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, 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 he never fully recovered.
Drawing on interviews, letters, diaries, and other documents still in private hands, The Brothers Mankiewicz provides a uniquely intimate behind-the-scenes chronicle of the lives, loves, work, and relationship between these complex men.
In December, The Biographer’s Craft, the Biographers International Organization (BIO) newsletter, ran an interview with Sydney about the challenges she faced in writing the book and about writing biography in general.
THE BROTHERS MANKIEWICZ News, reviews, podcasts:
THE FILM SCENE with ILLEANA DOUGLAS: Click here to see Illeana Douglas’s podcast with Sydney.
AUDIOFILE Review: “A high point here is listening to someone talk like Bette Davis, without imitating her.”
WALL STREET JOURNAL: “3 Hollywood Insiders’ Favorite Books About Movies” : Ben Mankiewicz mentions the one about his family.
Click here to hear a preview of The Brothers Mankiewicz new audiobook.
Click here to see Sydney’s appearances as guest host on TURNER CLASSIC MOVIES (TCM) MANKIEWICZ FAMILY WEEKEND, March 27-29. Joining TCM Host Ben Mankiewicz (grandson of Herman), Joseph’s daughter, Alex Mankiewicz, Sydney talked about the Mankiewicz family and seven Mankiewicz movies TCM over three nights. Here are their discussions of the brothers’ classics:
Friday: MILLION DOLLAR LEGS (1932), DINNER AT EIGHT (1933), and MANHATTAN MELODRAMA (1934).
Saturday: A LETTER TO THREE WIVES (1949) and PEOPLE WILL TALK (1951).
Sunday CITIZEN KANE (1941) and THE PRIDE OF THE YANKEES (1942).
“one of the best of the recent biographies of screenwriters … One thing I love about her book are the footnotes that trace the lineage of some of the great Mank stories (“The white wine came up with the fish” and “Imagine that, the whole world wired to Harry Cohn’s ass”…) ” –Tom Stempel
See Sydney’s suggestions for films to watch at home. “… a blend of Mankiewicz classics and some more recent films that connect to to them in some way. All are available to rent or purchase on digital streaming services.”
AWARD: 2020 Peter C. Rollins Book Award, Southwest Popular and American Culture Association.
CITIZEN KANE Controversy — 80 years and still going strong: Wellesnet sees a draft of the screenplay for David Fincher’s upcoming Netflix film, MANK, and the controversy about who wrote CITIZEN KANE rages on.
NOW AVAILABLE: Brothers Mankiewicz Audiobook. Penguin Random House. Publication March 31, 2020.
“Let’s open this month’s round on new and recent books with an odd little news item. On January 7, Harvey Weinstein appeared at a court in Manhattan in the run-up to his rape trial carrying a copy of The Brothers Mankiewicz: Hope, Heartbreak, and Hollywood Classics. Why? “I can’t imagine his choice was unthought,” author Sydney Ladensohn Stern tells Variety’s Gene Maddaus, who notes that Weinstein was flashing a biography of Elia Kazan when he surrendered to police in 2018…. It’s possible, however improbable, that he may have been Googling himself one night and came across Stern’s brief piece for Air Mail about one of the worries tugging at her conscience as she began writing. “I didn’t need Harvey Weinstein horror stories to know I needed to dig deeply into the Mankiewiczes’ relationships with women,” she wrote in November, “but at the same time I dreaded discovering that either was actually a predatory monster.” Fortunately, neither was.” –David Hudson
WALL STREET JOURNAL
“…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 a subtly lethal sibling rivalry that ultimately strangled them both.” –Scott Eyman
“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
SIGHT & SOUND
“We think we know this story. But meticulous research and penetrating writing by Sydney Ladensohn Stern make it fresh.” – David Thomson
In an interview with Wellesnet.com, Sydney talks about who really wrote Citizen Kane, what Herman Mankiewicz thought about Orson Welles, and how Herman got along with his more successful brother, Joseph L. Mankiewicz.
Sydney Stern on “Kane, Eve, and Cleopatra”
“The author of a new book on the Mankiewicz brothers reckons with an especially timely concern: Were her subjects predatory monsters?”
The fascinating tale of Herman Mankiewicz’s screenplay, “The Mad Dog of Europe,” excerpted from The Brothers Mankiewicz.
DAILY REVIEW, Australia
“She has the novelist’s gift of placing anecdotes in a flowing narrative to deliver a fine story.” -Kevin Brianton
“How Cowardice and Anti-Semitism Stopped One of the Earliest Anti-Nazi Films From Getting Made”
PODCAST: Inkslingers interviews writers of biography and memoir about their process — here they talk to Sydney about writing both her biography of the Mankiewicz brothers and her previous biography of Gloria Steinem.
FILM BUFFS FORECAST
PODCAST: Australian critic Paul Harris interviews Sydney in a wide-ranging exploration of the Mankiewicz brothers, movies — theirs and others’– and the state of the movie business, past and present.
PODCAST: Mike Gebert covers “the story author and reporter Sydney Ladensohn Stern tells in her new dual biography of the two brothers who became Hollywood legends—and started a multigenerational showbiz dynasty (that includes a certain TCM host, among others).”
PODCAST: Sydney talks with Adam Schartoff about Herman and the contentious struggle over who wrote Citizen Kane, about Cleopatra’s devastating effect on Joe, and much more.
More praise for THE BROTHERS MANKIEWICZ & a note from Sydney:
The quotes below include a lovely tribute from a talented, accomplished, and generous colleague and friend, Patricia Bosworth, who died of COVID-19 on April 2, 2020. Patti was yet another victim whose time should not have come so soon. R.I.P., Patti and thank you.
“UNUSUALLY well written” –Terry Teachout, critic, author, biographer
“a fascinating dual portrait… also a thorough and judicious assessment of their extraordinary contributions to cinema.”
– Molly Haskell, film critic, author: From Reverence to Rape; Steven Spielberg: A Life in Films
“everything there is to know about the Golden Age of Cinema, as seen through the eyes of two amazing siblings… a generous, knowledgeable, fascinating account – I couldn’t put it down.”
– Patricia Bosworth, biographer of Montgomery Clift, Marlon Brando, Jane Fonda. Vanity Fair contributing editor
“smooth as butter…full of great film history. I was amazed to find out how much I didn’t know.” – Marion Meade, biographer of Dorothy Parker, Nathanael West, Buster Keaton, Woody Allen