The Brothers Mankiewicz
Hope, Heartbreak, and Hollywood Classics
The first dual biography of two Hollywood icons
Herman J. (1897–1953) and Joseph L. Mankiewicz (1909–1993) wrote, produced, and directed over 150 pictures. With Orson Welles, Herman wrote the screenplay for Citizen Kane and shared the picture’s only Academy Award. Joe earned the second pair of his four Oscars for writing and directing All About Eve, which also won Best Picture.
Despite triumphs as diverse as Monkey Business and Cleopatra, and Pride of the Yankees and Guys and Dolls, the witty, intellectual brothers spent their Hollywood years deeply discontented and yearning for what they did not have—a career in New York theater. Herman, formerly an Algonquin Round Table habitué, New York Times and New Yorker theater critic, and playwright-collaborator with George S. Kaufman, never reconciled himself to screenwriting. He gambled away his prodigious earnings, was fired from all the major studios, and drank himself to death at fifty-five. While Herman drifted downward, Joe rose to become a critical and financial success as a writer, producer, and director, though his constant philandering with prominent stars like Joan Crawford, Judy Garland, and Gene Tierney distressed his emotionally fragile wife who eventually committed suicide. He wrecked his own health using uppers and downers in order to direct Cleopatra by day and finish writing it at night, only to be very publicly fired by Darryl F. Zanuck, an experience from which Joe never fully recovered.
For this first dual portrait of the Mankiewicz brothers, Sydney Ladensohn Stern draws on interviews, letters, diaries, and other documents still in private hands to provide a uniquely intimate behind-the-scenes chronicle of the lives, loves, work, and relationship between these complex men.
Beautifully researched and deftly structured . . . This model biography tells a story of two gifted brothers, only one of whom exceeded expectations. But underneath the surface wit and brio, The Brothers Mankiewicz is a harrowing tale of subtly lethal sibling rivalry that ultimately strangled them both.- Scott Eyman, The Wall Street Journal
Given the overlapping arcs of their careers, a dual biography of the two men makes perfect sense, and Sydney Ladensohn Stern, author of The Brothers Mankiewicz: Hope, Heartbreak, and Hollywood Classics, proves far more than equal to the formidable technical challenges of writing it. She succeeds in keeping the narrative strands of their lives sufficiently separate to make for easy reading while simultaneously illuminating the instructive similarities in their personalities, both of which come through with lively clarity. Above all, she tells their tightly entwined stories thoughtfully and well, with a sympathetic but honest appreciation of their talents—and limitations.- Terry Teachout, Commentary
This is one of the best of the recent biographies of screenwriters. . . . A particular strength of the book is that it is exactly a dual biography, which means Stern can and does bounce the two brothers off each other. Their relationship was complex, to say the least, something that Stern gets better than the earlier writers.- Tom Stempel, Script
Eleven years apart, and growing up with different family tensions, the Mankiewicz brothers became two of the most brilliant and charismatic men ever to ply their sometimes dubious trade in Hollywood. As allies and competitors, loyal yet also subject to intense mutual irritation, they make for a fascinating dual portrait. In Sydney Ladensohn Stern’s enthralling account, their very social lives, their many enchanting and enchanted females (some of them wives), their witticisms for every occasion, furnish ample entertainment, but her book is also a thorough and judicious assessment of their extraordinary contributions to cinema.- Molly Haskell, American film critic
If you want to know everything there is to know about the Golden Age of Cinema, as seen through the eyes of two amazing siblings, read The Brothers Mankiewicz. Herman wrote Citizen Kane, while Joe wrote All About Eve and wrote and directed Liz Taylor in Cleopatra—that’s just for starters. Sydney Ladensohn Stern has done a terrific job writing about the public and private lives of these remarkable men who both became legends. It’s a generous, knowledgeable, fascinating account—I couldn’t put it down.- Patricia Bosworth, author of biographies on Montgomery Clift, Marlon Brando, and Jane Fonda, and a contributing editor at Vanity Fair
Sydney Stern does a terrific job with a fascinating pair of subjects. Not only does the book read smooth as butter but it’s full of great film history. I was amazed to find out how much I didn’t know!- Marion Meade is a biographer whose subjects include Nathanael West, Buster Keaton, Dorothy Parker, and Woody Allen.