Com­pet­ing With Idiots: Her­man and Joe Mankiewicz, a Dual Portrait

  • From the Publisher
September 1, 2020

A fas­ci­nat­ing, com­plex dual biog­ra­phy of Hol­ly­wood’s most daz­zling – and famous – broth­ers, and a dark, riv­et­ing por­trait of com­pe­ti­tion, love, and enmi­ty that ulti­mate­ly undid them both – one most famous for hav­ing writ­ten Cit­i­zen Kane (with Orson Welles, most recent­ly por­trayed in David Fincher’s new­ly released Net­flix film, Mank); the oth­er, All About Eve; one, who only wrote screen­plays but believed him­self to be a seri­ous play­wright, slow­ly dying of alco­holism and dis­ap­point­ment; the oth­er, a four-time Acad­e­my Award-win­ning direc­tor, auteur, sor­cer­er, and seduc­er of lead­ing ladies, one of Hol­ly­wood’s most lit­er­ate and intel­li­gent filmmakers.

Her­man Mankiewicz brought us the Marx Broth­ers’ Mon­key Busi­ness, Horse Feath­ers, Duck Soup, W. C. Field­s’s Mil­lion Dol­lar Legs, wrote screen­plays for Din­ner at Eight, Pride of the Yan­kees, co-wrote Cit­i­zen Kane (Pauline Kael pro­claimed that the script was most­ly Her­man’s), and eighty-nine oth­ers. Tal­ent­ed, wit­ty, huge-heart­ed, and wild­ly imma­ture, Her­man went to Hol­ly­wood in 1926 and was almost imme­di­ate­ly suc­cess­ful, becom­ing one of the high­est-paid screen­writ­ers in Hollywood.

Joe was eleven years younger – focused, orga­nized, and a dis­ci­plined writer – with a dis­tin­guished career, sur­pass­ing his old­er broth­er by pro­duc­ing The Philadel­phia Sto­ry, writ­ing and direct­ing A Let­ter to Three Wives and All About Eve, before see­ing his career upend­ed by the spec­tac­u­lar fias­co of Cleopa­tra.

In this large, mov­ing por­trait, metic­u­lous­ly woven togeth­er by the grand­son of Her­man, great-nephew of Joe, we see the lives of these two men – their dreams and desires, their fears and feuds, strug­gling to free them­selves from their dark past; and the dri­ving forces that kept them bound to a sys­tem they loved and hated.

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