“All About Eve” features Bette Davis’ best performance, which is another way of saying it features one of the best screen performances of all time. Joseph L. Mankiewicz “resurrected me from the dead,” says the actress in archival footage from an episode of “Backstory,” AMC’s behind-the-scenes documentary series that aired from 2000 – 2004. The 25-minute expose focuses heavily on Davis — how could it not? — but also features a number of lesser-known details.
Mankiewicz originally turned in a treatment called “Best Performance” to legendary producer Darryl Zanuck, who went through the script and circled a line that said “…but more of Eve later. All About Eve, in fact.” An instant fan of the screenplay, he decided to make “All About Eve” a personal project. Other highlights: Zanuck wanted Jeanne Crain for the role that eventually went to Anne Baxter and was no fan of Davis, whose career was looking bleak at that point. “She thought she was through, did you know that?” says Baxter of her co-star. “41 years old.” It doesn’t seem unreasonable to suggest that the parallels between actress and character helped make the performance what it is.
To his own surprise, Mankiewicz found Davis a highly agreeable collaborator whose prodigious talents were a sight to behold; moreover, Baxter vehemently denies all rumors of on-set hostility — other than that between Davis and Celeste Holm. Maybe it wasn’t such a bumpy night after all.