Bette Davis gave a legendary performance as the snapdragon Margo Channing in Joseph L. Mankiewicz‘s All About Eve. Insecure, proud, bitchy, tempestuous…quite the bucking bronco. But watching her the night before last on a sizable screen reminded me that by today’s standards, Davis looks roughed up for a woman who was only 41 or a young 42 when the film was made. Strikingly attractive but with puffy features and baggy eyes and other indications of age gaining the upper hand.
(l. to r.) Anne Baxter, Bette Davis, Marilyn Monroe and George Sanders in All About Eve.
Honestly? By today’s standards Davis looks like a woman of 55 or even 60 with dyed hair. (I suppose that “dyed hair” is a redundant term — who doesn’t these days?)
If Davis were around today at this age she’d look much better as she probably wouldn’t be smoking at all (only kids and low-lifes smoke these days) and not drinking half as much (probably restricting herself to wine), and of course she would have had those bags taken care of. It’s not a felony to look your age or a bit older. Not everyone ages well. But no 41 or 42-year-old actress working today would dream of allowing herself to look like Davis did back then. Society expects 45 year-olds to look like 35 year-olds, 60 year-olds to look like 50 year-olds and so on.
Anne Baxter‘s Eve Harrington is, of course, quite the conniving liar — playing the role of Channing’s most devoted fan and assistant when all she wants is to push Channing aside. But by today’s standards, Baxter’s readings are so sterile and poised she almost seems inhuman. She’s supposed to be calculating but she reads her lines like a bloodless sociopath. At the end of the day most of the characters — Margo, Celeste Holm‘s Karen Richards, George Sander‘s Addison DeWitt, Thelma Ritter‘s Birdie — have seen through her, but you’re wondering why Gary Merill and Hugh Marlowe‘s characters don’t. They’re supposed to be sharp operators.
True story: I was driving along Melrose Ave. near Doheny in late 1983. (Or was it ’84?) I noticed that a new BMW in front of me had a framed license plate that came from a dealer in Westport, Connecticut, where I had lived only five years earlier and which is next to my home town of Wilton. I pulled alongside the Beemer and saw right away that it was Baxter (who looked pretty good for being 60 or thereabouts) behind the wheel. I rolled down my window and said, “Hey, Westport…I’m from Wilton!” And Baxter waved and smiled and say “Hiiiiii!” She died of a brain aneurysm a couple of years later.