Off-the-cuff sketches from a rich, committed life.
Although he grew up among Hollywood royalty, the son of drama critic and screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz (Citizen Kane, etc.), author Mankiewicz (Remote Control: Television and the Manipulation of American Life, 1978, etc.) did not follow the conventional moviemaking trajectory of his father but instead became active in politics. In this meandering memoir, left perhaps incomplete and edited by Swerdlow with the author’s death in 2014, he records with straightforward humor and concise prose the highlights from his extraordinary career, beginning with his stint as a soldier in World War II and culminating (but hardly ending) as an aide to Robert Kennedy. Written as a series of vignettes about people in his life or jobs he held, alternating with somewhat longer meditations on aging or language, the work is an unusual memoir, pleasant and frequently hilarious. The author’s remarks about his father’s writing of Citizen Kane (later contested by the supporters of the director) will be especially revealing, as the mysterious word “Rosebud” probably came from the name of the cherished new bike stolen from Herman as a kid. Radicalized by his work in Latin America while employed by the Peace Corps in the 1960s, the author became a speechwriter for RFK and a good friend, and his account of Kennedy’s important speeches and his “hold on people’s imaginations” are moving. He met with Fidel Castro many times in “some mild cloak-and-dagger” incidents at the behest of Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Mankiewicz also delineates his work for NPR (he was president from 1977 to 1983), specifically his advocating for the hiring of women correspondents. The author’s later work in a public relations firm allowed him to indulge his love of information and opinion in the form of lobbying for favorite or quirky causes. Throughout, his writing is sharp and fearless.
A roughly chronological memoir of a life well-lived, full of specific portraits and vivid detail.