She was one of the most celebrated in her field, a Hollywood costume designer who Bette Davis described as such “We may rehearse our lines, our movements, and our expressions, but until we finally slip into the costumes does everything come together so that we actually become the character. If we are not comfortable in those clothes, if they do not project the character, the costume designer has failed us. Edith Head never failed.”
That’s high praise indeed and it comes from one of the most notoriously difficult actresses of their day! So it should come as no surprise that Edith was nominated for 35 Academy Awards and holds the record for the most wins in the Costume category with eight including Roman Holiday, The Sting and one little film that I want to talk about here, as this article isn’t about Edith, it’s about Eve, in fact it’s All About Eve.
I’ve watched All About Eve many, many times and though I don’t like to play favourites among my beloved era of Hollywood glamour this one deserves a special mention and that’s not just because it’s record of 14 Academy Award nominations wasn’t beaten until Titanic came along. The rights to the story by Mary Orr were bought by 20th Century Fox and Director Joseph L. Mankiewicz adapted it into a script entitled Best Performance but it was soon changed to All About Eve referencing a line spoken by the character Addison De Witt in the opening scene.
“The minor awards, as you can see, have already been presented. Minor awards are for such as the writer and director since their function is merely to construct a tower so that the world can applaud a light which flashes on top of it. And no brighter light has ever dazzled the eye than Eve Harrington. Eve. But more of Eve later, all about Eve, in fact.”
Stars such as Susan Hayward, Marlene Dietrich, Gertrude Lawrence, Barbara Stanwych and Tallulah Bankhead were considered for the part of Margo Channing, an aging theatre actress who is betrayed by her assistant Eve Harrington played brilliantly by Anne Baxter, but it was Claudette Colbert who landed the part. Unfortunately for her and fortunately for us (fans of Bette Davis) the actress suffered an injury while shooting another film and it was decided that she will be replaced by Bette, who insisted on Edith Head, as her costume designer much to the chagrin of Charles LeMaire, head of the 20th Century Fox wardrobe department who had already been deep in development with costumes and wasn’t thrilled to give the biggest star of the film to a rival costumer. Everyone in Hollywood including LeMaire of course knew, that bad things happen to people who make Bette Davis mad so he had no choice but to collaborate with Edith.
Rumour has it, that one of the most iconic dresses in the film worn by Bette, and my personal favourite, the off the shoulder, gown with fitted waistline and full skirt, was what could have been a reason for slowing down the production and a total disaster but instead, turned into a success. Due to the measurements having been taken incorrectly the dress didn’t fit as it was supposed to and the foundation build inside the dress which meant to support the actresses breasts without a bra, kept sliding off her shoulders. Thankfully Betty Davis preferred to have her shoulders exposed and nothing was changed. A real happy Hollywood Ending.
I’ve taken the task upon myself to screen-grab all the costumes present in the film not only the once worn by Miss Davis. Enjoy!
Anne Baxter in All About Eve. Costume by Charles LeMaire
Anne Baxter and Celeste Holm in All About Eve. Costume by Charles LeMaire.