Certainly, that was the case when I arrived in the bankrupt, dirty, dressed-down New York of the late 1970s. But the blazing energy of aspiration I felt from the movie was still there — cruder, perhaps, but equally exciting. And more than a few of the people I befriended turned out to be “Eve”-ophiles, as well.
We quote lines from it to one another. The most famous is Margo’s warning at the start of her party: “Fasten your seatbelt. It’s going to be a bumpy night.” But my favorite is Addison’s put-down of an overwrought Eve: “You’re too short for that gesture.”
Since I rarely fraternize with theater people, my life as a critic has seldom delivered those urbane, exquisitely timed moments that might have come from “All About Eve.” So I cherish the few that do. Several years ago, for example, I attended a Park Avenue dinner party where I found myself seated next to a well-lubricated, bejeweled woman who was going on about how insufferable a recent, starry production of “Othello” had been, one that I had praised lavishly.
Though we had been introduced earlier, she evidently hadn’t caught my name, because she ended her tirade by saying, presumably in reference to The Times’s rave, “What happened to Ben Brantley?” I responded by turning my place card to her. She didn’t miss a beat. “I admire you so much,” she said, with a tremolo.
Best of all was the time, 12 years ago, when I reviewed Patti LuPone on Broadway as Mama Rose in a revival of “Gypsy.” I had been less than enthusiastic about her in the part in an earlier concert version. But she was fabulous this time around. In my review I wrote, “And yes, that quiet crunching sound you hear is me eating my hat.”
The next day a big, beribboned, circular box arrived in my office. Inside was an immense chocolate cowboy hat. The note from LuPone read, “I hope you’re laughing.”
Was she kidding? That was a gift — and a gesture — worthy of Margo Channing. And for a few enchanted moments, I belonged entirely to the radiant, impossible landscape of “All About Eve.”