One Mank’s Journey: A Look At a Hollywood Lifer’s Memoir

My Life as a Mankiewicz: A Look At a Hollywood Lifer's MemoirLet’s get this straight first: My Life as a Mankiewicz: An Insider’s Journey Through Hollywood was written by Tom Mankiewicz (and Robert Crane).  Tom Mankiewicz was the son of Joseph L. Mankiewicz, the writer-producer-director of All About Eve, Guys and Dolls,  A Letter to Three Wives and Sleuth fame and Cleopatra infamy. Tom was also the nephew of Herman J. Mankiewicz, the co-writer of Citizen Kane, and a cousin to Turner Classic Movies host Ben Mankiewicz and ABC news reporter Josh Mankiewicz.

Got that?

It is confusing, we admit. But what’s not confusing is the fact that Tom Mankiewicz’s account of his life takes readers on a wildly entertaining whirlwind tour of Hollywood, from the days when Selznick and Mayer and Zanuck ran the place to the psychedelic sixties and swinging seventies through contemporary times.

You want history? There’s plenty here with Mankiewicz—aka “Mank”. He detailed growing up with papa Joe, a guy who knew and dealt with anyone and everyone in Hollywood from Cary Grant to Katharine Hepburn (they both starred in The Philadelphia Story, which Joe produced) and everybody in between: Gene Kelly, Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra…the list goes on and on. All are colorfully brought to life in My Life as a Mankiewicz, be it in Good, Bad or Ugly mode.

You want family drama? No shortage of that here. Joe was a serial womanizer. Rose Stradner, Tom’s mother, an Austrian actress best known for her role in The Keys of the Kingdom, had serious emotional problems which had a strong impact on Tom while growing up and into adulthood. Rose committed suicide by overdosing on sleeping pills at the age of 45.

You want what really went on behind the scenes of famous movies and TV shows? No problem there. Mank worked as a “creative consultant” (i.e. screenwriter/script doctor) on the first two Superman movies, had his hands in the scripts for several James Bond movies, worked credited and uncredited on other films  (Ladyhawke, The Deep, Legal Eagles, the self-directed Dragnet) and created the long-running  Hart to Hart TV series. In My Life as a Mankiewicz, he wrote fondly about the creative process involved in all of these projects, as well as the maneuvering behind-the-scenes of the hits and flops.

And finally, you say it’s dish you are interested in?  Mank had no problem naming names and telling tales out of school. There are stories about money, drugs, booze, sex, and women. Lots of women.  Mank himself dated a flurry of beauties, and many of them, he admitted, had habits that made them difficult at times: Margot Kidder, Elizabeth Ashley, Tuesday Weld, Natalie Wood, Suzy Kendall. In addition, Mank rubbed shoulders with Elizabeth Taylor, Liza Minnelli, Judy Garland, Jean Simmons, Ava Gardner, Sophia Loren and many others.

Along with the fascinating, funny and revealing anecdotes, Mankiewicz—who died of pancreatic cancer at 68 in 2010, while working on this book—told his personal story, a riches-to-rags-to-riches saga of a privileged kid growing up in Beverly Hills and expensive Manhattan high rises and on movie sets. But he struggled when it was time to go  out on his own,  found work as a gopher on movie sets (The Comancheros with John Wayne was his first assignment), then made a name for himself as a writer on TV (working for Bob Hope and on TV specials with Nancy Sinatra and Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass), on Broadway (adapting the flop musical adaptation of Georgy Girl) and as a script fixer on Diamonds are Forever, Sean Connery’s return to the 007 series after a four-year, one-picture absence.

The Bond credit cemented his A-list status in Hollywood, making him clubby with Cubby (producer Broccoli, that is), getting him high-paying gigs on other Bond films, and giving him enough clout to have a hand in producing films he penned (Mother, Jugs and Speed among them). Eventually, he hooked up with director Richard Donner for extensive reworking on what would become Superman and Superman II.

Mank had nothing but praise for Sean Connery, even though the Scottish actor wasn’t thrilled Mank, at the time they met, was dating ex-wife Diane Cilento. Roger Moore comes off as a nice guy who knows his acting and physical limitations. Mank loved Christopher Reeve, and wrote about the commitment the notoriously difficult Marlon Brando brought to bringing Jor-El, the Man of Steel’s father, to life. Then are also those who Mankiewicz showed little fondness for. For example:  The Comancheros (and Casablanca) director Michael Curtiz; Superman producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind; Nick Nolte; and Robert Redford (who would’ve thunk it?).

My Life as a Mankiewicz is a free-flowing meditation on living the Hollywood dream and, occasionally, nightmare. Mank was not shy expressing his opinions about not only his personal exploits, but other things that really didn’t involve him at all. What did he think of Daniel Craig as James Bond… or pretty much everything else that has happened in Hollywood over the last 20 years?

Some of this may seem superfluous, getting in the way of Mank’s enjoyably frank recounting of his own sensational show biz journey.

But Mankiewicz’s insider experiences and credits—along with his pedigree—should buy him some slack when it comes to commenting on All Things Hollywood, like Will Smith’s popularity, George Clooney’s career or Craig’s portrayal of Bond. The saying that “honesty is the best policy” is usually not adaptable to the entertainment business, but in the case of My Life as a Mankiewicz: An Insider’s Journey Through Hollywood, it seemed to be the author’s mantra. And for that we should all be thankful.

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