I’ve covered the craft of screenwriting for many years, and have always been rather fascinated by the role of the “script doctor” in Hollywood.
A script doctor is like a baseball player who comes in at the last minute and saves the game. If a movie’s in trouble, a really talented writer can spot what’s wrong with the script, rewrite it, and make the film a winner instead of a loser.
There have been many script doctors in Hollywood history, and Tom Mankiewicz did major rewrites on a number of films. His work on Superman I and II was substantial, and he also wrote the 70’s James Bond films Diamonds Are Forever, Live and Let Die, The Man With the Golden Gun – and worked on both The Spy Who Loved Me as well as Moonraker.
He also created the hit TV show Hart to Hart, and did uncredited re-write work on The Deep, WarGames, Gremlins, among many other films. Plus, Mankiewicz wrote the first script for the 80’s big screen Batman, which was a obviously far different movie than the one that finally hit theaters in 1989.
Tom came from a long respected Hollywood dynasty – his father wrote and directed All About Eve, while his Uncle Herman penned Citizen Kane. Knowing this was quite a lot to live up to, Tom went his own way as a scribe, writing big budget Hollywood entertainment, and like his relatives, was very successful at it. Sadly, Tom passed away in 2010, but his autobiography is slated to hit store shelves on May 28 via The University Press of Kentucky.
As the Amazon entry for the book tells us, My Life as a Mankiewicz recounts Tom’s life and career, where he would spend his summers on his father’s film sets, how he had his first drink with Bogart, ate dinner with Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, and of course became a successful Hollywood scribe and one of a long line of talented Mankiewicz men.
If you love comic book films, you definitely owe a debt to Tom, whose writing on the Superman films treated the characters with realism, wit and respect. Mankiewicz told me he didn’t do the campy approach of the Batman TV show because you couldn’t keep camp up in the air for two hours, and the first two Superman films set a benchmark that stood for many years.
Having met and interviewed Tom back in my days as a contributor for Creative Screenwriting, I’m really looking forward to reading his life story, and his behind the scenes memories of writing for Superman, Batman and Bond.