Nominated for a record 14 Oscars, All About Eve was one of the most acclaimed movies of the 1950s.
The movie tells the story of the uncomfortable relationship that develops between fading Hollywood star Margo Channing (played by Bette Davis) and ambitious young fan Eve Harrington (played by Anne Baxter), who slowly maneuvers her way into Margo Channing’s life.
Davis’ performance as Channing is widely held as one of the greatest of her career and earned her the eighth of her ten Oscar nominations. But incredibly, Davis almost missed out on the part: the movie’s director, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, initially offered the role to Susan Hayward, Barbara Stanwyck, and Marlene Dietrich—and also considered both Tallulah Bankhead and even Bette’s Davis’ future rival Joan Crawford for the role—before casting her.
But in an odd twist of fate, one of those uncast names remains attached to the movie today, thanks to a bitter feud that developed after the film was released.
As soon as All About Eve arrived in cinemas in 1950, fans of the movie immediately presumed that Davis must have based her portrayal of an aging, dwindling movie star on Tallulah Bankhead herself.
They even noticed that Davis seemed to be affecting a husky, throaty voice in the film that was markedly different from her own, and remarkably similar to Bankhead’s trademark tones. Bankhead herself, understandably, was furious. But when asked about her inspiration for her performance, Davis denied any suggestion that she had based it on her.
“Tallulah herself more than anyone else accused me of imitating her as Margo Channing,” she later commented. “The problem was that I had no voice at all when I started filming ‘All About Eve’ due to emotional stress.
This gave me the famous Bankhead husky voice.” Were it not for her exhausted vocal cords, ultimately, Davis believed it unlikely that, “the similarity to Bankhead in my performance would ever have been thought of.”
Despite her denials, many moviegoers steadfastly believed that Davis had at least in part-based Margo Channing on Bankhead—not least, Bankhead herself. Supposedly the pair rarely (if ever) spoke again after the release of All About Eve and remained on frosty terms for the remainder of their careers.