In 1950, director Joseph L. Mankiewicz was riding a wave of acclaim after his double Oscar coup (Direction and Screenplay) the previous year for A Letter to Three Wives. After Wives, Mankiewicz had the idea for a story about an aging actress and when he read a Cosmopolitan magazine piece called "The Wisdom of Eve" he knew he'd found his inspiration. Then under contract at Twentieth Century Fox, Mankiewicz contacted studio boss Darryl Zanuck about the idea and Zanuck assigned him to the picture for both script and direction. Originally a vehicle for Fox star Susan Hayward, it was determined she was too young for the role of forty-ish Margo Channing, grande dame of the New York stage. After batting about the names of Barbara Stanwyck and Marlene Dietrich, veteran actress Claudette Colbert was signed to play the part.
Fox resident girl next door, Jeanne Crain had also given an Oscar nominated performance the previous year in the racial themed drama Pinky. Zanuck wanted the key role of Eve to go to Crain, one of the studio's top stars at the time. But Mankiewicz, who had directed the actress in A Letter to Three Wives, didn't think she had the chops to play the cold hearted, conniving Eve. He wanted Anne Baxter, who had won a Best Supported Actress Oscar as the tragic Sophie in 1946's The Razor's Edge. Besides feeling she could handle the part, he noted a distinct resemblance to Claudette Colbert, accentuating the characters desire to be like her mentor. Nature resolved the issue when Jeanne Crain discovered she was pregnant and Baxter was cast in the part.
Meanwhile Claudette Colbert injured her back on the set of Three Came Home, another film she was starring in and had to withdraw from the role of Margo. Now Mankiewicz and Zanuck were in a quandary. Mankiewicz' script was written with Colbert in mind. Then he thought of Bette Davis. Davis was in a career slump. Her nineteen year career at Warner Brothers had just ended with the tepid Beyond the Forest ("What a dump"?), She was past forty in Hollywood and her prospects weren't promising. Mankiewicz thought she would bring worldly wisdom tempered with vulnerability to the character of Margo. Davis read the script and jumped at the chance.
Filling in the rest of the cast were George Sanders (magnificent as rogue critic Addison deWitt), Thelma Ritter, Hugh Marlowe and as Bill Sampson and Karen Richards, Gary Merrill and Celeste Holm (one pre production casting suggestion was Ronald Reagan as Sampson and his soon-to-be wife Nancy Davis as Karen). All About Eve was Mankiewicz piece de resistance, earning him Oscars for Direction and Screenplay for the second consecutive year. All told, Eve won six Academy Awards and was nominated for fourteen, an achievement not matched until 1997's Titanic.