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November 7: Herman J. Mankiewicz

Lawrence Bush
November 7, 2016
Screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz, who wrote or worked on Citizen Kane, The Wizard of Oz, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Dinner at Eight, Pride of the Yankees, and The Pride of St. Louis, among other films, was born in New York on this date in 1897. Mankiewicz was a correspondent in Berlin for the Chicago Tribune (where he also worked as a publicist for Isadora Duncan) and served as drama critic for the New York Times and the New Yorker. His success in the movie business came early and big; he was the recruiter of writing talent for Paramount studios, and wrote, according to critic Pauline Kael, “about forty of the films I remember best from the twenties and thirties. . . . he was a key linking figure in just the kind of movies my friends and I loved best” — this before dying of alcoholism at age 56. Mankiewicz was a member of the Algonquin Round Table. His brother Joseph was also a successful screenwriter (and producer and director); his son Frank Mankiewicz, a journalist and progressive political consultant who was the president of National Public Radio. To see Herman Mankiewicz as a guest on What’s My Line? look below. “ ‘[The] two most brilliant men [I have]] ever known were George S. Kaufman and Herman Mankiewicz, and . . . Mankiewicz was the more brilliant of the two. . . . [He] spearheaded the movement of that whole Broadway style of wisecracking, fast-talking, cynical-sentimental entertainment onto the national scene.” --Nunnally Johnson

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.