd felt as he did only because she read lines exactly as he had written them.
Eve's alleged "modesty" is definitely one of her most effective tactics. She knows which side her bread is buttered on, and it's buttered on the playwright's side.
MARGO: I'm sure you underestimate yourself, Eve. You always do.
This is Margo calling Eve out on her "false modesty" and it's one of the first clues to Eve that Margo's onto her tricks.
ADDISON: How thoughtful of her to call and invite me that afternoon... and what a happy coincidence that several representatives of other newspapers happened to be present. All of us—invited that afternoon to attend an understudy's performance.
From Addison's intense sarcasm here, you know that he knows what Eve was really up to. At this point, he doesn't mind being a pawn in Eve's game because he knows he can eventually turn the tables and take control of her. A theater critic is extremely influential in making or breaking an actress' career.
LLOYD: it's Addison, from start to finish, it drips with his brand of venom... taking advantage of a kid like that, twisting her words, making her say what he wanted her to say.
Eve and Addison both cooked up this little column, but because Addison's a known nasty creep, it's easy to blame him for twisting Eve's words. Lloyd's still in the dark about Eve's real motivations; she's just an innocent kid manipulated by Addison.
EVE: You know, I've always considered myself a very clever girl. Smart. Good head on my shoulders, that sort of thing, never the wrong word at the wrong time... but then, I'd never met Addison DeWitt. […] You find yourself trying to say what you mean, but somehow the words change…and they become his words…and suddenly you're not saying what you mean, but what he means.
The manipulations are doubling up on themselves so fast here, it's hard to keep track. Eve, of course, blames Addison entirely for twisting her words into the hateful column he wrote about Margo. She's just using him as a scapegoat. The irony is that Addison's column would be plenty hateful without Eve's influence; that's just who he is. At least he's upfront about it.
GIRL: Eve didn't say to call him, but I remembered that I saw Mr. Richards with her a couple of times, and I thought they being such good friends...
Lucky for Eve that she lives in the same building as a girl who's willing to collaborate in her scheme to get Lloyd to her house in the middle of the night. We're not sure what Eve has to do to get this girl to lie to Karen, but the girl's more than happy to do it.
ADDISON: What do you take me for?
EVE: I don't know that I'd take you for anything.
ADDISON: Is it possible, even conceivable, that you've confused me with that gang of backward children you play tricks on, that you have the same contempt for me as you have for them?
EVE: I'm sure you mean something by that, Addison, but I don't know what.
ADDISON: Look closely, Eve. It's time you did. I am Addison DeWitt. I am nobody's fool, least of all yours.
EVE: I'd like anything Miss Channing played in...
MARGO: Would you, really? How sweet.
LLOYD: I doubt very much that you'd like her in The Hairy Ape.
EVE: Please, don't misunderstand me, Mr. Richards. I think that part of Miss
Channing's greatness lies in her ability to pick the best plays... your new play is for Miss Channing, isn't it?
Eve has a childlike blind admiration for Margo that Lloyd definitely doesn't share. However, Eve is capable of showing that she admires Lloyd, too, flattering two people for the price of one.
MARGO: All the religions in the world rolled into one, and we're Gods and Goddesses...
Fame hasn't changed much in the last half century, has it? In the 1950s, theater actors were the pinnacle of celebrity. They were nervous about Hollywood, and maybe for good reason. Today, it's Hollywood film stars we revere as Gods and Goddesses, and they're probably worried about TV stars and YouTube sensations…
LLOYD: Week after week, to thousands of people, you're as young as you want...
MARGO: ... as young as they want, you mean. I'm not interested in whether thousands of people think I'm six or six hundred.
Margo, unlike Eve, is skeptical of fame. She'd much rather respect herself than have six hundred people do it for her.
ADDISON: Every now and then, some elder statesman of the Theater or cinema assures the public that actors and actresses are just plain folks. Ignoring the fact that their greatest attraction to the public is their complete lack of resemblance to normal human beings.
Addison has a good point here. We're obsessed with celebrities' personal lives but still want to see them as different from us. Therefore, People magazine. Every day, millions of people have babies, buy clothes, or make lasagna. When Fergie or Ben Affleck do it, though, it's newsworthy and more exciting.
EVE: Why, if there's nothing else, there's applause. It's like…like waves of love coming over the footlights and wrapping you up. Imagine...to know, every night, that different hundreds of people love you... they smile, their eyes shine…you've pleased them, they want you, you belong. Just that alone is worth anything...
Over fifty years before Lady Gaga, Eve Harrington does what she does for the applause. Eve only feels important when she has the praise of an audience being piled upon her. This is a clue that she's a little unbalanced; she has zero sense of self except in the audience's image of her. The audience's applause is the only love she gets in her life.
EVE: The end of an old road, and the beginning of a new one...
ADDISON: All paved with diamonds and gold?
EVE: You know me better than that.
ADDISON: Paved with what, then?
Eve's not in it for the money. Fame is what she craves, no matter what she has to do to get it. Do you think that's true for most actors today—that they'd rather have recognition for their art than the big bucks? Bruce Willis made $10 million for Look Who's Talking II but was willing to work for about $20,000/week to be in Quentin Tarantino's masterpiece Pulp Fiction.
MARGO: […] You know, I can remember plays about women — even from the South— where it never even occurred to them whether they wanted to marry their fathers more than their brothers...
LLOYD: That was way back...
MARGO: Within your time, buster. Lloyd, honey, be a playwright with guts. Write me one about a nice, normal woman who shoots her husband.
We don't learn what Margo's current play is about, but it seems like she's playing a Southern Belle. We see right off the bat what kind of roles she's really after—roles that match her assertive personality.
MARGO: Bill's thirty-two. He looks thirty-two. He looked it five years ago, he'll look it twenty years from now. I hate men.
Margo vents something many women, especially female actors, feel, and that's the relative agelessness of men. Harrison Ford and Robert Redford can play heartthrobs into their 70s and 80s. Women in their 40s struggle to get romantic roles. Angela Lansbury played Laurence Harvey's mother in 1962's The Manchurian Candidate when she was 3 years older than him. That was the 60s and wouldn't happen today, though. Oh wait. Sally Field played Tom Hanks' mother in Forrest Gump when she was 10 years older than he. Susan Sarandon, 24 years older that Melissa McCarthy, played her grandmother in Tammy (2014).
MARGO: Lloyd, I'm not twentyish. I am not thirtyish. Three months ago, I was forty years old. Forty. Four oh. That slipped out. I hadn't quite made up my mind to admit it. Now I suddenly feel as if I'd taken all my clothes off...
This scene is shocking because women, especially women in the entertainment industry in the 1950s, would never admit their true age, especially if they were "over the hill," i.e., probably 35. It seems like, for an actress, that hill comes along at about 25 years old.
BILL: Only thing, what I go after, I want to go after. I don't want it to come after me.
Bill puts Eve in her place after she makes a pass at him. It's not her role to do that—he needs to be in control. We wish he would have left it at "I'm in love with Margo. Haven't you heard?"
MARGO: 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—is being a woman. Sooner or later we've all got to work at it, no matter what other careers we've had or wanted... and, in the last analysis, nothing is 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.
This is a moving speech, but we can't call Margo Channing a feminist. She's not looking to change this ideal. She wants to conform to it. It's sad that even such a strong person needs a husband to feel like a real woman.
KAREN: The cynicism you refer to, I acquired the day I discovered I was different from little boys!
Karen didn't just realize that boys and girls are different physically, but they have different places in society. Karen has had to accept that, but she isn't necessarily happy about it.
BILL: Bill's here, baby. Everything's all right now.