02 August 2010

Veteran screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz dies

Screenwriter/director/producer Tom Mankiewicz 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 died on Friday of cancer. He was 68. The son of celebrated screenwriter/director Joseph L. Mankiewicz (who won Oscars for both directing and writing for A Letter to Three Wives and All About Eve), he began his career in the theater and TV.

But it was writing the book for Georgy Girl that drew him the attention of David Picker and James Bond producer Albert Broccoli. The two were looking for a writer to do a major reworking of Diamonds Are Forever in hopes of luring Sean Connery back to play Bond. He was hired on a two-week guarantee, but eventually 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, as 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.

When director Richard Donner was hired to helm Superman: The Movie and Superman II (which were to be filmed simultaneously) he felt the scripts were unwieldy and too campy. He brought Mankiewicz aboard to do a complete overhaul. Mankiewicz stayed on the production for more than a year. Donner gave Mankiewicz a separate credit in the main title: “Creative Consultant.” The Writer’s Guild, however, objected to this 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, yet in the end, 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.

Warner Bros. then signed Mankiewicz to an exclusive deal that kept him busy “fixing” films. He wrote scenes for Gremlins, and Richard Donner’s The Goonies as well as WarGames. He also wrote the first draft of Batman. Donner then brought him onto Ladyhawke. He received shared screenplay credit and a separate credit as “Creative Consultant.”

Mankiewicz wrote and directed the two-hour pilot for Hart to Hart, which starred Robert Wagner and Stephanie Powers. The 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.

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