Citizen Kane has long been considered one of the best movies ever made. It was even one of the first movies selected by the Library of Congress for the inaugural class of the National Film Registry and is preserved for being culturally significant (via Library of Congress).
But so much of the movie’s popularity and discussion points centered on its star, producer, and director Orson Welles. Until the release of Mank, some people probably thought Welles wrote the movie solo. In reality, screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz penned Citizen Kane based on an idea by Welles. Mankiewicz won the Oscar for the script, but he was also a tortured soul.
Mankiewicz had a reputation of brilliance that was often overshadowed by his alcoholism, wrote Vanity Fair. Having been a playwright and a journalist before turning to movies, Mankiewicz had always been a little embarrassed writing what he felt were “unsophisticated escapism.” He often turned in scripts late and drank too much. Even by Hollywood standards, Mankiewicz drank to excess, and so many executives felt he was too erratic.
Citizen Kane was supposed to be punishment for him. Mankiewicz was recovering from a car accident and was in desperate need of money. He agreed to write the movie for $10,000 with no credit. And he was kept away from booze. He had very low expectations and was surprised that he actually liked what he made.
Mankiewicz, however, was not present to accept his Academy Award — because he didn’t want to be humiliated if the film lost.
Alcohol was Mank's downfall
No matter how erratic he could be, no one could deny that Mankiewicz had a talent for writing — and drinking. Both gave him fame and access to some of the most influential people in Hollywood.
Despite the popular opinion that Citizen Kane was based on the life of the millionaire William Randolph Hearst, a personal friend of Mankiewicz, both director and writer denied this. Mankiewicz often partied with Marion Davies, the actress and mistress of Hearst. One of the characters in the movie seemed like it was based on Davies. The Hollywood elite was both amused and horrified by his drunken ramblings against the movie industry, said Biography.
Eventually, alcoholism caught up with Mankiewicz. He died in 1953 at the age of 55 of uremic poisoning brought on by his drinking, reported The New York Times.
Citizen Kane propelled Welles to great heights, and although Mankiewicz was relegated to a co-creator of one of the best movies ever, his genius still remains.
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