Tom Mankiewicz (born June 1, 1942) is a screenwriter/director/producer of motion pictures and television, perhaps best known for his work on the James Bond films and his contributions to Superman: The Movie and the television series, Hart to Hart.
He was born Thomas Francis Mankiewicz in Los Angeles on June 1, 1942. His father was the celebrated screenwriter/director Joseph L. Mankiewicz who, in 1950, after winning four Oscars in two years for the screenplays and direction of A Letter to Three Wives and All About Eve, decided to move his family back to New York City where he had been raised, the son of a German immigrant language professor.
Mankiewicz is a graduate of Phillips Exeter Academy (1955-59) and Yale University (1959-63). He majored in drama at Yale, completing the first two years of the Yale Drama School while still an undergraduate.
During vacations he worked at the Williamstown Summer Theater in Massachusetts both in production and as an actor. In 1960, he was hired as a third Assistant Director on The Comancheros, a film starring John Wayne and Lee Marvin, which was shot in the Monument Valley of Utah, the last film directed by the legendary Michael Curtiz.
In 1963, two young producers, Stuart Millar and Lawrence Turman, took Mankiewicz on as their assistant while making The Best Man, a film of Gore Vidal’s Broadway play starring Henry Fonda. He was involved in virtually every aspect of the film, receiving his first on-screen credit as “Production Associate.”
He began to write, finishing an original screenplay, Please, about the last ninety minutes in the life of a suicidal young actress. It was optioned at times by three different studios, never made, but served as an example of his talent and was responsible for his first writing assignment, a Bob Hope Chrysler Theater directed by Stuart Rosenberg. He received a credit as “Thomas F. Mankiewicz,” but thought it looked so pretentious on the screen he became “Tom” Mankiewicz for the rest of his career.
In 1967, Mankiewicz joined forces with a friend, Jack Haley Jr. to come up with a musical television special tailored for the then hugely popular Nancy Sinatra: Movin' with Nancy, co-starring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Lee Hazelwood. Mankiewicz was the sole writer and Haley won the Emmy for directing. This was followed by The Beat of the Brass, starring Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass in 1968.
Simultaneously, 20th Century Fox had optioned his original screenplay and after reading it, producer Joe Pasternak hired him to write The Sweet Ride about the California surfing community, starring Anthony Franciosa, Bob Denver, and introducing Jacqueline Bisset.
The combination of that screenplay and the TV specials led Broadway producer Fred Coe to ask Mankiewicz to write the book for the musical version of the film Georgy Girl. It opened at the Winter Garden Theatre in 1970, was nominated for three Tony Awards, but closed after four performances.
Attending one of the four performances of Georgy was United Artists production head David Picker who admired Mankiewicz’s book for the musical. Picker and James Bond producer Albert Broccoli were looking for a writer to do a major reworking of Diamonds Are Forever in hopes of luring Sean Connery back to play Bond. Picker suggested that Broccoli add Mankiewicz to his list of possibles. He was hired on a two-week guarantee, stayed on the film for six months and received shared screenplay credit with the original writer, Richard Maibaum.
This began a long relationship with the Bond films. Mankiewicz received sole writing credit on the next, Live and Let Die, shared credit with Maibaum on The Man with the Golden Gun, did an uncredited rewrite on The Spy Who Loved Me, and helped Broccoli and director Lewis Gilbert get Moonraker off the ground.
In 1975, Mankiewicz wrote the screenplay for Mother, Jugs and Speed, a dark comedy about ambulance drivers starring Bill Cosby, Raquel Welch and Harvey Keitel. He co-produced the film with director Peter Yates who later asked Mankiewicz to come to the British Virgin Islands to do a major rewrite on Yates’ next film, The Deep, with Robert Shaw and Jacqueline Bisset. The film was a huge box office success and cemented Mankiewicz’s reputation as a “script doctor.”
He next performed a similar function on The Cassandra Crossing, starring Richard Harris, Sophia Loren, Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner, receiving shared screenplay credit. This was followed by his screenplay for The Eagle Has Landed, a World War II thriller with Michael Caine, Donald Sutherland and Robert Duvall.
During this time actor Peter Falk asked Universal Studios to hire Mankiewicz to read the scripts for his hit television series, Columbo, and make plot suggestions. He was paid a consulting fee on each episode for an entire season while performing no actual writing services.
In 1977, director Richard Donner was hired to direct Superman: The Movie and Superman II. At the time the script drafts combined were more than four hundred pages long (an impossible length to shoot) and Donner felt they were much too campy as well. He brought Mankiewicz aboard to do a complete overhaul in terms of length, dialogue and tone. Mankiewicz stayed on the production for more than a year, assisting Donner in other departments as well. Donner gave Mankiewicz a separate credit in the main title: “Creative Consultant.” The Writer’s Guild strenuously objected on two grounds; first, that the traditional script arbitration process was being bypassed and second, that Mankiewicz’s credit came after the original screenwriters and not before them, implying that his contribution was more important. The dispute went to a legal hearing. Mankiewicz won. His credit remained where it was on Superman: The Movie, but he agreed to have it come just before the listed screenwriters on Superman II.
During this time, television producers Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg had five successful series on the ABC Network simultaneously. They also had a potential “pilot” script by Sidney Sheldon called Double Twist which they were unable to sell. Goldberg knew Mankiewicz wanted to direct and told him if he rewrote the two-hour script successfully he could direct it. Mankiewicz agreed and turned it into Hart to Hart. It sold. He co-wrote and directed the pilot, starring Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers. The hit series ran for five years and later was the subject of eight two-hour network and cable movies. Mankiewicz received his “Creative Consultant” credit on each episode, while directing seven of them. He also directed the final cable movie, Till Death Do Us Hart, in Munich, Germany, coming full circle on the show.
Following Superman: The Movie, Warner Bros. signed Mankiewicz to an exclusive deal and kept him busy “fixing” films. He wrote scenes for Steven Spielberg’s Gremlins, Spielberg and Richard Donner’s The Goonies and John Badham’s WarGames. He next wrote the first draft of Batman, the opening film for that successful series. Then Richard Donner brought him onto Ladyhawke, the medieval romantic fantasy starring Matthew Broderick, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Rutger Hauer. He received shared screenplay credit and a separate credit as “Creative Consultant.”
Mankiewicz next co-executive produced the film Hot Pursuit with John Cusack and Ben Stiller. He left Warner Bros., moving to Universal Studios where he co-wrote (with Dan Aykroyd and Alan Zweibel) and directed the film Dragnet, starring Aykroyd and Tom Hanks. It was one of the top grossers of 1987, and marked his feature debut as director.
Mankiewicz next did an uncredited rewrite on Legal Eagles, a romantic comedy with Robert Redford and Debra Winger. He then directed the film Delirious, starring John Candy and Mariel Hemingway. Next he directed the season’s opening episode of HBO’s Tales from the Crypt. This was followed by his directing the Showtime movie, Taking the Heat, with Alan Arkin, Peter Boyle, George Segal and Tony Goldwyn.
Later, Mankiewicz helped Richard Donner reconstruct Donner’s version of Superman II, restoring all of the original footage he had shot which had been altered or replaced by the producers, including multiple sequences with Marlon Brando which were seen by the public for the first time. Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut came out in 2006 and won the Saturn Award as the best DVD of the year.
In 2006, The Dodge College of Film and Media Arts at Chapman University invited Mankiewicz to be their “Film Maker in Residence.” He has stayed on as a Trustee Professor, teaching a course in film making to their graduate students.
Mankiewicz had a home in Kenya, East Africa, for eight years. He serves on the Board of Directors of the William Holden Wildlife Foundation, based there. For the past decade he has been closely involved with the Los Angeles Zoo, and is presently Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association.
He is an owner of thoroughbred race horses, having first partnered with actor Robert Wagner, then with A&M Records co-founder Jerry Moss, and now racing under his own silks. He is a past member of the Board of Directors of the Thoroughbred Owners of California.
Mankiewicz remains active in the Writer’s and Director’s Guilds and is a former member of the Board of Governors of the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences.