Lamb Foster Hirsch talks with author Nick Davis about his book “Competing with Idiots: A Dual Portrait,” a fascinating, complex dual biography of Hollywood’s most dazzling – and famous – brothers, and a dark, riveting portrait of competition, love and enmity that ultimately undid them both. [Video below]
One most famous for having written Citizen Kane (with Orson Welles, as most recently portrayed in David Fincher’s acclaimed Netflix film, Mank); the other, All About Eve; one, who only wrote screenplays but believed himself to be a serious playwright, slowly dying of alcoholism and disappointment; the other, a four-time Academy Award-winning director, auteur, sorcerer, and seducer of leading ladies, one of Hollywood’s most literate and intelligent filmmakers.
Herman Mankiewicz brought us the Marx Brothers’ Monkey Business, Horse Feathers, Duck Soup, W. C. Fields’s Million Dollar Legs, wrote screenplays for Dinner at Eight, Pride of the Yankees, cowrote Citizen Kane (Pauline Kael proclaimed that the script was mostly Herman’s), and eighty-nine others. Talented, witty (Alexander Woollcott thought him “the funniest man who ever lived,”), huge-hearted, wildly immature, a figure of renown and success.
Herman went to Hollywood in 1926, was almost immediately successful (his telegram to Hecht back east: “MILLIONS ARE TO BE GRABBED OUT HERE AND YOUR ONLY COMPETITION IS IDIOTS. DON’T LET THIS GET AROUND.”), becoming one of the highest-paid screenwriters in Hollywood
Joe, eleven years younger, focused, organized, a disciplined writer, with a far more distinguished career, surpassing his worshipped older brother, producing The Philadelphia Story, writing and directing A Letter to Three Wives and All About Eve, both of which won him Oscars for writing and directing (All About Eve received a record fourteen Oscar nominations), before seeing his career upended by the spectacular fiasco of Cleopatra.
In this large, moving portrait, meticulously woven together by the grandson of Herman, great-nephew of Joe, we see the lives of these two men–their dreams and desires, their fears and feuds, struggling to free themselves from their dark past; and the driving forces that kept them bound to a system they loved and hated.