Nick DavisAug 10, 2022
Competing with Idiots
Herman and Joe Mankiewicz, a Dual Portrait
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; 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, and Duck Soup and W. C. Fields' Million Dollar Legs, wrote screenplays for Dinner at Eight and Pride of the Yankees, and cowrote Citizen Kane (Pauline Kael proclaimed that the script was mostly Herman's) and 89 others. Talented, witty (Alexander Woollcott thought him "the funniest man who ever lived"), huge-hearted, and wildly immature, Herman was a figure of renown and success.
Herman went to Hollywood in 1926, was almost immediately successful (his telegram to Ben Hecht back east: "Millions are to be grabbed out here and your only competition is idiots. Don't let this get around.") and became one of the highest-paid screenwriters in Hollywood. Joe, eleven years younger, a focused, organized, and disciplined writer with a far more distinguished career, eventually surpassed his worshipped older brother, producing The Philadelphia Story, writing and directing A Letter to Three Wives and All About Eve, both of which won him Oscars before seeing his career upended by the spectacular fiasco of Cleopatra.
In Competing with Idiots: Herman and Joe Mankiewicz, a Dual Portrait (Knopf, 2021), 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.
Nick Davis, the grandson of Herman Mankiewicz and great-nephew of Joseph Mankiewicz, is a writer, director, and producer. He lives in New York City.
Daniel Moran earned his B.A. and M.A. in English from Rutgers University and his Ph.D. in History from Drew University. The author of Creating Flannery O’Connor: Her Critics, Her Publishers, Her Readers, he teaches research and writing at Rutgers and co-hosts the podcast Fifteen-Minute Film Fanatics, found at https://fifteenminutefilm.podb... and on Twitter @15MinFilm.