‘Competing With Idiots’ Honors Hollywood Greats
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‘Competing With Idiots’ Honors Hollywood Greats

This dual biography about Joe and Herman Mankiewicz follows the highs and lows of two brothers who help define Hollywood’s golden era.

It’s not often that two Hollywood insiders, who are also cousins, get together publicly to talk about how their family became creative Hollywood royalty.

But on Nov. 16, the MJCCA Book Festival will feature Ben Mankiewicz, the longtime host of Turner Classic Movies, in conversation with Nick Davis about their respective grandfathers, Joe and Herman Mankiewicz.

The pair will discuss Davis’s recently published biography of the patriarchs of the family, “Competing with Idiots.”

Herman Mankiewicz wrote or co-wrote over 85 screenplays for some of the greatest classics in Hollywood history, including the Marx Brothers’ comedy riot “Duck Soup,” Orson Welles’ monumental “Citizen Kane,” and “Pride of the Yankees,” a great sports drama about Lou Gehrig. Despite his talent and wit, he struggled with alcoholism, professional disappointments, and a variety of psychological ailments.

His younger brother, Joe, the more disciplined of the two, was the producer of the outstanding 1940 Academy Award winner, “The Philadelphia Story,” the Oscar-winning producer and director of 1949’s “A Letter for Three Wives,” and “All About Eve,” which was nominated for 14 Academy statues the following year. It won six, including two for Mankiewicz, and is generally considered one of the greatest Hollywood films of all time. All three films have been honored by the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.

Thirteen years later, Joe Mankiewicz’s career crashed in flames with the disastrous failure of “Cleopatra,” which he helped to write and direct. The runaway budget and production problems that accompanied the film almost brought down 20th Century Fox.

This compelling, ambitious portrait of two fascinating film talents is also a story of Hollywood during its so-called golden era, when outsized egos — and some of the idiots referred to in the title — filled the fantasy world of Hollywood.

For anyone interested in American movies, this is a must. It’s also a fitting complement to last year’s Netflix production, “Mank,” about the life of Herman Mankiewicz.

Nick Davis will appear in conversation with Ben Mankiewicz, in-person and livestreamed, on Nov. 16, 7:30 p.m. EST.

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