Sydney Ladensohn Stern in Literary Hub:
On December 4, Netflix subscribers will start streaming Mank, David Fincher’s biopic about Herman Mankiewicz, the Hollywood screenwriter who wrote the original script for Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane. Mank is a cinematic feast that requires neither familiarity with Herman Mankiewicz nor prior exposure to Citizen Kane to enjoy it. But as with most works of complexity, the more one brings to it, the richer the experience. As it happens, I bring a great deal. I call it knowledge. The less charitable might call it obsession.
I spent the last decade researching and writing a dual biography of Herman and his younger, more successful brother, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, writer/director of, among others, the classic All About Eve and the notorious Cleopatra. Before he became a screenwriter, Herman was a New York newspaperman, a celebrated wit and Algonquin group habitué, a theatre critic for the New York Times and New Yorker, and a playwright collaborating with George S. Kaufman. Unfortunately, Herman was also an alcoholic and chronic gambler. He originally went to Hollywood in 1925 for a short writing assignment, intending to work there just long enough to pay off a gambling debt. Instead, he stayed for the rest of his life, despising the movie business but never managing to leave it. He drank himself to death in 1953 at the age of 55.