All About Eve: Literary Origins and Recycling

The story of All About Eve originated in an anecdote related to Mary Orr, an actress and short story writer, by the famous Viennese-born actress Elisabeth Bergner.

While performing in The Two Mrs. Carrolls during 1943 and 1944, Bergner hired a young, insistent fan to become part of her household and employed her as an assistant.  She later regretted her generosity when the woman attempted to undermine her. Referring to her only as “the terrible girl”, Bergner related the events to Orr, who used it as the basis for her short story “The Wisdom of Eve,” which was published in 1946.

In the story, Orr gives the girl a more ruthless character and allows her to succeed in stealing the older actress’ career.  Bergner later confirmed the basis of the story in her autobiography, Greatly Admired and Greatly Scolded).

In 1949, scribe-director Joseph Mankiewicz (brother of Herman Mankiewicz of Citizen Kane fame)) was considering a story about an aging actress.  Upon reading “The Wisdom of Eve”, he felt that the conniving girl would be a useful added element.

He sent a memo to Darryl F. Zanuck, head of Twentieth Century Fo, saying it “fits in with an original idea [of mine] and can be combined. Superb starring role for Susan hayward.”

Mankiewicz presented a treatment of the combined two stories under the title Best Performance.

He changed the main character’s name from Margola Cranston to Margo Channing and retained several of Orr’s characters — Eve Harrington, Lloyd and Karen Richards, and Miss Casswell.  But he removed Margo Channing’s husband completely, replacing him with a new character, Bill Sampson.

The intention was to depict Channing in a new relationship and allow Eve Harrington to threaten both Channing’s professional and personal lives.

Mankiewicz also added the the crucial characters of Addison DeWitt, Birdie Coonan, Max Fabian, and Phoebe.

Zanuck was enthusiastic and provided numerous suggestions for improving the screenplay. In some sections, he felt Mankiewicz’s writing lacked subtlety or provided excessive detail. He suggested diluting Birdie Coonan’s jealousy of Eve so the audience would not recognize Eve as a villain until much later in the story.

Zanuck reduced the screenplay by about 50 pages and chose the title All About Eve.  The title derives from the opening scenes, in which the theater Addison DeWitt says in voice over narration that he will soon tell “more of Eve … All about Eve, in fact.”