'Competing With Idiots': New book details 'Mank' family legacy

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Wednesday, October 20, 2021
'Competing With Idiots': New book details 'Mank' family legacy
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"Mank" earned more Oscar nominations than any other film this year, but for members of one family, it played like a very elaborate home movie.

The film that earned more Oscar nominations than any other earlier this year was a throwback to Hollywood's Golden Era, and "Mank" held special appeal for fans of old movies. For members of one family, however, it played like a very elaborate home movie.

"Mank" is short for Mankiewicz, a distinguished family of writers and directors with a unique legacy of achievement and fierce competition.

Joe Mankiewicz told us "All About Eve" and earned a total of four Oscars. His older brother, Herman Mankiewicz, earned an Oscar for writing "Citizen Kane" with Orson Welles.

That film is still considered one of the greatest -- if not the greatest -- movie ever made, and the recent film about making it, David Fincher's "Mank," competed for the Academy Award as Best Picture of 2020.

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The title role played by Gary Oldman is based on Nick Davis' grandfather.

"I never met my grandfather," he said. "So it's wonderful to see him played by one of the world's greatest actors in a movie made by one of our best directors."

Davis is a filmmaker in the family tradition, and his documentary about the 1986 Mets, "Once Upon a Time in Queens" is streaming now on ESPN+.

"I just inherited the ability to tell a story on film that feels like I got from those guys, and that's kind of great," he said.

He also admits that being an heir to such a rich Hollywood history can also be intimidating.

"We just all inhaled this idea that nothing you do is ever going to be good enough," he said.

Davis has spent decades coming to terms with his legacy, and his research and reflection resulted in a new book: a dual portrait of Herman and Joe Mankiewicz.

"I wanted to find out what made me, where do I come from?" he said. "My mother died when I was 9, so I couldn't put these questions to her. She was the daughter of Herman Mankiewicz."

His quest to understand taught him lessons beyond Hollywood and about the price of all that family pressure to succeed.

"It can sort of eat you alive," he said. "You can never satisfy that ambition, so when you finally realize, wait a minute, all this competing can lead to just a lot of misery and heartache, let's put it aside and just do the work."

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Sandy Kenyon reports on "Once Upon a Time in Queens."

His new book, "Competing With Idiots," is a fascinating read. The volume takes its title from a famous telegram Davis' grandfather sent from Hollywood to another writer, Ben Hecht, back in New York City.

"There's millions to be grabbed out here," wrote Herman Mankiewicz. "And your only competition is idiots."


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