Bette Davis Was Convinced Her Offer For All About Eve Was Nothing More Than A Prank

Bette Davis was in the twilight of her career when she landed the part of the tempestuous and aging starlet Margo Channing in "All About Eve." Even though she seems like the obvious choice for the role in hindsight, a burned bridge with the chief of 20th Century Fox made her an unlikely pick. In fact, when she first got the offer, Davis thought that one of her friends was pulling a fast one on her.

"All About Eve" was produced by Darryl F. Zanuck, one of the most prominent execs at Fox in studio-era Hollywood. The producer is credited with discovering Davis after casting her in "The Man Who Played God," in which she made a breakout performance as Grace Blair.

The producer and actress suffered a major rift in 1941 when Davis was appointed as the president of the Academy. The powerful board members included her longtime boss at Fox, Zanuck, who advocated for her election. When Davis tried to implement changes, the board — Zanuck included — was extremely resistant. The actress promptly resigned just a few weeks after being appointed, despite Zanuck's strong protest. "He informed me that if I resigned, I would never work in Hollywood again," Davis recalled (via THR). "I took a chance and resigned anyway."

The actress' career took a hit over the next few years because of World War II and Zanuck's blackballing. She still managed to get work, but she certainly never expected to get any jobs from the same producer that had denounced her so harshly all those years before. You can imagine her surprise when she picked up the phone to hear (via All About All About Eve): "Hello, Bette, this is Darryl Zanuck."

Davis and the producer were on the outs

The Fox producer called Davis a decade after their falling out to offer her a life-changing role, but the actress was convinced it was nothing more than a prank call. She answered the phone with an exaggerated accent: "Hello, Darryl dear, Lovely to heah from you." Zanuck, unphased by her theatrics, informed her that he had a script for her. "I think you'll like it. And I hope to death you'll want to do it," he said sincerely. Davis, still convinced she was being toyed with, played along and responded, "Anything you say... if I like it, I will do it."

The lead role in "All About Eve" was originally given to Claudette Colbert, a huge '30s movie star known for "It Happened One Night" and "Cleopatra." Sadly, the actress suffered a serious injury just weeks before the shoot. When Zanuck offered the part to Davis, he informed her that they were 10 days from filming and that she'd have to start right away. Davis assured Zanuck that she would do "anything you say, Darryl dahling."

"Wouldn't you like to know the name of the picture?" the producer ventured. "Oh why not surprise me?" the actress responded laughingly. Finally, Zanuck cut to the chase. "Bette, this script is by Joe Mankiewicz. It's the picture Claudette Colbert was going to do before she broke her back." Suddenly everything clicked and she realized that Zanuck had been serious all along. "Darryl! Is that really you?" she exclaimed.

Zanuck made one of the best decisions in Hollywood history when he put aside his biases to cast Davis in "All About Eve." Her headstrong personality may have gotten her in hot water, but it's also what made her the perfect fit for the role.