The son of famed writer-director Joseph L. Mankiewics, (All Abut Eve, A Letter to Three Wives, Guys and Dolls, Cleopatra) and the nephew of Citizen Kane screenwriter Herman Mankiewics, Tom Mankiewics (1942-2010) was Hollywood royalty. Humphrey Bogart gave Tom his first drink. He dined with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, and spent an evening at the theater with Ava Gardner. His first Hollywood job was as a lowly production assistant on The Commancheros (1961) starring John Wayne, the last film directed by the legendary Michael Curtiz (Casablanca, 1942).
Carrying on the family legacy, Tom became a prolific producer, screenwriter and director, working with, among others, Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra and Sean Connery.
Tom Mankiewics also inherited, but never broke free, of the standard psychological traumas that comes with life as Hollywood royalty. His mother, actress Rosa Stradner, an alcoholic and schizophrenic, committed suicide, and in Tom’s own words, was the “single most important influence on my life. ” Consequently, Tom spent a lifetime bedding and trying to rescue some of Hollywood’s most troubled young actresses.
Tom Mankiewics was one of the Hollywood elite who, while living a drug and alcohol-fueled life, managed to work on one A project after another. In 1970 Mankiewics worked on Diamonds Are Forever, the seventh James Bond film. He continued to work on the Bond franchise with credits on Live and Let Die (1973), and The Man With the Golden Gun (1974), and then a few years later helped rewrite the scripts for Superman (1978) and Superman II (1980).
My Life as a Mankiewics: An Insider’s Journey Through Hollywood is not so much a memoir as a loosely connected series of Hollywood vignettes that perfectly capture the creative but also destructive landscape of Hollywood in the 60′s, 70′s and 80′s. The book is, to say the least, compulsively readable.
Reflecting on the power structure of 20th Century Fox in the 1940′s, Mankiewics writes:
According to Dad, the most important man on the lot, the one you wanted on your side, was not [studio chief] Darryl F. Zanuck but Henry the Bootblack. He shined the shoes of every executive on a daily basis. They were constantly on the phone and talked freely in front of him while he worked. As a result, he knew everything that was going on at Fox: whose contract was being dropped, what project was going to get the green light or be canceled, and who was currently in or out of favor. When one of Fox’s films returned to Los Angeles from African locations, the studio brought a group of Watusi warriors with them for additional shooting on the back lot. To prevent them from being culture shocked, they were housed at the studio inside the Jungle set. The commissary catered to their specific food preferences, but they still had one major complaint—no women. Henry the Bootblack was drafted to remedy the situation. he recruited a posse of downtown African American hookers who were bused to Fox several nights a week. As I said, there was absolutely nothing you couldn’t get at a major studio in the forties.
There’s a touching story about Marilyn Monroe, who had a small but wonderful part in his father’s classic film, All About Eve.
A classic film. Dad’s high water mark. Among its many virtues was a wonderful supporting performance from a young Marilyn Monroe. Dad told me this story about her, which I’ve never forgotten: Right after the film had wrapped, dad was browsing at the magazine stand outside Martindale’s Book Store in Beverly Hills. Exiting the store came Marilyn, carrying a paper bag with what she’d bought. He was surprised to see her leaving a bookstore, which he hardly thought would be her natural habitat. They hugged. Pointing at her bag, Dad said: “What’ve you got there, Marilyn?”
She pulled out the book. It was a volume of nineteenth-century poetry by Heinrich Heine.
Dad was shocked. “You’re a fan of Heine?”
“I don’t know who he is,” she said. “Sometimes I come in here to look around and I try to find a book that seems lonely, like no one’s ever going to buy it, and I take it home with me.”
I’ve always found that story so touching and so indicative of what I imagine to have been her real personality.
Karen and I wish all our friends and relatives a lovely and meaningful Shabbat.