Fasten your seatbelts: The making of All About Eve was a bumpy ride! The wickedly funny 1950 drama about aging Broadway star Margo Channing (Bette Davis), whose career is usurped by conniving fan Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), won six Oscars, including best picture and screenplay. But this tale of backstage backstabbing had its own behind-the-scenes drama, with on-set rivalries, an extramarital romance and more.
Even before filming began, screenwriter-director Joseph L. Mankiewicz had been warned about the “difficulty” of working with Bette. But the veteran actress, who had been hired to replace an injured Claudette Colbert, adored the masterfully written Eve. Worried that she was aging out of Hollywood, Bette, then 42, felt grateful for the job and the pair got along swimmingly.
The same was not true of Bette and Celeste Holm, who played Margot’s best pal. The women met cordially before filming began but then Celeste, a chipper morning person, got off on the wrong foot with Bette. “Celeste said, ‘Oh good morning! Isn’t it a wonderful day?’ And Bette glowered at her and said, ‘Oh s–t, good manners,’” relates Sam Staggs, author of All About All About Eve. “Celeste claimed she never spoke to Bette again!” Both women would receive Oscar nominations for Eve, but the accolades did nothing to soften the rancor between them. “In the 1980s, the topic of Celeste came up and Bette referred to her as an expletive!” says Staggs.
In addition to the Hollywood veterans, All About Eve, which was based on Mary Orr’s short story The Wisdom of Eve, featured a performance from a then little-known blonde named Marilyn Monroe. George Sanders, who won a supporting actor Oscar for playing a sharp-tongued theater critic, claimed Bette took an instant dislike to Marilyn. “He said that Bette whispered after a shot, within poor Marilyn’s hearing, ‘That little blonde can’t act her way out of a paper bag,’” recounts Staggs, who doubts the story is true. “Marilyn was a starlet at the time, and nobody guessed she was going to become a megastar. I don’t think Bette would go out of her way to insult a young woman who was obviously very timid.”
Gary Merrill, who played Margot’s fiancé, also was able to see beyond Bette’s diva reputation. “They met during a make-up test, and as the filming went on they fell in love,” says Staggs. Bette was in the process of divorcing her third husband at the time, but Gary was still married. “In the divorce proceedings, his wife claimed that Gary went to San Francisco [where part of Eve was filmed] planning to have an affair with Anne Baxter!”
Despite those claims, the relationship between Bette and Gary was clearly genuine. “Their kisses, embraces and arguments on-screen feel very authentic and make their relationship in the film all the more credible,” says Staggs. The costars wed on July 28, 1950, in Mexico, just weeks after Eve wrapped, although the marriage lasted only 10 years.
Eve, however, garnered 14 Oscar nominations, a record unmatched until 1997’s Titanic and 2016’s La La Land. The film “resurrected me from the dead,” said Bette, whose career would continue to thrive for decades.
— Reporting by Katie Bruno