Herman J. Mankiewicz Biography

(1897–1953)
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Herman Mankiewicz was an American screenwriter best known for writing the Academy Award-winning screenplay for 'Citizen Kane.'

Who Was Herman J. Mankiewicz?

Herman J. Mankiewicz was an American journalist, playwright and screenwriter. Mankiewicz worked in reporting and editing for many esteemed publications, including the Chicago Tribune, Vanity Fair, The Saturday Evening Post, The New York Times and The New Yorker. He later transitioned into screenwriting, winning an Academy Award (best writing, original screenplay) for Citizen Kane (1941) and receiving an Oscar nomination for Pride of the Yankees (1942). 

Early Life

Herman Jacob Mankiewicz was born on November 7, 1897, in New York City. His family included parents Franz, a teacher, and Johanna, a dressmaker; and two younger siblings, Erna and Joseph. They lived in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, where Mankiewicz studied at the Harry Hillman Academy before moving to New York City in 1913. He enrolled into the philosophy program at Columbia University, graduating in 1917, and also studied at the University of Berlin.

Movies: 'Citizen Kane' and 'Pride of the Yankees'

Mankiewicz worked in journalism, first as managing editor of the American Jewish Chronicle and later as a political reporter in Berlin for the Chicago Tribune. Upon his return to America, Mankiewicz reported for the New York World, and broke through as a distinguished writer with works published in Vanity Fair and The Saturday Evening Post. Later serving as drama editor at The New York Times and The New Yorker, Mankiewicz became well-known in New York culture society circles.

In the 1920s, Mankiewicz transitioned from journalism to screenwriting. Six years later, he moved to Hollywood, California, where he gained experience writing screenplays and adaptations. He worked his way up the ranks at Paramount Pictures, becoming head of the scenario department. Mankiewicz produced and scripted many films during the 1930s, including The Wizard of Oz (1939), starring Judy Garland, and It's a Wonderful World (1939), featuring Jimmy Stewart.

Mankiewicz is best known for writing the screenplay for the 1941 film Citizen Kane. The work was nominated for nine Academy Awards, with Mankiewicz winning one for best writing, original screenplay (which he shared with Orson Welles).

More accolades came for Mankiewicz the following year, including an Academy Award nomination (best writing, screenplay) for Pride of the Yankees (1942); the film garnered 10 Oscar nominations in all, but did not win any awards. Mankiewicz continued to write films over the next decade, but none of these works would come close to achieving the critical acclaim he received during his peak in the 1940s.

Death

Mankiewicz struggled with alcoholism and gambling during his lifetime. Well-known as the life of the party in Hollywood, he also gained a reputation for insulting and cursing the industry that pillared his career. Years of drinking took its toll on the screenwriter, who succumbed to uremic poisoning on March 5, 1953, in Hollywood, California.

Personal Life

Mankiewicz is the older brother of noted director and screenwriter Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Herman married Sara Aaronson in July 1920, and together they raised three children: Johanna, Donald and Francis.

Mankiewicz's eldest son, Donald, went on to become an award-winning novelist. His youngest son, Francis, was Robert Kennedy's press secretary. His daughter, Johanna, was a novelist and writer for TIME magazine who was tragically killed by a taxi in the mid-1970s.

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