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Joseph Leo Mankiewicz

Joseph Leo Mankiewicz was an American screenwriter, film director and producer.

Background

  • Mankiewicz, Joseph Leo was born on February 11, 1909 in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, United States. Son of Frank and Johanna (Blumenau) Mankiewicz.

  • Education

    • Educated atStuyvesant High School. In 1928, he obtained a bachelor's degree from Columbia University..

    Career

    • Mankiewiez's first job was for The Chicago Tribune in Berlin in 1928. While there, he also worked for UFA on subtitles, and in 1929 he went back to America to join his older brother Herman in Hollywood. There he worked on dialogue, titling, and story adaptation: River of Romance (29, Richard Wallace); Thunderbolt (29, Josef von Sternberg); Fast Company (29, Edward Sutherland); and The Saturday Night Kid (29, Sutherland). Within a few years, he had become a leading writer at Paramount: Slightly Scarlet (30, Louis Gasnier); The Social Lion (30, Sutherland); Skippy (32, Norman Taurog); Million Dollar Legs (32, Edward Cline); This Reckless Age (32, Frank Tuttle); and Alice in Wonderland (33, Norman Z. McLeod). He then moved to MGM and scripted three W. S. Van Dyke pictures: Manhattan Melodrama (34); Forsaking All Others (34); and I Live My Life (35).

      By 1936 he was promoted to producer and made an auspicious if uncharacteristic debut with Fury (36, Fritz Lang). After that, his credits included: Three Godfathers (36, Richard Bole- slavsky); The Bride Wore Red (37, Dorothy Arzner); Mannequin (38, Frank Borzage); The Shopworn Angel (38, II. C. Potter); Three Comrades (38, Borzage), the film on which he rejected Scott Fitzgerald’s subtleties and provoked the cry “Can’t a producer be wrong?”; The Shining Hour (38, Borzage); The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (39, Richard Thorpe); Strange Cargo (40, Borzage); The Philadelphia Story (40, George Cukor); and Woman of the Year (42, George Stevens). In 1943 he moved to Fox to write and produce The Keys of the Kingdom (44, John M. Stahl) and. after the war, he remained at that studio to become a director.

      Although still only thirty-five, it was remarkable how long Mankiewicz had chosen, or been made, to wait before directing. He is the classic instance of the efficient writer-producer who directs almost because there is no one else around to do it; in fact, his debut, the silly but florid Dragonwyck. arose with the last illness of Ernst Lubitsch. It took him his first five films to discard the worst defects of a training in dialogue and construction. George Apley, for instance, is an absurdly prolix, mannerly picture. But Mankiewicz’s virtues were always literarv: he could handle complicated stories involving flashbacks, interior monologues, half a dozen characters, and intricate plots—A Letter to Three Wives; All About Eve; Five Fingers; The Barefoot Contessa: he wrote intelligent, sarcastic dialogue, usually based on an ironic central figure, able to comment on the life he was observing: George Sanders in Eve. James Mason in Five Fingers, and Bogart in The Barefoot Contessa.

      Above all, he created the atmosphere of a proscenium arch, a little Shavian in the way he arranged action for an audience. It was often enough that pungent situations, witty dialogue, and smart playing concealed his indifference to what a film looked like or his inability to reveal the emotional depths beneath dialogue. Tidiness, his great asset in the eyes of Hollywood, was his gravest handicap artistically. It limits Eve and Five Fingers to smart entertainments and leaves him helpless with the greater demands of The Quiet American and Suddenly Last Summer. There is something sad but final about the way so seasoned a professional was called in to salvage Cleopatra, and by emphasizing the talk just made the visual opulence seem more pointless. One has only to think of what Mamoulian—Cleopatra’s original director—might have made with so much money, to realize Mankiewicz’s deficiencies. Guys and Dolls is a pleasant film with songs, but defiantly without mood; The Barefoot Contessa is somewhat overrated; People Will Talk, a superb vehicle for Cary Grant, shows all Mankiewicz’s skill and moderation. But Sleuth is a grotesque throwback to theatricality, indicative of Mankiewicz’s readiness to be fooled by cleverness.

      That said, for the early 1950s, Mankiewicz was the epitome of smart entertainment. He got the best director and best screenplay Oscars two years in a row, with A Letter to Three Wires and All About Ere, and the latter won best picture. In addition, Mankiewicz was a droll talker, full of great anecdotes and magnificent indiscretion, not always reliable but usually biting. He could explain eventhing except the lack of a pressing theme in his own work.

    Works

    Membership

    Founding member, secretary Screen Writers' Guild, 1933. Member Academy Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (life), Screen Directors Guild American (president 1950), Writers Guild American (secretary 1933), Bedford Golf and Tennis Club.

    Connections

    • Married Rosa Stradner, July 28, 1939 (deceased 1958). Children: Christopher, Thomas. 1 child by previous marriage: Eric.

      Married Rosemary Matthews, 1962. 1 daughter, Alexandra.
    • father: Frank Mankiewicz
    • mother: Johanna (Blumenau) Mankiewicz
    • spouses: Rosa Stradner
    • Rosemary Matthews
    • children: Christopher Mankiewicz
    • Thomas Mankiewicz
    Joseph Mankiewicz
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    Died February 5, 1993
    (aged 83)
    Nationality
    Ethnicity:
    • 1928
      Columbia University

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    Yuliya Yefimchik last changed 06/06/2017 view changes
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