The Mankiewicz mangle

And now for something completely different, we turn to TCM host Ben Mankiewicz’s citation of his favorite books about movies, published in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal Review section and available online here. The Journal subhead touts Mankiewicz and two other “showbiz pros on the nonfiction works that taught them volumes about Hollywood, past and present.” These are Mankiewicz’s selections:

“Easy Riders, Raging Bulls” captures a time in moviemaking I love, from 1967 to 1976. “Tender Comrades: A Backstory of the Hollywood Blacklist” has powerful oral histories. These writers and directors weren’t anarchists. Most were just slogging away on movies and talking about how the world could be better. “Who the Devil Made It” is Peter Bogdanovich’s interviews with big directors, and “The Brothers Mankiewicz” held surprising facts even I didn’t know about my family.

Let us pause over Tender Comrades, the oral history of blacklisted Hollywood directors and writers including, for example, Jules Dassin, Ring Lardner, Jr., Martin Ritt, Walter Bernstein, and Maurice Rapf. The subjects of the book with whom I am familiar were blacklisted as a result of their identification as members of the Communist Party and some past or present members were blacklisted for their refusal to name names when subpoenaed in congressional investigations. Some such as Dassin simply took off when the House Un-American Activities Committee came calling. Others are perhaps most notable for their obscurity. I don’t know their cases.

While praising the book, Publishers Weekly described it as “bringing to light much that has not been heard before about the membership in the New Deal-era Communist party and its unfortunate consequences.” Kirkus more bluntly allowed that the book featured “staunch Stalinist ideologues who would have gladly extirpated any opposition if the tables had been turned.”

Mankiewicz must be something of an old-fashioned useful idiot. He denies that the subjects of Tender Comrades were anarchists. The question, however, was Communism, not anarchism, and they were in fact Communists. “Anarchists” is a particularly stupid euphemism. While members of the Party, they toed the Party line subject to Party discipline. Ronald Radosh and Allis Radosh tell the story in Red Star Over Hollywood. Toward the end of the book they write that “the admirers and descendants of the blacklisted Communists continue to propagate the myth of their unparalleled heroism.” Mankiewiecz is big into the myth.

When it comes to Mankiewicz, what a falling off was there — not only from original TCM host Robert Osborne, but also from Mankiewicz’s illustrious Hollywood forebears (the subject of the fourth book he cites).

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