Other than speaking the same language and observing the same national holidays Frank Mankiewicz and I had little in common other than a passion for politics and sports.
In politics we couldn’t have disagreed more. While he was working for Bobby Kennedy and George McGovern, I was working for Barry Goldwater and Spiro Agnew. But in sports we were blood brothers, lifelong followers of the St. Louis Cardinals.
Frank, who had grown up in Los Angeles, recalled rooting for the Cardinals as the westernmost major league team in the days when there were only 16 teams in both leagues. Growing up in New Orleans I recalled going to Pelican Stadium with my father on weekend afternoons, when the local AA team was a Cardinal farm club.
Together, recognizing the relative unimportance of politics next to the tribal pull of childhood fantasy, Frank and I organized the Stan Musial Society, an informal luncheon group that brought together the wide and equally passionate Cardinal fan base in the National Capital area.
With Frank’s passing last week the country and the capital lost one of the most perceptive, not to mention witty, observers of our political and cultural scene. Like his legendary father, Herman, whose gift for screenwriting gave us “Citizen Kane,” Frank was a treasure trove of incisive one-liners that spoke truth to pomposity in ways few in the world of entertainment and politics dared.
My favorite Frank one-liner came during the 1972 presidential campaign, when his beleaguered candidate George McGovern, accosted by an abrasive heckler, told the man to “kiss my ass.” In a dull campaign, comments like that are seized on by a gotcha press as candidate gaffes and the question was how McGovern’s intemperate (if justified) remark could be explained away.
Other, less resourceful campaign managers would have tried to squirm out with a trite and tired explanation to the effect that the remark was “taken out of context,” but not Frank. Easy to explain, he told the inquiring press the next morning. After all, “George is a Democrat. What would you expect him to say, ‘Kiss my elephant’?”
End of story. No, they don’t make them like that anymore. And even when they did, they made only one.
Sound bite to remember
“Imagine that, the whole world wired to Harry Cohn’s ass.”
— Herman Mankiewicz at the Columbia studio lunch table, on being told by Columbia president Harry Cohn that any movie that made him squirm in his seat was bad (circa 1935). It was the one-liner that got Herman fired at Columbia.