I used to work in video retail with a middle-aged man named Bill. He was instrumental in giving me a classic film education, so I think kindly of him, but I knew him as mostly irascible and gruff. He was also a gay man of a certain age, and as such, there were particular classic movies and movie actresses he placed upon a pedestal. Watching them could change his whole attitude in an instant.
All About Eve for one scene: At midnight, the phone operator wakes up Margo, Bette Davis’ character, for a west coast call to her fiancée Bill. At first she’s confused; she doesn’t realize the call was arranged secretly by Eve. Then Margo recognizes the occasion and smiles. “Bill!” says Margo. “It’s your birthday!” “My” Bill would hear that and melt.
But then, Bette Davis had that effect on people.
All About Eve is a fantastic movie that has dated little over the years. The theater isn’t as central to American pop culture as it once was, but the themes of ambition and careerism and middle age are as relevant now as they were in 1951, when it won the Oscar for Best Picture. The book All About ‘All About Eve’ by Sam Staggs chronicles the evolution of the tale of the aging theater diva and the mousy young groupie, and there’s much more to the route than most people realize.
|Elisabeth Bergner, the inspiration for the character|
who would become Margo Channing
Staggs writes about that initial author, Mary Orr, and how her story got her in trouble with the real-life “Eve,” plus Orr’s struggle for proper credit on what would become the Eve screenplay, and her reunion with “Eve” many years later. We learn about who else was considered for the role of Margo, the significance of the film in the lives of the cast, including an up-and-coming starlet named Marilyn Monroe, how hangers-on like George Sanders’ wife Zsa Zsa Gabor played a factor, the budding romance between Davis and co-star Gary Merrill, and of course, all the off-camera bickering. In addition, Staggs discusses the Broadway adaptation Applause, with Lauren Bacall, and the embrace of the film by the gay community.
|Mary Orr, who wrote the story that|
became All About Eve
You either like that kind of stuff or you don’t. I found it a bit distracting, and yes, I realize how that sounds coming from me, Mr. “I am not a film critic.” It makes me want to reevaluate my own writing, for this blog, but that’s another issue.
Staggs rambles on a bit too much at times. He’s extremely erudite, but I did think he loved the sound of his voice too much. I would say that’s the risk one takes when writing as a fan, but bloggers like Farran Smith Nehme, Kendra Bean, even Raquel and Aurora put the lie to that, so I dunno.
Bottom line, All About is very informative and illuminating. You might not be put off by Staggs’s writing style. If you love Eve the movie, check this out; just don’t expect it to read like Cahiers du Cinema.