STEVE INSKEEP, host:
The 1950 classic "All About Eve" contains one of the most famous lines in movies.
(Soundbite of movie, "All About Eve")
Ms. BETTE DAVIS (Actress): (As Margo Channing) Fasten your seatbelts - it's going to be a bumpy night.
INSKEEP: That bumpy night is what Bette Davis is about to give her ever-so-helpful assistant Eve Harrington. Maybe she's too helpful.
Eve is the next subject of In Character, our series exploring famous fictional characters and what they say about our real lives.
NPR's special correspondent Susan Stamberg zooms in for a close-up of sweet, little Eve Harrington.
SUSAN STAMBERG: In an old porkpie hat and wrinkled raincoat, Eve looks outside the stage door, waiting for a glimpse of the famous Margo Channing.
(Soundbite of movie, "All About Eve")
Ms. CELESTE HOLM (Actress): (As Karen Richards) I'm going to take you to Margo.
Ms. ANNE BAXTER (Actress): (As Eve Harrington) Oh, no.
Ms. HOLM: (As Karen Richards) Oh, yes. She's got to meet you.
Ms. BAXTER: (As Eve Harrington) No. No, I'll be imposing on her. I'd be just another tongue-tied, gushing fan.
Ms. HOLM: (As Karen Richards) There isn't another like you, there couldn't be.
Ms. BAXTER: (As Eve Harrington) Maybe if I'd known - maybe some other time - looking like this.
Ms. HOLM: (As Karen Richards) Oh, you look just fine. By the way, what's your name?
Ms. BAXTER: (As Eve Harrington) Eve. Eve Harrington.
STAMBERG: Actress Anne Baxter is Eve, playing opposite her in this scene - Celeste Holm who once described Eve as having the manners of an ambassador and the morals of a pirate.
Critic Bosley Crowther went even further: Eve would make a black widow spider look like a ladybug. She is duplicitous, deceitful, two-faced. She wants everything Margo Channing has: her career, her lover, her place on the marquee. Eve Harrington will do anything to get what she wants.
Mr. SAM STAGGS (Author, "All About, All About Eve") And she damn well near succeeds.
STAMBERG: In his book "All About, All About Eve," Sam Staggs reports that the film was based on a story called "The Wisdom of Eve" published in Cosmopolitan in 1946.
Writer Mary Orr got $800 for her story and sold it to the movies for $5,000. In the magazine version, Eve Harrington is never punished. She spies on the star, steals a husband and gets away with it. But in the movie Eve gets stardom, awards, but it's clear her heart is hollow, her life empty, and she has her own Eve waiting in the wings.
Why the difference? Sam Staggs says Hollywood was censorship central in those days.
Mr. STAGGS: Not only were sex scenes censored and scenes of violence and this sort of thing, there was a censorship for morality. That is, people who did bad things had to be punished at the end of the picture.
STAMBERG: Sam Staggs sees "All About Eve" as an indictment. Writer-director Joseph Leo Mankiewicz implication that show business survives on bloodsuckers like Eve.
Actress Stockard Channing disagrees. A few years ago, she played Margo Channing in a benefit reading of the screenplay; Calista Flockhart was Eve. Stockard Channing says in any world, on or off the stage, a sinner like Eve would be punished for her treachery.
Ms. STOCKARD CHANNING (Actress): The hidden aspect, the fact that she would simper and hide things and leave some snakes on the grass, you know, I think it is the covering, the hiding.
(Soundbite of movie, "All About Eve")
Ms. DAVIS: (As Margo Channing) Why won't you sit down, Ms. Worthington?
Ms. BAXTER: (As Eve Harrington) Harrington.
Ms. DAVIS: (As Margo Channing) I'm sorry, Harrington. Won't you sit down?
Ms. BAXTER: (As Eve Harrington) Thank you. Would you (unintelligible)…
Ms. HOLM: (As Karen Richards) I was just telling Margo and Lloyd how often you've seen the play.
Ms. BAXTER: (As Eve Harrington) Yes, I've seen every performance.
Mr. HUGH MARLOWE (Actor): (As Lloyd Richards) Every performance. Well, then am I safe in assuming you like it?
Ms. BAXTER: (As Eve Harrington) I'd like anything Ms. Channing played in.
STAMBERG: Were you ever an Eve? Did you ever glom onto anybody, watched her like a hawk?
Ms. CHANNING: No, I never was and I always yearn for a mentor.
STAMBERG: Mentor is one thing; predator is another - that's Eve.
And in his 1998 play "Collected Stories," Donald Margulies creates an Eve-like character. Margulies is a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and teaches drama at Yale.
Have you, as a man of theater, seen your share of real-life Eves?
Professor DONALD MARGULIES (Pulitzer Prize-winning Playwright; Drama, Yale University): Have I seen my share of real - I've seen glimmers of incredible ambition. Yes, I have seen that, a kind of veraciousness and a hunger for recognition.
STAMBERG: In Donald Margulies' play "Collected Stories," a venerated author mentors a young graduate student. Over the years, Lisa Morrison, the student, and Ruth Steiner, the writer, become close friends. Ruth pours her heart out to Lisa — who uses Ruth's most private experiences to create a highly-successful first novel.
On television, Ruth was played by Linda Lavin; Samantha Mathis was Lisa.
(Soundbite of TV drama, "Collected Stories")
Ms. SAMANTHA MATHIS (Actress): (As Lisa Morrison) You're not being fair. You're…
Ms. LINDA LAVIN (Actress): (As Ruth Steiner) Oh, look who's talking about fair.
Ms. MATHIS: (As Lisa Morrison) …contradicting everything you ever taught me about writing.
Ms. LAVIN: (As Ruth Steiner) The things you got me doing, saying, thinking.
Ms. MATHIS: (As Lisa Morrison) Not you. Miriam.
Ms. LAVIN: (As Ruth Steiner) Oh, please. You here being disingenuous or very naïve, of course, it's me. There is no fact. There is no fiction. As far as everybody is concerned, it's me, so it might as well be me. Everybody knew you were my protégé, for God's sake.
Ms. MATHIS: (As Lisa Morrison) So?
Ms. LAVIN: (As Ruth Steiner) So you're pandering to the public like some dirty camel rag.
Ms. MATHIS: (As Lisa Morrison) No.
Ms. LAVIN: (As Ruth Steiner) You know how that is, you read the book, your guessing, you're smacking your lips and you're guessing.
Ms. MATHIS: (As Lisa Morrison) So what's do worse…
Ms. LAVIN: (As Ruth Steiner) Get out of my life, damn it. You appropriated my life.
STAMBERG: The story of Ruth and Lisa, Margo and Eve, is the story of star and disciple, mentor and apprentice, even parent and child.
Age superseded, and yes, threatened, by youth. Wanting to be kind, to teach, to give, but not everything, not all of it. Such a complicated relationship -riddled with love, desire, fear and ego. And when the younger person - the Eve Harrington is an unbridled rhymes-with-witch but cloaks it in sugar, you end up with a classic bad girl.
Why do bad girls fascinate us so?
Prof. MARGULIES: Because bad girls and bad boys act out basest instincts that we try to suppress, that our superegos work overtime to suppress.
STAMBERG: In 16th-century Germany, Lucas Cranach did a painting of Adam and Eve it's at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena. Adam faces forward, large apple leaf strategically placed, kind of scratching his head. Eve, on the other hand, thrusts out one hip, writhes her arms above her head toward the apples and looks right at us through slightly lowered lids — the picture of seduction. Eve, as in evil, Eve, the corrupting femme fatale.
No accident, then, that Miss Harrington, the ambitious heroine of that 1950 Best Picture, shares the Biblical first woman's first name.
I'm Susan Stamberg, NPR News.
INSKEEP: We'd like to know what great American characters inspire you or inspired the person who wants to replace you. You can nominate your favorites at our In Character blog. We may put your suggestion on the radio, just go to npr.org/incharacter.
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.