Bette Davis' Casting In All About Eve Changed The Entire Way Her Character Was Portrayed

It's very difficult to imagine anyone other than Bette Davis playing Margo Channing, the aging, acid-tongued theater star that finds her life being stolen out from under her in "All About Eve." Before production began on the 1950 film, however, director Joseph L. Mankiewicz and producer Darryl F. Zanuck were doing just that. While names like Marlene Dietrich, Joan Crawford, and Barbara Stanwyck were considered, comedy queen Claudette Colbert eventually won the role — but she eventually lost it after suffering an injury on the set of "Three Came Home."

There's no doubt that Colbert would have done a fine job in "All About Eve." She was a fantastic actress, having risen to fame in the '30s playing sly, smart women, each with an unshakable degree of class. She was 47 when she was cast in the Mankiewicz picture, and, not unlike Margo herself, Colbert was struggling to reconcile her age in an industry that valued beauty and youth above almost anything else. What's more, she'd never truly played a character like Margo before, and according to the 2001 book "All About All About Eve," the actor relished the idea of absconding the "noble" roles she was so known for.

Colbert's enthusiasm aside, her injury forced Mankiewicz to move on with a new actress after months of stalling. With the casting of Bette Davis, Margo became a very different character, and even the themes within "All About Eve" were tweaked to accommodate such a drastically different actress.

What might have been

Even without Davis' crackling performance as Margo in mind, Colbert doesn't exactly seem like the perfect fit for the role. That's because Mankiewicz had a very specific vision for this version of the character, one that would have found her match in Anne Baxter's Eve.

"Joe's idea originally was that Anne Baxter as a young girl looked very much like me," Colbert would later explain. Their physical similarities would have emphasized the issue of Margo's age, and solidified the idea of being replaced in a much more tangible way. "[Eve] looked like [Margo], and she thought she could be better. When Bette did the role, it became a whole different thing."

Indeed, the issue of age took a major backseat with Davis in the role. According to Mankiewicz, it was because, "in the eyes of the public, Bette Davis was never really young. And so that dimension of the aging actress is somewhat eclipsed with Bette playing Margo Channing."

All's well that ends well

That said, Davis' involvement allowed some of Margo's spicier qualities to rise to the surface. Davis played up Margo's bitchiness to spectacular effect, and it's the very reason why you can't really picture anyone else as Margo. Who else could have brought the same bite, playful snark, or melodrama to the character? Who else could have sold Mankiewicz's iconic one-liners with such steely conviction? Davis' casting may have been a last-minute thing, but it absolutely takes "All About Eve" to another level — and as devastated as Colbert might have been about losing the role initially, she more or less agreed.

"Bette did a great job!" Colbert said later. "I know how much it meant to her at the time, because she had her share of personal and professional woes." Mankiewicz's film — and the characters at the center of it — might have been all about the rivalry, but Davis and Colbert kept things cordial to the last. "It wasn't my conception of the role," Colbert said of Davis, "but I resent those false reports that portray me as ungracious to a fellow artist who gave as much to the role as Bette did."