Although no credit is actually given on screen, Joseph Mankiewicz ‘s Oscar-winning screenplay for All About Eve is actually based on a short story titled “The Wisdom of Eve” by Mary Orr. Actress Elisabeth Bergner related a story of an understudy attempting to use her position to undermine Bergner and make a name for herself in the process, thus inspiring Orr to create character that would eventually become the defining mid-career role for Bette Davis.
The Oscar for writing the screenplay (as well as directing All About Eve) would be the second for Mankiewicz in an unprecedented and unmatched feat in which he took home both Best Director and Adapted Screenplay Oscars in back to back years. Mankiewicz took the backbone of Orr’s story and injected with witty repartee exchanged between various theater folk that belies the seamy underbelly of ambition, disloyalty, and insecurity. This thematic duality is personified almost to excess in the person of Margo Channing—play with knowing ferocity by Bette Davis—whose projection of a caustic worldliness and temperamental arrogance is merely a mask for an extraordinarily brittle vulnerability which makes her a target for an up-and-comer with no moral compass like Eve Harrington.
The result of pitch-perfect casting of actors capable of inhabiting all the darkness of Broadway that is hidden well behind the stage and red carpet glamour resulted in All About Eve becoming the corrosively cynical movie Hollywood had made since the 1937 fictionalization of the murder of Mary Phagan, They Won’t Forget.
All About Eve would eventually be nominated for a record 14 Academy Awards, a record that would stand alone until matched by Titanic in 1997. When the American Film Institute put out their first list of the top 100 American movies of all time in 1988, All About Eve came in at number 16, but fell to number 28 when the list was updated a decade later.