A prolific Hollywood screenwriter who was the son of director Joseph L. Mankiewicz and the nephew of writer Herman Mankiewicz, Tom Mankiewicz found initial success writing the popular television music special, "Movin' with Nancy" (NBC, 1967), before penning several James Bond movies, including "Diamonds Are Forever" (1971), "Live and Let Die" (1973) and "The Man with the Golden Gun" (1974). Perhaps his greatest success came with writing the final drafts of the original "Superman" (1978), which opened the door to a lucrative script doctoring career throughout the next decade. He wrote uncredited drafts of John Badham's popular techno-thriller "WarGames" (1983), Steven Spielberg's "Gremlins" (1984) and Richard Donner's "The Goonies" (1985). Turning back to television, Mankiewicz wrote and directed several episodes of the popular series "Hart to Hart" (ABC, 1979-1984), while receiving screenplay credit for Donner's medieval fantasy "Ladyhawke" (1985). He went on to direct two feature films, finding moderate success with the comedy adaptation of "Dragnet" (1987), while stumbling at the box office with the John Candy vehicle "Delirious" (1991). Though he kept a relatively low profile for the remainder of his career, there was no doubt that Mankiewicz made an indelible mark both on television and the silver screen.
Born on June 1, 1942 in Los Angeles, CA, Thomas Francis Mankiewicz was the son of writer-director Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who won four Oscars for "A Letter to Three Wives" (1950) and "All About Eve" (1951), and nephew to uncle Herman Mankiewicz, who penned what was arguably one of the greatest films ever made, "Citizen Kane" (1941). Raised in New York, he studied drama at Yale and briefly flirted with the idea of becoming a professional actor, but was ultimately dissuaded by his father. He decided instead to experiment with the production side of the business, working as third assistant director on the John Wayne Western "The Comancheros" (1961), before teaming with newly minted producers Stuart Millar and Lawrence Turman on "The Best Man" (1964), the Gore Vidal-penned political drama with Henry Fonda and Cliff Robertson.
Mankiewicz also tried his hand at writing for the screen, earning his first credit on an episode of the anthology series "Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre" (NBC, 1963-67). Billed as Thomas F. Mankiewicz, he so disliked the pretentious look of the credit that he used "Tom" for the remainder of his career. Meanwhile, his career took off in 1967 when he partnered with Jack Haley Jr. to produce musical specials for television. Their first effort, "Movin' with Nancy" (NBC, 1967), starred pop singer Nancy Sinatra, her father Frank and his famous friends Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin, and earned an Emmy Awards for Haley's direction. A special for jazz-pop trumpeter Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass followed in 1968, as did his first feature film screenplay, "The Sweet Ride" (1968), a romantic drama centered around the California surfing community that was made with producer Joe Pasternak.
The success of these projects led to Mankiewicz adapting the popular 1966 British film "Georgy Girl" into a musical. The result was three Tony Award nominations, even though the show closed after three performances in 1970. Thankfully, the audience for one of those shows included United Artists producer David Picker, who admired Mankiewicz's frothy book. Picker brought the writer to James Bond series producer Albert Broccoli, who was looking for a writer to rework "Diamonds Are Forever" (1971), which marked Sean Connery's return to the series after a brief absence. Mankiewicz's ear for British-sounding dialogue made him an ideal candidate, and he was brought on to polish Richard Maibaum's script for two weeks. Mankiewicz stayed with the production for six months, resulting in a more tongue-in-cheek Bond film that emphasized absurdity and ribald dialogue over its more action-driven predecessors. Though critics lambasted the change in tone, "Diamonds" was a box office hit, prompting Broccoli to hire Mankiewicz as the sole writer on the next Bond picture, "Live and Let Die" (1973). The light-hearted tone of the movie was enhanced to reflect the casting of Roger Moore as the new Bond. Mankiewicz also suggested making the film's antagonists black to reflect the then-current interest in African-American culture and entertainment.
Mankiewicz continued to hold sway over the Bond series for several more films, including "The Man with the Golden Gun" (1974), which saw a reversal of his "Diamonds" situation, with Richard Maibaum rewriting Mankiewicz's original script. He also contributed an uncredited rewrite for "The Spy Who Loved Me" (1976) and penned an early draft of "Moonraker" (1979), which was largely discarded. While working on these projects, he began establishing his career as an in-demand script doctor on such projects as "The Eagle Has Landed" (1976), "The Deep" (1977) and the famed television series "Columbo" (NBC, 1968-2003). His most acclaimed effort in this regard was "Superman: The Movie" (1978), which, prior to his contributions, had undergone lengthy rewrites totaling some 400 pages. Mankiewicz completely overhauled the drafts, including author Mario Puzo's original script, and changed the tone from a camp-fueled comic book to a more realistic drama with elements of classic movie romance. Among his most memorable additions to the film was the sequence in which Superman (Christopher Reeve) took Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) for a night flight around Metropolis.
By the time the film had been completed, Mankiewicz had worked on "Superman" for an entire year, which prompted director Richard Donner to give him a special credit as "Creative Consultant" in the main title sequence. The decision was protested by the Writers Guild of America, who cited that Mankiewicz's credit - which came after that of screenwriters Puzo, David and Leslie Newman, and Robert Benton - implied that he was more important to the project. A legal dispute followed, which Mankiewicz won; his credit remained in place for "Superman," but was inserted before the screenwriters for "Superman II (1980). He later earned another creative consultant title for a successful project, this time for television's popular "Hart to Hart." Producers Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg hired him to rework a script by Sidney Sheldon about married spies. Mankiewicz updated the script, changed the leads to detectives (Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers) and streamlined the story for weekly episodic duty. The result was one of the most popular comedy-romances of the 1980s. Mankiewicz later directed "Till Death Do Us Hart" (The Family Channel, 1996), the final television movie based on the series.
Mankiewicz's ability to turn around troubled projects earned him a deal as a script doctor for Warner Bros. For that studio, he wrote scenes for "Gremlins" (1984), "The Goonies" (1985), "WarGames" (1983) and the first draft of Tim Burton's "Batman" (1989). Richard Donner also hired him to rework his medieval romance "Ladyhawke" (1985), for which he shared the screenplay credit. However, he was eager to reap more than his customary fee and credit for his work and turned to directing. His first film was "Dragnet" (1987), an updated version of the classic radio and television crime drama, with Dan Aykroyd as the nephew of Jack Webb's Joe Friday and Tom Hanks as his savvy partner. Though wildly overblown in terms of plot - the story pitted Friday against a Satanic cult - it proved to be a modest hit. Mankiewicz directed two episodes of the horror anthology "Tales from the Crypt" (HBO, 1989-1996), which was produced in part by Richard Donner, before the John Candy comedy misfire "Delirious" (1991). In later years, Mankiewicz served as a filmmaker in residence and trustee at Chapman College, where he taught a graduate course in film. He also served on the Board of Governors of the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences, while owning several thoroughbred racehorses. On July 31, 2010 in Los Angeles, Mankiewicz quietly succumbed to pancreatic cancer following surgery for the disease three months prior. He was 68.