Herman J. Mankiewicz


Screenwriter

About

Also Known As
Herman Mankiewicz, Herman Jacob Mankiewicz
Birth Place
New York City, New York, USA
Born
November 07, 1897
Died
March 05, 1953
Cause of Death
Uremic Poisoning

Biography

Though once the highest paid screenwriter working in Hollywood, Herman J. Mankiewicz floundered later in his career after years of hard drinking and gambling, only to be briefly resurrected by wunderkind Orson Welles, who hired him to write one of the greatest movies ever made, "Citizen Kane" (1941). Mankiewicz made a go of Hollywood in the mid-1920s after a career as a reporter and thea...

Family & Companions

Sara Aaronson
Wife
Married in July 1920.

Biography

Though once the highest paid screenwriter working in Hollywood, Herman J. Mankiewicz floundered later in his career after years of hard drinking and gambling, only to be briefly resurrected by wunderkind Orson Welles, who hired him to write one of the greatest movies ever made, "Citizen Kane" (1941). Mankiewicz made a go of Hollywood in the mid-1920s after a career as a reporter and theater critic, becoming the head of the script department at Paramount Pictures. He wrote or collaborated on dozens of pictures during the silent era, and with the advent of sound, produced early Marx Brothers classics like "Monkey Business" (1930), "Horse Feathers" (1932) and "Duck Soup" (1933). He also worked frequently with W.C. Fields, including on "Million Dollar Legs" (1932), and was at the peak of his career in the early 1930s. But his career path spiraled out of control thanks to gambling, heavy drinking and his general contempt of Hollywood. With bridges burned, Mankiewicz was on the outs until Welles brought him on to write "Citizen Kane." Despite controversy from its unflattering portrayal of William Randolph Hearst and a dispute about writing credit, Mankiewicz won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. He went on to write another Oscar-nominated film, "The Pride of the Yankees" (1942), and was well positioned for further triumph. Mankiewicz crumbled again, however, and never wrote another great movie, but did enough acclaimed work that he left behind a lasting legacy as one of classic Hollywood's most gifted writers.

Born on Nov. 7, 1897 in New York City, Mankiewicz was raised by his father, Franz, a German immigrant who became a teacher, and his mother, Johanna, a dressmaker. The family, which would go on to include younger siblings Erna and Joseph, lived for a time in Wilkes-Barre, PA, where he attended the Harry Hillman Academy. In 1913, they moved back to New York City and Mankiewicz attended Columbia University, graduating with a philosophy degree in 1917. He spent a short time as the managing editor of the American Jewish Chronicle before joining the U.S. Army as a cadet and later serving as a private first class in the Marines. Mankiewicz went on to become the director of the American Red Cross News Service in Paris and later set up shop in Berlin as a political reporter for the Chicago Tribune. By this time, he had married Sara Aaronson, with whom he had three children - Johanna, Donald and Francis. Also at the time, Mankiewicz was hired by dancer Isadora Duncan to become her publicist. He returned to the States, where he became a reporter for the New York World, while earning a reputation as a talented writer with published work in Vanity Fair and The Saturday Evening Post.

In the 1920s, Mankiewicz began shifting away from being a reporter to writing drama, collaborating with playwrights George S. Kaufman on "The Good Fellow" and Marc Connelly on "The Wild Man of Borneo." He worked as a drama critic at The New York Times alongside Kaufman, and became the first-ever staff theater critic for The New Yorker, for whom he wrote a weekly column in 1925-26. Mankiewicz soon moved to Hollywood, where he began working as an intertitle writer on a number silent films like the W.C. Fields comedy "Two Flaming Youths" (1927), "The City Gone Wild" (1927), starring Louise Brooks; the comedy "What a Night!" (1928) with Bebe Daniels; and Josef von Sternberg's historical drama "The Last Command" (1928). Within a short period of time, Mankiewicz commanded a high salary and became the head of the scenario department at Paramount Pictures, where he earned a sterling reputation for selecting the best screenwriters in the business to write for the studio. Mankiewicz, himself, also wrote the screenplays for a number of pictures, including Dorothy Arzner's "Fashions for Women" (1927), "Mating Call" (1928) starring Thomas Meighan and Evelyn Brent; and the Victor Fleming comedy "Aaron Slick" (1928).

By the dawn of the sound era, Mankiewicz was the highest paid writer in Hollywood, thanks to a tough satirical edge and modern tastes that separated him from an inferior competition. Working in the same town was his younger brother, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who would go on to achieve his own fame as a prominent writer-director, best known for his films "All About Eve" (1950), "A Letter to Three Wives" (1949) and "Cleopatra" (1963). By all accounts, the younger brother would flourish happily in the business, but his older brother was quickly developing a reputation as a man resentful of the industry. He was also becoming known as the life of any party; a drunken Mankiewicz more often than not was the focal point of every party he was invited to and developed a reputation for using his cutting wit to insult every guest in the room. In the early 1930s, Mankiewicz began serving as a producer on a number of films like "Monkey Business" (1930), "Horse Feathers" (1932) and "Duck Soup" (1933), all instant classics starring the Marx Brothers. After producing the W.C. Fields comedy "Million Dollar Legs" (1932), he wrote his first truly acclaimed film, "Dinner at Eight" (1933), a sophisticated comedy directed by George Cukor about a social butterfly (Billie Burke) who arranges a dinner party for her businessman husband (Lionel Barrymore), only to have the night go awry thanks to guests that included a crooked executive (Wallace Beery), his adulterous wife (Jean Harlow), a faded matinee idol (John Barrymore) and a former actress-turned-professional guest (Marie Dressler). By the mid-1930s, Mankiewicz was a contract writer for MGM, churning out scripts for the comedy "The Show-Off" (1934) starring Spencer Tracy, the romance-tinged adventure "Escapade" (1935) with William Powell and Rosalind Russell, and "My Dear Miss Aldrich" (1937).

In 1938, Mankiewicz was the first of many screenwriters to work on "The Wizard of Oz" (1939), developing the idea of the film starting in black-and-white while in Kansas, but exploding into lavish color when Dorothy (Judy Garland) arrives in Oz. Though he never received credit for his initial work, Mankiewicz's contributions were evident on screen. Meanwhile, he shared screenwriting credit with Ben Hecht on the screwball comedy "It's a Wonderful World" (1939), which starred James Stewart as a private detective hired by a ne'er-do-well millionaire (Ernest Truex), only to be accused as an accomplice to murder. Out to prove his innocence, he coerces help from an eccentric poet (Claudette Colbert) and winds up falling in love. But due to his love of drinking to excess, gambling and denouncing the business that provided him a living, Mankiewicz had burned every bridge imaginable and found himself out of work.. Enter new wunderkind Orson Welles, who was hot off his "War of the Worlds" radio triumph that had netted him a three-picture deal with RKO Pictures and granted him carte blanche and unprecedented final cut for whatever project he chose.

Welles began developing an adaptation of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, which was deemed too expensive and not commercial by the studio. Looking for an old Hollywood hand to guide him through unchartered waters, Welles hired Mankiewicz to help him develop a film. After bouncing around several ideas, the two hit upon creating a story around a newspaper baron corrupted by his own unending ambition. Mankiewicz had long wanted to write a script about such a character ever since he had entered the inner circle of William Randolph Hearst, with whom he would socialize - on his best behavior, of course - at parties held at the newspaper mogul's San Simeon estate. Welles, Mankiewicz and close friend John Houseman - whose job was to make sure Mankiewicz wrote pages instead of getting drunk - disappeared to a vacation retreat outside of Los Angeles to write the first drafts of "Citizen Kane" (1941). Five months later, Welles began shooting and immediately attracted controversy when word leaked out that he was directing an unflattering portrait of a character based on the powerful Hearst. Though Welles and Mankiewicz denied that Hearst was the source, there was little doubt when the final product was released. Hearst refused to allow advertising for "Citizen Kane" in his newspapers and threatened theater owners with retribution if they displayed the film.

Because of Hearst's efforts, "Citizen Kane" was a financial flop despite strong critical reviews - an irony for Mankiewicz, who felt he had finally written a movie of worth. But the question of who should be credited with actually writing the screenplay came into question when Welles began promoting himself as a one-man show - writer, director and actor - despite official credit being given to Mankiewicz by the Screen Writers Guild. Still, the film was nominated for nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Writing (Original Screenplay), winning for the latter. Due to the furor caused by Hearst's unrelenting campaign to kill the movie, both Mankiewicz and Welles decline to attend the ceremony, mostly to avoid public embarrassment. Mankiewicz heard the announcement of his one and only Oscar win over the radio while at home with his family. He was nominated the following year for "The Pride of the Yankees" (1942), Sam Wood's poignant biography of Lou Gehrig (Gary Cooper), the New York Yankee great who rose from modest beginnings to become a major league star, only to have fate cut him down while still a great ballplayer. The stirring biopic earned 10 Academy Awards, including Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay), but received no wins.

Despite the apparent resurrection of his career, Mankiewicz was unable to avoid slipping back into old habits of drinking, gambling and cursing out Hollywood. He would go on to write a number of films, none of which came close to touching the mastery on display in "Citizen Kane" and "Pride of the Yankees," including the noir-like "Christmas Holiday" (1944), the romantic melodrama "The Enchanted Cottage" (1945), and "A Woman's Secret" (1949), starring Maureen O'Hara and Gloria Grahame. For his last film, he returned to the world of professional baseball with "The Pride of St. Louis" (1952), a rather underwhelming portrait of colorful St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Dizzy Dean (Dan Dailey). Following his work on "Pride," Mankiewicz fell ill from years of heavy drinking and spent his last days at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Los Angeles, where he died from uremic poisoning on March 5, 1953. He was 55 years old, and never lived to see eldest son Don Mankiewicz become an award-winning novelist - an aspiration he had once had for himself - or youngest son Frank Mankiewicz become Robert Kennedy's press secretary.

By Shawn Dwyer

Filmography

 

Writer (Feature Film)

The Pride of St. Louis (1952)
Screenwriter
A Woman's Secret (1949)
Screenwriter
The Enchanted Cottage (1945)
Screenwriter
The Spanish Main (1945)
Screenwriter
Christmas Holiday (1944)
As wrt for the Screenplay by
The Pride of the Yankees (1943)
Screenwriter
Stand by for Action (1943)
Screenwriter
This Time for Keeps (1942)
Based upon characters created by
Rise and Shine (1941)
Screenwriter
Citizen Kane (1941)
Original Screenplay
Keeping Company (1940)
Original Story
It's a Wonderful World (1939)
Original Story
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Contract Writer
My Dear Miss Aldrich (1937)
Original story and Screenplay
The Emperor's Candlesticks (1937)
Contr to dial
John Meade's Woman (1937)
Screenwriter
The Emperor's Candlesticks (1937)
Screenwriter
After Office Hours (1935)
Screenwriter
Escapade (1935)
Screenwriter
It's in the Air (1935)
Contr to dial
Rendezvous (1935)
Contract Writer
Stamboul Quest (1934)
Screenwriter
The Show-Off (1934)
Screenwriter
Dinner at Eight (1934)
Screenwriter
Another Language (1933)
Screenwriter
Meet the Baron (1933)
Story
Dancers in the Dark (1932)
Screenwriter
Girl Crazy (1932)
Adaptation
The Lost Squadron (1932)
Additional Dialogue
Man of the World (1931)
[Wrt] by
Ladies' Man (1931)
Screenwriter
¡Salga de la cocina! (1931)
Screenwriter
Dude Ranch (1931)
Additional Dialogue
The Royal Family of Broadway (1931)
Adaptation
The Vagabond King (1930)
Adaptation
Honey (1930)
Adaptation
Ladies Love Brutes (1930)
Adapted and dial
The Vagabond King (1930)
Dial
Men Are Like That (1930)
Dial
Men Are Like That (1930)
Adaptation
Honey (1930)
Art titles
Love Among the Millionaires (1930)
Dial
True to the Navy (1930)
Dial
Chérie (1930)
Screenwriter
The Dummy (1929)
Adaptation
The Man I Love (1929)
Screenwriter
The Dummy (1929)
Dial
The Man I Love (1929)
Story
The Canary Murder Case (1929)
Titles
Thunderbolt (1929)
Dial
The Man I Love (1929)
Dial
Marquis Preferred (1929)
Titles
The Mighty (1929)
Titles
The Love Doctor (1929)
Titles
Abie's Irish Rose (1929)
Titles
The Water Hole (1928)
Titles
The Mating Call (1928)
Titles
The Magnificent Flirt (1928)
Titles
His Tiger Lady (1928)
Titles
What a Night (1928)
Titles
Love and Learn (1928)
Titles
Something Always Happens (1928)
Titles
The Dragnet (1928)
Titles
The Last Command (1928)
Titles
The Big Killing (1928)
Titles
A Night of Mystery (1928)
Titles
Avalanche (1928)
Scen
Three Week-ends (1928)
Titles
Take Me Home (1928)
Titles
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1928)
Titles
The Barker (1928)
Titles
Avalanche (1928)
Titles
Fashions for Women (1927)
Adaptation
Two Flaming Youths (1927)
Titles
The Spotlight (1927)
Titles
Figures Don't Lie (1927)
Titles
Honeymoon Hate (1927)
Titles
The City Gone Wild (1927)
Titles
A Gentleman of Paris (1927)
Titles
The Gay Defender (1927)
Titles
Stranded in Paris (1926)
Adaptation
The Road to Mandalay (1926)
Story

Producer (Feature Film)

A Woman's Secret (1949)
Producer
Monkey Business (1931)
Associate Producer

Life Events

Videos

Movie Clip

Million Dollar Legs (1932) - Klopstokia, Goats And Nuts Opening with pace and absurdity, Edward Cline directing for producer Herman J. Mankiewicz from a story by his brother Joseph L. ., we meet George Barbier as Baldwin, top-billed Jack Oakie as his salesman Tweeny and Susan Fleming with Dickie Moore as her little brother, in Million Dollar Legs, co-starring W.C. Fields.
Million Dollar Legs (1932) - Put Yourself Under Arrest! Introducing second-billed W.C. Fields, president of Klopstokia, dueling with a Dictaphone when he’s intercepted by smitten salesman Tweeny (Jack Oakie), and we soon discover his crush (Susan Fleming) is the president’s daughter, in Million Dollar Legs, 1932, from a story by Joseph L. Mankiewicz.
Million Dollar Legs (1932) - The Usual Oath Of Allegiance Hugh Herbert the ringleading secretary of treasury, Billy Gilbert sneezing, Vernon Dent, Teddy Hart, Irving Bacon also in the cabinet, as W.C. Fields, of course the President, asserts his dominance, in the nutso Paramount comedy in Million Dollar Legs, 1932, from producer Herman J. Mankiewicz, from a story by his brother Joseph L.
Woman's Secret, A (1949) - Songs Of Estrellita The prominent movie music director Constantin Bakaleinikoff appears, directing a radio orchestra, as director Nicholas Ray introduces his leading ladies, Susan (Gloria Grahame) and Marian (Maureen O'Hara), opening A Woman's Secret, 1949, from a Vicki Baum novel.
Woman's Secret, A (1949) - Genius, Would You Say? Having confessed to a shooting, Marian (Maureen O'Hara) tells cop Fowler (Jay. C Flippen) she only wants to call her friend Luke (Melvyn Douglas), introduced appearing on a radio quiz show, in Nicholas Ray's A Woman's Secret, 1949.
Woman's Secret, A (1949) - Smudge Pots And Pest Control Having just learned that her own voice won't recover, singer Marian (Maureen O'Hara) and composer Luke (Melvyn Douglas) meet kooky shopgirl and aspiring singer Susan (Gloria Grahame), all in flashback, in Nicholas Ray's A Woman's Secret, 1949.
After Office Hours (1935) - Where Do You Keep Your Airplane? Angry again with her high society friends, reluctant reporter Sharon (Constance Bennett) has escaped a chic New York riverside restaurant with her old school pal Tommy (Harvey Stephens), who himself is being drawn toward scandal, Robert Z. Leonard directing from Herman J. Mankiewicz’s script, in After Office Hours, 1935, starring Clark Gable.
After Office Hours (1935) - How Can I Get Drunk In Three Days? Pacey opening, Robert Z. Leonard directing from Herman J. Mankiewicz’s screenplay, introducing Connie (Constance) Bennett as columnist Sharon, entering a New York newsroom where we meet Stuart Erwin and Henry Travers, reporting to Clark Gable as editor Branch, the year after his reporter-turn in It Happened One Night, 1934, in After Office Hours, 1935.
After Office Hours (1935) - It's A Scroop! Put out because she was fired from her new job as music critic earlier that day, socialite Sharon (Constance Bennett) returns from the theater to find her mother (Billie Burke) being charmed by her editor Branch (Clark Gable), who also was there, and who now wants to hire her back for her society connections, in After Office Hours, 1935.
Pride Of The Yankees, The (1943) - What Your Mother Wants Young Lou Gehrig (not-so-young Gary Cooper), a student-waiter at the fraternity where his mother works, with vivacious Myra (Virginia Gilmore), later teased by frat boys, and ejecting sportswriter Blake (Walter Brennan), in Samuel Goldwyn's The Pride Of The Yankees, 1943.
Pride Of The Yankees, The (1943) - Lou Lou Lou! Elaborate recreation of a real event from the 1928 World Series, Lou Gehrig (Gary Cooper) hitting two home runs "for" ailing Billy (Gene Collins), family (Ludwig Stossel, Elsa Janssen) and spouse Eleanor (Teresa Wright) on the radio, in The Pride Of The Yankees, 1943.
Pride Of The Yankees, The (1943) - The Last Straw On the team train, (the real!) Babe Ruth and fellow Yankees (Mark Koenig, Bill Dickey et al) sucker Lou Gehrig (Gary Cooper) into a joke, sportswriters Hank (Dan Duryea) and Sam (Walter Brennan) observing, in The Pride Of The Yankees, 1943.

Trailer

Dinner at Eight - (Original Trailer) A high society dinner party masks a hotbed of scandal and intrigue in Dinner at 8 (1933), directed by George Cukor.
Another Language - (Original Trailer) When Helen Hayes marries Robert Montgomery, she inherits a monster mother-in-law in Another Language (1933).
Citizen Kane -- (Original Trailer) The investigation of a publishing tycoon's dying words reveals conflicting stories about his life in this famous trailer for Citizen Kane (1941).
Stamboul Quest - (Original Trailer) A notorious enemy spy (Myrna Loy) falls for an American medical student during World War I in Stamboul Quest (1934).
Stand By For Action - (Original Trailer) A haughty Harvard boy (Robert Taylor) is taken down a notch when he sees action in the Pacific in Stand By For Action (1943).
My Dear Miss Aldrich - (Original Trailer) A glamorous woman (Maureen O'Sullivan) takes over a newspaper and clashes with the editor (Walter Pidgeon).
Meet the Baron - (Original Trailer) The Three Stooges make an early appearance in Meet the Baron (1933) based on the popular radio comedian Baron Munchausen.
Spanish Main, The -- (Original Trailer) Dutch rebels in the Caribbean turn pirate and kidnap the corrupt Spanish governor's bride-to-be in The Spanish Main (1945) starring Paul Henreid and Maureen O'Hara.
Emperor's Candlesticks, The - (Original Trailer) Spies on opposite sides fall in love in pre-revolutionary Russia in The Emperor's Candlesticks (1937) starring William Powell.
Enchanted Cottage, The - (Original Trailer) A scarred veteran and a homely woman are transformed by love in The Enchanted Cottage (1945) starring Dorothy McGuire and Robert Young.
It's A Wonderful World - (Original Trailer) James Stewart is a detective who kidnaps Claudette Colbert while trying to clear his name in the screwball comedy It's a Wonderful World (1939).
Monkey Business (1931) - (Original Trailer) The Four Marx Brothers stowaway on an ocean liner in route to America but never mind the plot, it's all Monkey Business (1931).

Family

Joseph Leo Mankiewicz
Brother
Director, producer, screenwriter. Born 1909.
Donald Martin Mankiewicz
Son
Novelist, screenwriter. Born in 1922.
Francis Mankiewicz
Son
Director.
Johanna Mankiewicz
Daughter
Nick Davis
Grandson
Director, screenwriter.

Companions

Sara Aaronson
Wife
Married in July 1920.

Bibliography