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  • Writer's pictureAugust Sorenson

From the Archives: All About Eve, All About Bacall, and All About The Academy

Updated: Apr 24, 2023

The dress wore by Bacall now on display. Thanks to Director of Relations, Jon-Michael Hernandez, who snapped a few pictures of the dress in it's new home at The Academy.

After nearly a century and a half of The Academy’s history we’ve compiled many wonderful and unique treasures. We’re now opening the door to our archives and letting public eyes peer into the vault. Below, find an article on the iconic dress worn by Lauren Bacall in Applause, and the remarkable story of that film’s inception.

The Academy acquired the dress worn by Lauren Bacall (’42) in Applause, the Broadway musical based on Mary Orr’s The Wisdom of Eve. Bacall sported the chic look for the role of aging theater star Margo Channing, the role played by Bette Davis in All About Eve. Bacall would win the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical in 1970. The show received a total of 10 Tony nominations, winning 4 (including Bacall’s win) for Best Musical, Best Direction of a Musical, and Best Choreography. The show was a commercial success, running for 896 performances after its opening on March 30, 1970.

The story behind its inception is a remarkable one. The film All About Eve was itself based on the same short story The Wisdom of Eve—though Orr is not given cinematic credit in it. Author Mary Orr had spent a year at The Academy in 1931. All About Eve sees an Academy connection with Thelma Ritter (Class of 1922) who played the role of Birdie Coonan. Ritter would be nominated for an Academy Award for the role. Another alum, Christine Ebersole (Class of 1975) played Margo Channing in a staged concert version of the Broadway musical in a New York City Center Encores! Production.

Costume designer Ray Aghayan worked extensively since the 1950s and racked up countless credits along the way: Judy Garland’s CBS variety show, Alice Through the Looking Glass, Lady Sings the Blues, and Funny Lady being just a few. Aghayan would spare no expense, electing to use glass beads instead of the cheaper, less glamorous, plastic to make it Broadway-ready. It would weigh a whopping 25 pounds, and Bacall would be encumbered while dashing across the stage.

On Broadway, the production process is often an uphill battle. Adapting All About Eve to the stage would be no exception. Charles Strouse and Lee Adams, the writing duo behind Bye Bye Birdie, sought to make a musical out of All About Eve. Unable to acquire the rights from Twentieth Century Fox, they instead purchased the stage rights on which it had been based, The Wisdom of Eve. The process progressed, though neither dialogue nor characters created for the film could be used onstage.

Fortunately for us, and our ever-expanding archives, Bacall’s role was a creation of Orr, and both her performance—and dress—were implemented in the stage musical.

The Academy’s acquisition of the Applause dress was made possible by Academy graduate, and our friend, Duane Perrelli (’65).

Our gratitude goes out to him.

Stay tuned as we continue to comb through over a century of archives.


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