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11/15/2004 - BOOK REVIEW - "All About - All About Eve"

All About "All About Eve" - Book Review
Movie Books from the Writer's POV

By Matthew Terry

This will, hopefully, be the beginning of a long line of book reviews told from the Writer's Point-Of-View. As a screenwriter, you may often wonder: "Will reading this book give me any insight on how to be a better screenwriter?" Hopefully I'll be able to answer that question.

"All About All About Eve" (Copyright 2000, published by St. Martin's Press), written by Sam Staggs, is a very interesting book about one of the greatest films that Hollywood ever produced. Nominated for six, but the winner of four Academy Awards (Best Picture, Director, Screenplay and Supporting Actor), "All About Eve" is still considered one of the BEST, most influential films, that Hollywood has ever produced. If you haven't seen it: See it. If you HAVE seen it, see it again in the newly updated, with many extras, DVD that has been recently released (contains an audio commentary by Sam Staggs, author of this book).

"All About Eve" is a great film but what about the book? The book is a great dissection of the movie with more information than you may ever want to know: Did you know Bette Davis smoked 9 cigarettes in the film? Did you know that the actress who played Phoebe at the end of the film killed herself in 1969? There's more minutiae here about one film that it can boggle the mind. Thoroughly researched you can over-load yourself on this book.

But for you, the screenwriter, what does it tell you? Well, the first few chapters are about the original story. Mary Orr, wrote the original story, "The Wisdom of Eve" based on a true story told to her from a Broadway Actress named Elizabeth Bergner. Elizabeth hired an assistant named Martina Lawrence who, over time, began to act exactly like her. When Martina was caught with a stolen letter, she was fired. Elizabeth told this story to Mary, Mary wrote the story up, it was printed in "Cosmopolitan" in May of 1946. A radio play followed in 1949. Fox paid Mary Orr $5,000 for the rights to the story. Joe Mankiewicz, the Director of "All About Eve", wrote a screenplay and went into production in 1950. Mary Orr never received a screen credit but, in 1951 (and later reprinted in 1972), a published screenplay has the title page: All About Eve, A screenplay by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, based on a Short Story by Mary Orr.

Over time, Hollywood, and the Writer's Guild of America, have worked hard to make sure that credit goes where credit is due. When I had one of my screenplays re-written I received a "story by" credit, as stated in my option contract. Times were different back in 1949 but $5,000 went a long way, too. So if any lessons are learned from this writer's take on this book - make sure you're clear on where you got your story from and what you're going to do with it.

Another item of note. The Budget for "All About Eve" was put at $1,246,500. The final total was $1,400,000. $500,000 went to the salaries of Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, Celeste Holm, Marilyn Monroe, etc. $3,500 went to "Story Rights and Expenses" while another $47,208.29 went to "Scenario". Close to 5 percent of the original budget went to the screenplay. I don't know what that percentage is today but think it averages about 2 to 3 percent.

"All About All About Eve" is a great study of an excellent film that started out as a short story and ended up being a Broadway Hit entitled "Applause". The first few chapters are about how the story came about and bits and pieces of the screenplay are sprinkled throughout the book. Martina Lawrence shows up at the end of the book to "set the record straight" on what REALLY happened between her and Elizabeth Bergner and it is always amazing how stories can change over time.

Is this book good for screenwriter? Yes. Is the book good for a laugh or two. Sure. I'm just waiting for someone to do the same intricate behind-the-scenes exploration of other great films.


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