Wednesday, October 31, 2012

We’ve already had our Big Scare

Not-so-Happy Halloween. 12:00 PM. Photo: JH.
Wednesday, October 31, 2012. Halloween. Although we’ve already had our Big Scare.

Yesterday the storm had passed; the damage was done. The skies were still overcast (for the fifth day), and the air was damp enough at times to feel like rain. People were out, walking around, walking down by the river, having a look.

The city was still closed. The day felt like Sunday for the third day in a row. Stories were opening for business. Restaurants too. The streets were still strewn with the detritus of branches, trees, pieces of wood and chunks of plasterboard probably flung by the wind from some scaffolding. There is a lot of scaffolding around New York all the time these days. On the corner of East End and 84th at Gracie Square, the Fire Department came to dismantle a good part of it that surrounded One Gracie.
JH surveyed the damage on the Upper West Side. There was very little in comparison to our New York neighbors.
We got off easy in my part of the city. This is where the inhabitants two centuries ago came to get away from the heat of the teeming city which was then at the tip of Manhattan. It was cooler here in what were then hills, and a safer haven from the water when it roared in at high tide. The flatter, lower land across the water, Roosevelt Island, was besieged on Monday night, its surface roads and lawns covered with water from the high tide. Yesterday morning the roads and lawns were visible again. Nevertheless, the grey skies and the cooler temperatures continued to remind us of the hardship facing many many New Yorkers.
More from JH on the Upper West Side and Riverside Park.
Jill Krementz sent us this downed tree on 48th between 3rd and 2nd Avenue.
I escaped into a book. “My Life As A  Mankiewicz,” by Tom Mankiewicz and Robert Crane. I first read about it on these pages in Liz Smith’s column. She’d been given a copy by her friend Suzanne Goodson and she devoured  it. I called up Archivia the next day. They had it. I bought. It is the perfect book for a storm where there is nothing you can do (if you’re safe) but wait.

I love this book, so I'm gonna gush about it. If you have a friend who loves movies, any age, any gender, any nationality, this is the book for them. If your friend is one of these guys or girls whose only real favorite channel is TCM, this is having your cake and eating it. I know, all that sugar is a bit much on the sound of it. But this is delicious.

Click to order “My Life As a Mankiewicz: An Insider’s Journey Through Hollywood. Or don't wait, buy immediately at Archivia on Lexington and 72nd.
I never knew Tom Mankiewicz although we were friends of friends, and so I was aware of him back in college when he was at Yale. I was especially aware of him out of personal interest because he was a Mankiewicz, son of Joe, the famous screenwriter and director, nephew of Herman, the famous screenwriter and (rapier) wit, and a child of Hollywood.

Growing up in a small New England town with those childhood dreams of the Big Life, nothing could have seemed cooler.

The kids who grew up in Hollywood, issue of the generation who wrote, produced, directed and acted in the movies of the Golden Age of American Cinema, grew up in the real land of Oz. To us outsiders, that is.

One of the things that surprised me about Los Angeles, or Hollywood when I went to live out there, is that it is not a city in the New York sense. Nor is it a suburb. It is a small town in a big place. With a similar feel to social environment that I grew up in -- where you don’t know everybody but it’s small enough for you to think you do.

Growing up in a family of writers and film makers, Tom Mankiewicz developed the talent early for telling a good story or a good anecdote. He had a writer’s eye, a reporter’s curiosity and an entertainer’s respect for the denouement. This book is is one fascinating exposition of the most interesting, laugh-out-loud funny insights, stories and anecdotes about that town, its citizens, his family, and the forces that drove the talent. He was a fan, a friend, a son, an associate and a buddy.

Tom's father, Joe Mankiewicz.
Mid-childhood he moved to New York City with his father and mother where he came of age and returned to Tinseltown. I never knew him when I lived out there, although coincidentally he lived around the corner from me on a “No Thru” street called Thrush Way in the Hollywood Hills, so I often saw him driving in and out. He was, as you can see in the book, a hail-fellow-well-met and completely devoted to his business. Hollywood is a place where even friendship is a business, and an important one.

Being the child of a giant of the industry must have had its drawbacks. Like: how do you top that? When his father helped him get his first job working on a film, it was calculated to accommodate a possible failure or disinterest on the part of the son (it was working on a John Wayne film).

The son proved his mettle. As still a teenager Wayne even befriended him. He shares this, and all of his memories of his life in the movies, which is what it was entirely, as if sharing  with a friend. And you’re the friend.

It’s more than a memoir or autobiography -- scenes from a life in Hollywood, that reflect the life of a man living among the men and women of the dream factory. He never won an Oscar for best screenplay like his father, or wrote a classic like his uncle Herman (“Citizen Kane”). But he did something only his generation could do: he tells us about that place and their lives, so different from ours in our small town, and yet oddly familiar and totally compelling. It’s a treasure.
Tom Mankiewicz: Like Father Like Son.
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