A Woman’s Career

Annex - Davis, Bette (All About Eve)_04.jpg
Anne Baxter, Bette Davis, Marilyn Monroe and George Sanders in All About Eve.

One of the most well observed and cynical movies about actors and acting is Joseph Mankiewicz’s All About Eve, 1950.

Bette Davis plays Margo Channing, an aging Broadway star whose personal life and career are jeopardized by the treacherous Eve Harrington, Anne Baxter, a Machiavellian young fan who cleverly oozes into Channing’s life.

The script is brilliant, filled with cruel in-jokes, swipes at Broadway, Hollywood, and television.

“That is all that television is, dear—just auditions.”

But one of the most painful and honest moments comes when Margo Channing reflects on her career.

Funny business, a woman’s career. The things you drop on your way up the ladder—so you can move faster—you forget you’ll need them when you go back to being a woman. That’s one career all females have in common whether we like it or not. Being a woman. Sooner or later, we’ve got to work at it, no matter what other careers we’ve had or wanted. And in the last analysis nothing is any good unless you can look up before dinner—or turn in bed—and there he is. Without that you’re not a woman. You’re someone with a French provincial office—or a book full of clippings. But you’re not a woman. Slow curtain. The end.

I imagine that post-modern feminists shudder at this monologue.

Years ago, I received an emergency call to the set of one of my movies. The star, a beautiful woman of a certain age, was having difficulty with some of her dialogue and demanded a rewrite.

Dutifully, I hopped in my car, drove like mad to the location, and a production assistant quickly ushered me into our star’s trailer.

The lady was obviously distraught. But, I soon discovered, her lines were the least of her problems. No, our actress was going through a painful, slow-motion break-up with a boyfriend at least ten years her junior.

“I’m not getting any younger,” she said between gulps of wine, “I don’t want to end up alone.”

I fixed her dialogue—shifted a few commas—and wished her the best of luck.

Last I heard, she was married—to her fourth husband.

To quote from Bereishis, Genesis 2-18: “It is not good that man be alone…“

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  1. Bill Brandt
    Posted March 4, 2010 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

    Soccer Dad – Thanks for the explanation.
    Being a relatively old bachelor at 59, I do not feel capable of advising others in the matrimonial state.
    However, I was just listening to a wonderful interview of Hugh O’Brien on the Icons Radio Hour (they also had a nice interview with Jean Simmons, Robert), and besides being a wonderful story teller, I learned that O’Brien didn’t get married until he was 80 or so.
    Life’s all a compromise and I would think that the better marriages are comprised of those who know how to compromise. Of course 100%-0% would not bode well for a marriage ;-)

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  2. kishke
    Posted March 4, 2010 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    Being with the wrong person is worse than being

    Depends how wrong they are and why they’re wrong.

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  3. Norm
    Posted March 4, 2010 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    Being with the wrong person is worse than being

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  4. Kae Gregory
    Posted March 4, 2010 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    Out of cynical curiosity, did you ever have someone say, “In the end, everyone dies alone.”

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  5. Posted March 4, 2010 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    From here:
    Resh Lakish says: It is better to sit with [a] partner than to sit alone,” (tav lemeitav tandu mi-lemeitav armelu)
    It’s considered a bit controversial, but perfectly in line with Robert’s observation.

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  6. Bill Brandt
    Posted March 4, 2010 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    I have a friend who is going though her first divorce – and a rather bitter one at that. (the more cynical among us would ask, “is there any other kind?”)
    Her soon to be ex – 3x married before – to me had enough “red flags” to make one extremely cautious at best.
    But men make the same mistakes. Perhaps for different reasons.
    I have made the observation that this drive to have a mate usually blinds us to rationality and objective thought towards our intended.
    Soccer Dad – a translation for us gentiles? ;-) Even Google came up empty…

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  7. Posted March 4, 2010 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    In the language of the Gemora that’s “Tov l’meitav tan du, mi l’meitav armalta.” Quite the opposite of fish and bicycles.

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