Is there anyone alive who hasn't seen "All About Eve" -- anyone who doesn't love movies, that is? In his dishy tell-all tome, "All About 'All About Eve,' " author Sam Staggs dubs it "one of the most entertaining movies ever made" and then, in a cheery bid for book sales, adds "the bitchiest film ever made."
That's no small distinction, but it hardly covers the range and brilliance of the 1950 classic, which won 14 Oscar nominations and six awards, including best picture, director, screenplay and supporting actor George Sanders.
Staggs, who lives in Dallas, will appear tonight at the Castro Theatre when "All About Eve" returns in a restored 35mm print. After introducing the film, which stars Bette Davis as fading Broadway star Margo Channing -- and boasts one of the wittiest, most literate scripts ever filmed -- he'll answer questions and sign books.
One of the subjects that's bound to come up is San Francisco's Curran Theatre, which director-writer Joseph L. Mankiewicz used to represent the Broadway theater where Davis' character is rehearsing a play called "Aged in Wood." Mankiewicz shot the rehearsal scenes at the Curran -- a platform was built over a section of orchestra seats to accommodate the camera -- and staged the important moment when Anne Baxter, playing backstabbing upstart Eve Harrington, accosts the playwright's wife (Celeste Holm) in a rainy stage-door alley.
Although that confrontation takes place at night, it was shot during the day. When the company broke for lunch, it went next door to the Clift Hotel's Redwood Room.
Mankiewicz and 20th Century Fox chose the Curran because it resembled a Broadway theater more than anything in Los Angeles, and because shooting in San Francisco was cheaper than flying 55 cast and crew members to New York. The first two weeks of "Eve" production took place in San Francisco, in fact, and began when Mankiewicz and company gathered here on April 11, 1950.
According to Staggs, most of the "Eve" crew stayed at the Fairmont. It was here that Davis, who was perfectly cast as the insecure and imperious diva, fell in love with co-star Gary Merrill and alienated Holm on the first day by saying, "Oh s--, good manners," after Holm greeted her with a chipper "Good morning!" And it was here that a nervous Marilyn Monroe, playing Miss Casswell, "a graduate of the Copacabana School of Dramatic Art," kept her distance from fellow actors. "She never understood or accepted our unspoken assumption that she was one of us," Mankiewicz said in 1972.
From the beginning, there was a heightened anticipation, a sense of something special about "Eve." "There was just a smell about it," Davis said. "You just knew it had to be great and that it would be great for all of us."
Although his 387-page book is brimming with "All About Eve" minutiae, Staggs admits he never visited the Curran Theatre until after his book was published last spring. Last July, he and local actor Matthew Martin combed the backstage of the Curran and took turns photographing themselves in the stage- door alley, wearing a raincoat and frumpy hat like the one Baxter had worn.
"That is going into my new chapter, which will be added to the paperback edition that comes out in June," Staggs says.
Staggs was "never able to ascertain" whether the lobby scenes in "Eve" were shot in the Curran, he says. "The lobby of the Curran may be too small. But I can tell you that the exterior of the theater was actually the John Golden Theater in New York, and a double was used when Bette Davis walks into the theater."
"All About Eve" endures as popular entertainment -- and not only as a camp classic -- because "it's good literature," Staggs says.
"It's a damn good comedy and . . . you never really get tired of it."
Staggs says he's lost count of the number of times he's seen the movie ("roughly 35 to 40") but adds that he's looking forward to seeing the new print at the Castro. "The soundtrack has been fully restored.
Somebody told me that just before Bette Davis says the immortal line, 'Fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy night,' you can actually hear her gulp the martini."