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Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Joseph L. Mankiewicz.jpg
Born
Joseph Leo Mankiewicz

(1909-02-11)February 11, 1909
Died February 5, 1993(1993-02-05) (aged 83)
Occupation Writer, director, producer
Years active 1929–1972
Spouse(s)
Elizabeth Young (m. 1934–1937)

Rose Stradner
(m. 1939; her death 1958)

Rosemary Matthews
(m. 1962; his death 1993)
Children 4, including Tom Mankiewicz
Relatives Herman J. Mankiewicz (brother)
See Mankiewicz family

Joseph Leo Mankiewicz; February 11, 1909 – February 5, 1993) was an American film director, screenwriter, and producer. Mankiewicz had a long Hollywood career, and he twice won the Academy Award for both Best Director and Best Writing, Screenplay for A Letter to Three Wives (1949) and All About Eve (1950).

Comfortable in a variety of genres and able to elicit career performances from actors and actresses alike, Joseph L. Mankiewicz combined ironic, sophisticated scripts with a precise, sometimes stylized mise en scène. Mankiewicz worked for seventeen years as a screenwriter for Paramount Pictures and as a producer for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer before getting a chance to direct at Twentieth Century-Fox. Over six years he made 11 films for Fox, reaching a peak in 1950 and 1951 when he won consecutive Academy Awards for Screenplay and Direction for both A Letter to Three Wives and All About Eve, which was nominated for 14 Academy Awards and won six.

During his long career in Hollywood, Mankiewicz wrote forty-eight screenplays. He also produced more than twenty films including The Philadelphia Story which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1941. However, he is best known for the films he directed, twice winning the Academy Award for Best Director.

Early life

Joseph L. Mankiewicz was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, to Franz Mankiewicz (died 1941) and Johanna Blumenau, Jewish emigrants from Germany. He had a sister, Erna Mankiewicz (1901–1979), and a brother, Herman J. Mankiewicz (1897–1953), who became a screenwriter. Herman also won an Oscar for co-writing Citizen Kane (1941).

At age four, Mankiewicz moved with his family to New York City, graduating in 1924 from Stuyvesant High School. Mankiewicz got work at the UFA film studio translating film intertitles from German to English.

Hollywood career

Paramount

In 1928 Mankiewicz got a contract to work as a writer at Paramount, through his brother Herman. Herman was one of the writers on The Dummy (1929), on which Mankiewicz wrote titles. He also did titles for Close Harmony (1929) and The Man I Love (1929) with Jack Oakie, The Studio Murder Mystery (1929), Thunderbolt (1929), The River of Romance (1929), The Saturday Night Kid (1929) with Clara Bow, The Mysterious Dr. Fu Manchu (1929), and The Virginian (1929) with Gary Cooper.

Mankiewicz started to be credited on screenplays for films like Fast Company (1929) with Oakie and Slightly Scarlet (1930) and he did work on the script for The Light of Western Stars (1930) with Richard Arlen and Paramount on Parade (1930). Mankiewicz wrote The Social Lion (1930) with Oakie, Only Saps Work (1930), The Gang Buster (1931) with Arlen, Finn and Hattie (1931) with Oakie, and June Moon (1931) with Oakie.

He also did the scripts for Skippy (1931) with Jackie Cooper, Dude Ranch (1931) with Oakie, Newly Rich (1931), and Sooky (1931), a sequel to Skippy. This was followed by This Reckless Age (1932), Sky Bride (1932) with Arlen and Oakie, Million Dollar Legs (1932) with Oakie and W.C. Fields, Night After Night (1932) (uncredited), and If I Had a Million (1932). He was borrowed by RKO for Diplomaniacs (1933) and Emergency Call (1933). He returned to Paramount for Too Much Harmony (1933) with Oakie and Bing Crosby, Meet the Baron (1933) (uncredited), and the all-star Alice in Wonderland (1933).

MGM

Mankiewicz signed a long term contract with MGM. He wrote Manhattan Melodrama (1934) which was a huge hit. He was loaned out to King Vidor to work on Our Daily Bread (1934). At MGM he wrote Forsaking All Others (1934) with Gable, Joan Crawford and Robert Montgomery and did uncredited work on After Office Hours (1935) with Gable and Constance Bennett, Reckless (1935) with Jean Harlow and William Powell, Broadway Melody of 1936 (1935) and I Live My Life (1935) with Crawford.

Mankiewicz was promoted to producer with Three Godfathers (1936). On most of his films as producer he would work uncredited on the script. Mankiewicz had a commercial and critical success with Fury (1936), the first American film directed by Fritz Lang. Mankiewicz produced a series of films starring Crawford: The Gorgeous Hussy (1936), Love on the Run (1936), The Bride Wore Red (1937), and Mannequin (1937).

Mankewicz also produced Double Wedding (1937) with William Powell and Myrna Loy; Three Comrades (1938), with Margaret Sullavan and Robert Taylor and director Frank Borzage, famously rewriting F. Scott Fitzgerald; The Shopworn Angel (1938) with Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart; The Shining Hour (1938) with Sullavan and Crawford, directed by Borzage. He also did some uncredited writing on The Great Waltz (1938), and the script which became The Pirate (1948).

He produced A Christmas Carol (1938); The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1939) with Mickey Rooney; and Strange Cargo (1940) with Gable and Crawford, directed by Borzage. He had a huge hit with The Philadelphia Story (1940) starring Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant and James Stewart. It was followed by The Wild Man of Borneo (1941), and The Feminine Touch (1941), then he had another big success with Hepburn, Woman of the Year (1942), her first teaming with Spencer Tracy. Mankiewicz's final productions at MGM were Cairo (1942) with Jeanette MacDonald and Reunion in France (1942) with Crawford and John Wayne.

20th Century Fox

Mankiewicz received an offer at 20th Century Fox which included the right to direct. His first film for the studio was The Keys of the Kingdom (1944), which he wrote with Nunnally Johnson and produced. It co starred his wife Rose Stradner.

Mankiewicz made his directorial debut with Dragonwyck (1946), which he also wrote; Gene Tierney and Vincent Price starred. He followed it with Somewhere in the Night (1946) a film noir which he co wrote. He worked as director only on The Late George Apley (1947) with Ronald Colman, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1948) with Tierney and Rex Harrison, and Escape (1948) with Harrison. All were based on scripts by Philip Dunne.

Mankiewicz had a huge success with A Letter to Three Wives (1949), which he wrote and directed, winning Oscars for both; Sol Siegel produced. He and Siegel collaborated again on House of Strangers (1949), on which Mankiewicz did some uncredited writing. Mankewicz wrote and directed No Way Out (1950), which launched the career of Sidney Poitier; Darryl F. Zanuck was credited as producer. Zanuck also took that credit on Mankiewicz's next film, All About Eve (1950), which quickly became regarded as a classic.

Mankewicz then made People Will Talk (1951), also produced by Zanuck, though not highly acclaimed. He did some uncredited work on the script for I'll Never Forget You (1952), then made one last film under his contract with Fox, 5 Fingers (1952).

Independent

In 1951 Mankiewicz left Fox and moved to New York, intending to write for the Broadway stage. Although this dream never materialized, he continued to make films (both for his own production company Figaro and as a director-for-hire) that explored his favorite themes – the clash of aristocrat with commoner, life as performance and the clash between people's urge to control their fate and the contingencies of real life.

In 1953 he directed Julius Caesar for MGM, an adaptation of Shakespeare's play produced by John Houseman. It received widely favorable reviews, and David Shipman, in The Story of Cinema, described it as a "film of quiet excellence, faltering only in the later moments when budget restrictions hampered the handling of the battle sequences". The film serves as the only record of Marlon Brando in a Shakespearean role; he played Mark Antony, and received an Oscar nomination for his performance.

Figaro

Mankiewicz set up his own production company, Figaro. Its first production was The Barefoot Contessa (1954) which Mankiewicz wrote, produced and directed; it starred Humphrey Bogart and Ava Gardner. Sam Goldwyn hired him to write and direct the film version of the musical Guys and Dolls (1955). This was a huge hit but not highly regarded commercially. Brando starred along with Frank Sinatra and Jean Simmons.

In 1958 Mankiewicz wrote and directed The Quiet American for Figaro, an adaptation of Graham Greene's 1955 novel about the seed of American military involvement in what would become the Vietnam War. Mankiewicz, under career pressure from the climate of anti-Communism and the Hollywood blacklist, distorted the message of Greene's book, changing major parts of the story to appeal to a nationalistic audience. A cautionary tale about America's blind support for "anti-Communists" was turned into, according to Greene, a "propaganda film for America". The film was a critical and commercial disappointment.

That year Figaro produced I Want to Live! (1958) though Mankiewicz had relatively little to do with it. He directed Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) for producer Sam Spiegel, from a script by Gore Vidal and a play by Tennessee Williams. Elizabeth Taylor, Hepburn and Montgomery Clift starred. It was a big hit.

Cleopatra

20th Century Fox were looking for a director for Cleopatra starring Elizabeth Taylor. She would only approve two men, George Stevens or Mankiewicz. Mankiewicz accepted a lucrative contract, which he came to regret. The film consumed two years of Mankiewicz's life and ended up both derailing his career and causing severe financial losses for the studio, Twentieth Century-Fox, which were not fully recovered until Rodgers and Hammerstein's popular and acclaimed The Sound of Music was released two years later.

Later career

Mankiewicz produced and directed Carol for Another Christmas (1964) for television. He wrote and directed The Honey Pot (1967) for Charles K. Feldman and produced and directed There Was a Crooked Man... (1970), as well as doing some uncredited work on the documentary King: A Filmed Record... Montgomery to Memphis (1970). Mankiewicz garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Direction in 1972 for Sleuth, his final directing effort, starring Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine.

In 1983, he was a member of the jury at the 33rd Berlin International Film Festival.

Family history

He was the younger brother of Herman J. Mankiewicz. His sons are Eric Reynal (from his first marriage), the late writer/director Tom Mankiewicz, and producer Christopher Mankiewicz. He also has a daughter, Alex Mankiewicz. His great-nephew is radio and television personality Ben Mankiewicz, who currently can be seen on TCM. He also was the uncle of Frank Mankiewicz, a well-known political campaign manager who officially announced the death of the assassinated presidential candidate, Robert F. Kennedy, in 1968. He was not related to the similar-sounding British screenwriter, Wolf Mankowitz.

Death

Mankiewicz died of a heart attack on February 5, 1993, six days before his 84th birthday. He was interred in Saint Matthew's Episcopal Churchyard cemetery in Bedford, New York.


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