One of the most captivating trivia questions in popular culture has to do with awards (naturally!). Only 1 individual has won back-to-back (i.e: two consecutive years!) double oscars (i.e: each year, this person took home two Academy Awards). Who might this be?
People perplexed and obsessed with this sort of thing know that the name we’re looking for is Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania in 1909, Mankiewicz obtained a bachelor’s degree from Columbia University and then spent a couple years working at the UFA film studio in Berlin, translating inter titles from German into English. His facility with language paid off when he returned to the states, where he spent 17 years as a screenwriter at Paramount. During his extended career in Hollywood, Mankiewicz wrote 48 screenplays and produced more than 20 major motion pictures. Colleagues often remember him as a craftsman who was able to elicit career-making performances from actors and actresses of all stripes.
But back to trivia: His screenplay for A Letter To Three Wives utilized an innovative dramatic device to heighten the natural suspense growing out of the narrative. Starring Jeanne Crain, Linda Darnell and Ann Southern, this romantic drama from 1949 tells the story of a woman who mails a letter to three women, telling them she has left town with the husband of one of them. The flashbacks that follow the communal reading of the letter show all three marriages to be strained and, perhaps, suspect. The story unfolds in parlor game fashion as the three wives attempt to second guess one another in an effort to pinpoint the errant husband.
How the film ends isn’t nearly as significant as how the characters change as a result of the letter. This withholding of information 0r dramatic resolution seems to be a common Mankiewicz device. And it certainly gets us involved and makes the created event more lifelike and telling. Almost, in fact, mythic!
This same unspoken tension courses through Mankiewicz’s next project, All About Eve. Ostensibly a tale aboutlonging, arrival and retreat, All About Eve features
electrifying performances from Bette Davis, George
Saunders and Anne Baxter as well as a minor but
spot-on role offered up by Marilyn Monroe. In fact,
it is probably the only motion picture I can think of
which can accurately be summed up with a snippet
of dialog from one of its key scenes:
“Fasten your seats belts,” Bette Davis
(as Margo Channing) mutters under her
breath. “It’s going to be a bumpy night!”
And indeed it was. And remains for th0se who
would seek the golden chalice!