[From “Phoebe 2002: An Essay,” a collaboration in progress. “Phoebe 2002” is a mock-epic based on the 1950 movie All About Eve, starring Bette Davis as Broadway star Margo Channing. Margo’s lover, director Bill Sampson, is about to fly to Hollywood to work on a film. “Starstruck” fan Eve Harrington, who Margo has just befriended, accompanies them to the airport. Birdie is Margo’s maid and companion.]
After Bill gets on his airplane,
Margo grants Eve ingress.
Outside her idol’s dressing room,
Eve grasps the Bo Peep dress.
Mankiewicz’s plotting is urgently dramatic: like stations of the cross, each
locale is freighted with passionate signs:
Eve accompanies Margo and Bill to the airport,
effectively amplifying the train station as film’s conventional crossroad
(cf. Minnelli’s The Clock; Kubrick’s [version of the same film] A Killer’s Kiss;
Strangers on a Train)
as planes are faster, more dangerous (Carole Lombard criss-crossed with
Bill’s departure quickens Margo’s ardour and terror, that he will die or
10 Hollywood a brute signifier of her mortality,
where some “glamourpuss” or another is always younger than she; where her
has no currency.
Eve makes herself useful, insinuating herself here best as Margo is missing
(never mentioned again in the film, though reconstituted in the image of the
stars that line
pendant: her life as a woman and artist (a crucial dichotomy in the film)
Bill and Margo embrace and Eve comes between them, nominally a “lost lamb,”
20 a classical image of Christ that Bill subverts, naming Margo this.
It is futile to read Margo as Christ, better to situate her within the deluge of
attendant this figure:
within the stations of the cross.
Yet if “the Theatuh” is “all the religions of the world rolled into one”
& those at the top (per Margo) are Gods & Goddesses
(You’ve got to climb Mt. Olympus to reach the Valley of the Dolls),
then Margo’s jealousy aligns her with Hera—
Goddess of marriage, wife of Zeus, Queen of the Olympians.
Her intense fear of the aforementioned “glamourpuss,” of “some gorgeous
wide-eyed young babe,”
30 makes her “meek” (submissive) & “mild” (malleable), “a little child”:
“As of this moment you’re six years old . . .”
Eve materializes: “All ready.”
Margo is rendered defenseless (“NO SMOKING [guns] BEYOND GATE”),
“a loose lamb in a jungle.”
Tyger-fire burns in Eve’s eyes:
“On what wings dare [she] aspire?”
Arm in arm, bride & groom (Margo & Eve) walk down the aisle (airport
“the honeymoon was on . . .”
Eve becomes the Personal Assistant from Hell.
40 Birdie, temporarily displaced, is hurt/disgusted,
sees the (embroidered with sequin pine cones) wool (sweater) pulled over
In no time, Eve (“Giver of Life”) rejuvenates the dressing room:
a junk yard made gay with blossoms & tufts, pillows & frills;
homemade curtains; fresh paint where, once, wallpaper peeled:
“earth now / Seemed like to Heav’n, a seat where gods might dwell”
Margo curtsies to a worshipful audience, unaware Eve waits
in the WINGS clutching the curtain, vicariously lapping up her praise.
[Sissy Spacek stands on the stage in her tiara, dazed by surreal applause,
clueless to evil Chris’s grip on the rope and her teetering bucket of blood]
50 “What—again?” says Margo, snapping Eve out of her teary performance,
then steps out of the Little Bo Peep hoop; Eve goes for her back,
removing the sash, undoing Margo’s Southern Belle gown made tight
by a few extra “Mr. Sampson’s been gone a month” pounds.
[“Young” Charlotte (57-year-old B.D. forced into a white ball gown, her face
shadowed) screeches “I could kill you!” and storms out of the summer house.
Minutes later, Charlotte (now the young Alida Aldrich—Bette’s understudy?)
enters the party in the white blood-splattered dress: but for tinkling wind chimes,
all is hushed . . . hushed]
Sweeping into her dressing room, Junior in tow, Margo barks at Birdie:
“You bought the new girdles a size smaller—I can feel it.”
60 “Somethin’ maybe grew a size larger.” (Birdie’s acumen in rib matters)
“You’re going to get into one of those girdles and act for two and a half hours.”
Birdie rejoins, “I couldn’t get into the girdle in two and half hours!” Margo
lets out a hearty laugh. Eve, sensing the genuineness of true friendship,
chimes in, “You haven’t noticed my latest bit of interior decorating,”
and proudly calls attention to her chintz curtains: “I made them myself.”
Pleased with her successful killing of their moment, Eve checks her reflection
in the vanity mirror, primps like a cat, her pointy breasts aimed at Margo’s back.
“Adorable,” mocks Birdie.
Eve takes the coveted costume for pressing; Birdie reminds Margo
70 of her own “slave labor” status, but that the wardrobe mistress has a union.
“Eve . . . trembling aside, / Looked where the red fruit hung
like coals of fire, / Overhead the reddest.
She lifted her long arms and tried /
To pull down the bough . . . .”
Margo dashes out the door looking like a Civil War victim
with bandaged (wig tape) head and discovers Eve
holding the gown up, “pressing her supple body into [its] cool dark leaves—
Her breasts uplifted in endeavor—“ in front of a full-length mirror.
Sans false eyelashes, but with makeup still intact, Margo is framed
80 beside the harp case (“HANDLE WITH CARE”) as the camera pauses to read
her face. She’s amused by what she perceives as childish adulation.
“Eve, we’d better let Mrs. Brown pick up the wardrobe.”
Startled and culpable, Eve clings to the dress, pressing her breasts flat,
then walks toward Margo with the flounced gown cradled in her arms.
[After Jodie Foster confides her story of the slaughtering of the lambs,
the camera pans Dr. Hannibal Lecter’s “cage,” revealing a tape player,
a copy of Poetry magazine, and a charcoal sketch of Clarice holding lamb] [“Miss Charlotte, Miss Charlotte, there’s blood all over your dress!”]
7. Actress Carole Lombard was killed in a plane crash in January 1942 while returning to California
from a US-Bond-selling tour of the Midwest.
26. Jacqueline Susann, Valley of the Dolls (New York: Bernard Geis Associates, 1966), p. 3: “You’ve
got to climb to the top of Mount Everest / to reach the Valley of the Dolls.”
30. “meek”, “mild”, “a little child”: William Blake, “The Lamb,” lines 15-16.
36. William Blake, “The Tyger,” line 7.
43. “made gay”, “blossoms”, “tufts”: John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book VII, lines 318-327.
45. Ibid., lines 328-329.
48-49. Carrie (movie), 1976.
54-57. Hush . . . Hush, Sweet Charlotte (movie), 1965.
71-74. D.H. Lawrence, “Eve,” lines 13-16.
77-78. Ibid., lines 17-18.
85-87. The Silence of the Lambs (movie), 1991.
88. Hush . . . Hush, Sweet Charlotte.