Filming All About Eve Was More Than Marilyn Monroe Could Handle

It's hard to watch a Marilyn Monroe performance without feeling utterly enraptured by her. The actress was a total scene-stealer, a quality she embodied to a tee in the 1950 film "All About Eve." Her role as the ambitious (if not marginally air-headed) Claudia Caswell was a massive step up for Monroe, who until then had little big screen experience. She'd just had a successful turn in "The Asphalt Jungle," one of her first credited roles, so landing a part in a Joseph L. Mankiewicz project meant that her star was finally on the rise in a big way.

Caswell is first introduced in one of the tenser moments of the film, when Bette Davis' Margo Channing first begins to distrust her sneaky protégé Eve (Anne Baxter). Her presence ushers in a welcome bit of comic relief, and though her first scene takes place opposite Davis, Baxter, and George Sanders — three actors at the absolute top of their game — her well-timed humor and signature "Who, me?" reticence ensures that all eyes are on her. It's an early glimpse into the effortless charm that Monroe carried in all her performances, but for those who worked with her behind the scenes, achieving such perfection was not such an easy feat.

The bumpy ride to stardom

Monroe's role in "All About Eve," though small, is one of the most memorable of the film. It's difficult to focus on anyone but Monroe when she's in the room. Knowing just how famous she would become, it all feels like a testament to her inescapable star power. Apart from Sanders' playful observations as Addison DeWitt ("I can see your career rising in the east like the sun"), no one could have known that Monroe would soon be one of the most famous women in the world. In 1950, the then-inexperienced Monroe was more a burden to production than a promising new talent. She kept both cast and crew waiting by showing up late to set. More than that, it took multiple takes for the actress to nail a scene with Davis, according to costar Gary Merrill:

"Marilyn had only a few lines ... Bette had more, but she was an experienced actress and accomplished the scene with little bother. It had to be done in ten takes, however — Marilyn kept forgetting her lines."

Monroe blamed her forgetfulness on her nerves; it's not every day that you get the chance to perform opposite one of the greatest living actresses. Unfortunately, Davis was less than impressed with Monroe. Famously temperamental on set, she was already put off by the younger actress's tardiness. And after so many retakes for a scene which, to her, must have been a breeze, Davis apparently snapped — and Monroe had to excuse herself to vomit offstage. Ironically, her character does the same in her second and final appearance.

"All About Eve" wouldn't be Monroe's last film to experience difficulties or delays. The actress became notorious for flubbing her lines and arriving late to set, but in a way, the ends often justified the means. After all, there's a reason we still talk about her films, and celebrate her performances. It goes to show though that her co-stars and those working behind the camera deserve just as much credit for their efforts to make it all work.