“Citizen Kane” co-screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz, who died in 1953, wrote some of the best and most popular movies of all time. His son Frank skipped a career in film and became a top aide to Democratic Sens. Robert Kennedy and George McGovern during their presidential runs.
Frank’s son Ben Mankiewicz grew up in Washington in the 1970s and 1980s in what he called the “political wing” of his family. But on TCM for the past decade, he has found a niche bringing movies of his grandfather’s day to a modern audience.
On Sunday, Ben and Frank Mankiewicz are hosting a Father’s Day lineup on TCM that includes “Citizen Kane” (1941), which ranks first among the American Film Institute’s greatest films of all time. As a tribute to Frank Mankiewicz’s political career, TCM is also screening “All the King’s Men” (1949) with Broderick Crawford and “The Last Hurrah” (1958) with Spencer Tracy.
The wild card is “Smokey and the Bandit” (1977), essentially one long car chase between Burt Reynolds and an exasperated sheriff played by Jackie Gleason. Ben Mankiewicz, who is 45, chose it because it was the first film he remembers seeing with his father.
They banter as the day of films begins.
Frank: “Happy to be here.”
Ben, deadpan: “Thanks very much. I’d like to believe that.”
They discuss Herman Mankiewicz’s shared screenwriting credit with director Orson Welles on “Citizen Kane.” Mankiewicz and Welles won the Oscar for their story, but Frank Mankiewicz says, “It was not written at all by Orson Welles.” He recalls that Welles “begged” his father for co-authorship because Welles’s receiving his full salary for the movie depended on getting the writing credit in addition to directing, acting in and producing “Citizen Kane.”
Yet there are equally knowledgeable Welles supporters who say the director is unfairly maligned as a credit hog. The debate over who really wrote the movie is unlikely to be resolved soon.
‘Enormous treasure chest’
TCM’s role in spurring such discussions — and in simply showing thousands of films hard to find anywhere else, even with Netflix — is a reason that many viewers have an almost fanatical devotion to the network. Director and writer Peter Bogdanovich and Rock Hall of Famer Tom Petty refuse to stay in hotels that do not offer TCM.
“The good movies from the past, it’s an enormous treasure chest of entertainment and charm and quality and humor and drama and everything else,” said Bogdanovich, whose movie credits include “The Last Picture Show” (1971). “It’s a tremendous loss in people’s lives if they don’t know what preceded them.”
He added that Ben Mankiewicz’s affable style brings value to the network because “he doesn’t make it seem like medicine.”