I enjoyed this collection of interviews with JOSEPH L. MANKIEWICZ (edited by Brian Dauth) , especially since Mr. Mankiewicz wasn’t known for public comments.
Aside from an interview for Life magazine in 1951 , the interviews are from the 1970s till two years before his death in 1993.
I got hold of this 2008 book after coming across this photo of Mankiewicz receiving the second of his two Oscars in 1950 for A LETTER TO THREE WIVES.
Not only did he receive the two Oscars for writing and directing, but he did the same thing in 1951 for ALL ABOUT EVE!
As far as I know, no one else has ever done this double.
Joseph Mankiewicz, his wife Rose Stradner, with his Oscars for “A Letter to Three Wives.”
In his 20s, Mankiewicz was already a top writer for MGM in the 1930s:
“I wrote a couple of successful films at Metro- including “Forsaking All Others” and “Manhattan Melodrama”, But I really wanted to be a director.”
But MGM made him a producer:
“I started off with FURY with Spencer Tracy. It didn’t do much business but was a critical success…..then LOVE ON THE RUN, THE PHILADELPHIA STORY, WOMAN OF THE YEAR, THREE COMRADES…….Some hits, some runs, mostly errors…..
On most of them I did some writing but without screen credit.
”I left Metro before my contract was up and went to work at 20th Century Fox, with a raise and a promise they’d let me try directing…..I did DRAGONWYCK, SOMEWHERE IN THE NIGHT, THE GHOST AND MRS.MUIR.
I’ve always felt that directing his script is the other half of the writer’s job.”
In the earliest interview in the book from 1951, Mankiewicz discussed the origins of A LETTER TO THREE WIVES:
“Vera Caspary had made an adaptation of a novel, ‘A Letter to Five Wives’ by John Klempner……..I wrote the screenplay about four wives. Zanuck excised one, so we ended with ‘A Letter to Three Wives.’
The most extensive interview is with Gary Carey in 1972. (Carey would write an excellent book the same year, “All About All About Eve”.
Talking to author Gary Carey in 1972, Mankiewicz says of Thelma Ritter: “Birdie (in All About Eve) was written for only Thelma Ritter. I adored her.”
He called her , “the great character comedienne.”
And the director had nothing but praise for Bette Davis:
“Working with Bette was, it goes without saying, from the first day to regrettably our last, an experience as happy and rewarding as any I have ever known……a superbly equipped professional actress who does her job responsibly and honestly.
On the first day of “Eve” rehearsals:
“Bette was letter-perfect. She was syllable-perfect. There was no fumbling for my words; they’d become hers – as Margo Channing. The director’s dream: the prepared actress.”
The history of the Sarah Siddons Award in “All about Eve” is a story on its own.
Dreamed up by Mankiewicz,
“…..One day I was rummaging through some old theatrical portraits ……Sir Joshua Reynolds’s famous portrait of Sarah Siddons as The Tragic Muse popped up at me. And that was that…..I created both “The Sarah Siddons Society” and the award…….
”Working from an enlarged print of the Reynolds portrait, the Twentieth Century-Fox prop shop started making up statuettes according to my specifications. The first approved model is right over there on my mantelpiece. Walter Scott (the set dresser) even put my name on it.
“But, mirabile dictu, In 1952,in Chicago,a ‘Sarah Siddons Society’ came into being…..the ‘Sarah Siddons Award’ was to be bestowed annually upon an actress chosen by the society for ‘Distinguished Achievement’ in the Theatre of Chicago.”
The Curran Theatre in San Francisco was used for the interior theatre scenes in “All About Eve”. But the above photo was taken at the Golden Theatre,West 45th street in New York.
Not the Oscars, but the director and star won other awards for All About Eve.
A favourite line from All About Eve:
Lloyd: “Eve would never ask to play the part of Cora.”
Karen: “Eve would ask Abbott to give her Costello.”
Some of the recipients of the Sarah Siddons Award : Myrna Loy, Helen Hayes, Celeste Holm, Lauren Bacall, Claudette Colbert, Ann Miller.
In the same year as All about Eve, Mankiewicz directed NO WAY OUT, Sidney Poitier ‘s first film. I’ve only just seen this film and was very impressed. Good roles for Poitier, Darnell, Richard Widmark and Stephen McNally.
With Linda Darnell and Sidney Poitier on the set of NO WAY OUT.
Mankiewicz also directed GUYS AND DOLLS.