Like the movie it celebrates, Sam Staggs's All About All About Eve
is good, gossipy fun. The book is exhaustively researched, from behind-the-scenes anecdotes to a talk with the original, mysterious "Eve" who sparked the dinner party conversation that inspired the magazine story that eventually became one of the best movies ever made. The book spirals outward from the movie as well, chronicling the subsequent careers of the principals (and an ingenue newcomer named Marilyn Monroe), the life of writer-director Joseph L. Mankiewicz, and even the ill-fated romance of stars Bette Davis and Gary Merrill. It is, of course, the legendary on-set cattiness that is the focus of the book's first half (Celeste Holm claims that Bette Davis responded to her initial "Good morning" with a tart "Oh shit, good manners," and the two never spoke again; cast members dish about George Sanders's then-wife Zsa Zsa Gabor), but the overall tone of the book is one of affection and a deep fascination for even the smallest aspects of the film. A true fan, Staggs analyzes the position of All About Eve
in its own time and in the camp culture of today, notes its influence on innumerable subsequent films, and even chronicles the somewhat manufactured "feud" between Bette Davis and Tallulah Bankhead that developed over Davis's characterization of Margo Channing. To keep it from getting too weighty, Staggs punctuates the book with sidebars, paying tribute to the career of Walter Hampden, the elderly actor who presents the Sarah Siddons award, and even working in a match-the-famous-quote-to-the-French-subtitle quiz. All About All About Eve
succeeds best in its main purpose--making you want to watch the movie one more time. --Ali Davis
From Publishers Weekly
"Fans.... They're juvenile delinquents, mental defectives. They never see a play or a movie--they're never indoors long enough!" exclaims Bette Davis's Margo Channing in the camp classic All About Eve. This seems especially ungrateful language given that uber-fan Staggs (MMII) has interviewed all of the surviving members of the cast and crew and compiled every possible fact, factoid and rumor about Joseph Mankiewicz's 1950s Oscar-winning tale of backstage back-stabbing in the Broadway theater. He details the evolution of the story, the filming, the stars' lives and the story's later incarnation as a Broadway musical. His book bears up under the weight of all this trivia not only because he has uncovered so much captivating material, but also because he uses it to illuminate larger themes. Staggs's comparison of similar dialogue from Eve and Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? illustrates the complexities of cultural influence, while his investigation of whether Tallulah Bankhead was the real-life model for Margo Channing becomes a meditation on the role of the bitch-goddess-diva in popular culture. Most startling of all, he has actually tracked down the young actress who was the model for the deviously ambitious Eve Harrington and tells her alarming, lamentable story. Written in a chatty style that can be laugh-out-loud-funny (actor Hugh Marlow is described as "one of those slow-burning, carbohydrate actors who all look like versions of Gregory Peck"), Stagg's engaging study should be the last word on this enduring classic. B&w photos not seen by PW. (Mar.)
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