The Mank true story confirms that the Citizen Kane screenplay was co-written by Herman J. Mankiewicz and Orson Welles over a span of several months in the spring and summer of 1940. To what degree each man contributed to the screenplay had been a subject of controversy for years.
Yes. The movie finds Mankiewicz sending a telegram to Charles Lederer (Joseph Cross) in 1930, asking him to come write for the studio. The telegram is similar to a real-life telegram Mankiewicz sent to journalist and playwright Ben Hecht. In his 1954 memoir, A Child of the Century, Hecht recalls the wording of the telegram, "Will you accept three hundred dollars to work for Paramount Pictures? All expenses paid. The three hundred is peanuts. Millions are to be grabbed out here and your only competition is idiots. Don’t let this get around."
A character in the movie comments that Mankiewicz was being somewhat frivolous with the telegrams, sending them to "anyone who can rub three words together." However, that doesn't appear to have been the case in real life. From what we can tell, Mankiewicz helped to put together a top-notch group of screenwriters at Paramount. As seen in the film, this included his younger brother Joseph L. Mankiewicz (Tom Pelphrey), whose career surpassed his own during the 1930s. Screenwriter Ben Hecht did later discover that Mankiewicz got him recruited by making a gambler's agreement with Paramount Studio Chief B.P. Schulberg, telling Schulberg that he would tear up his own two-year contract if Hecht couldn't write a hit movie. However, this is more a confirmation of Mankiewicz's confidence in Hecht than it is a sign of frivolity.
David Fincher's movie attempts to tie two stories together, the 1934 California gubernatorial race between Upton Sinclair and incumbent Frank Merriam, which was a battle between labor and capital, and the film's primary story, the writing of Citizen Kane by co-screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz and the movie's director (and co-screenwriter) Orson Welles.
Yes. The Mank true story confirms that he was well-known for his harmful behavior, which was often the byproduct of his alcoholism and gambling disorder. His coarse personality indeed cost him jobs and friendships. He found himself unemployed by the summer of 1939, not long before Welles hired him to work on Citizen Kane. The effects of his addictions also took a toll on his marriage and left his wife Sara scrambling to hold things together. In the film, he refers to his wife as "Poor Sara." The nickname appears to come from Richard Meryman's book Mank: The Wit, World, and Life of Herman Mankiewicz in which the author describes someone asking Mankiewicz, "How's Sara?" to which he replies, "Sara who?" "Your wife, Sara." "Oh, you mean Poor Sara."
No. The movie's attempt to tie Herman Mankiewicz to Democrat Upton Sinclair's loss in the 1934 California gubernatorial race is almost entirely fictional. Sinclair, who was a well-known author and prominent socialist, ran a campaign that challenged the state's business leaders. He had even written a book outlining his plan, titled I, Governor of California, and How I Ended Poverty: A True Story of the Future. Ultimately, Sinclair lost the race to Republican incumbent Frank Merriam. The movie somewhat downplays the fact that Mankiewicz was an outspoken conservative who staunchly opposed fascism. There's no evidence that he was a supporter of Upton Sinclair, nor does it make much sense that he would have backed him as a candidate.
It's true that Mankiewicz was also anti-union and refused to join the Screen Writers Guild. In speaking of joining the union in the film, he tells his brother Joseph (Tom Pelphrey), "You have nothing to lose but your brains." This dialogue comes almost straight from a full-page ad he took out in Variety opposing the guild (Slate). So, again, it makes little sense that he would sympathize with Upton Sinclair's viewpoints, or be angry for years over Sinclair's election loss. The Mank movie uses this as a fabricated explanation as to why his Citizen Kane script presented such negative characterizations of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst and his mistress/actress Marion Davies.
Yes. Unlike in the Mank movie, there's no evidence he was unwilling to donate and had to be talked into it by Irving Thalberg as the film implies. Rather, it seems that he made a willing donation in support of Republican Frank Merriam's campaign.
Like in the film, prominent newspaper and studio heads rallied to back Merriam. They viewed Sinclair as someone with communist leanings who must be defeated. It's true that Louis B. Mayer fundraised from his employees. However, in real life, Mayer didn't ask his employees to make a donation. An entire day's salary was deducted from the paychecks of every MGM employee. -LA Times
No. This is perhaps the movie's biggest deviation from reality. While Irving Thalberg did produce three newsreels that were created to crush Upton Sinclair in his campaign against incumbent Frank Merriam for the governorship of California, an offhand comment by Mankiewicz never gave Thalberg the inspiration to make the faked newsreels. Mankiewicz never made such a comment, which in the film he later regrets. The movie also has him finding out that newspaper magnate William Randolf Hearst helped fund the newsreels. Mankiewicz is broken up when Upton Sinclair loses the election, and the film implies he's distraught over it for years. It becomes the driving force behind him writing Citizen Kane and creating the movie's negative characterization of Hearst. This is complete fiction. -Slate
The movie character Shelly Metcalf (Jamie McShane), who directs the newsreels, is an invented character. In real life, the staged newsreels were directed by Felix Feist Jr. Like Metcalf, he was a test shot director. Unlike Metcalf, there's no indication that he ever had any regrets over making the newsreels, nor did he kill himself because of them. In fact, it was a stepping stone to directing short films, then features, and finally television in the 1950s before his death in 1965. You can view two of the newsreels below, which depict several faked man-on-the-street interviews designed to shed candidate Upton Sinclair in a negative light. -Slate
Yes. Generally speaking, this is historically accurate. Mankiewicz knew William Randolph Hearst socially and was an occasional guest at the newspaper magnate's lavish castle in San Simeon, which was the inspiration for Xanadu in Citizen Kane. Hearst enjoyed Mankiewicz for his witty banter. It's true that Mankiewicz's drinking eventually made him an unwelcome guest. It's also true that Mankiewicz and Hearst's mistress, Marion Davies, became friends. They bonded over their love of alcohol. However, according to Mankiewicz's wife Sara, it was more because he felt sorry for Davies (Slate).
The last scene at the castle, where Mankiewicz share's an early idea for Citizen Kane, is fictional. Gary Oldman's character tries to incorporate Hearst's malevolent involvement in the 1934 election into his pitch for the movie. Not only is there no record of Mankiewicz making the pitch, we know that the real Mankiewicz wasn't a supporter of Upton Sinclair, nor was he closely tied to the election.
Yes. The Mank true story confirms that Herman Mankiewicz really did write the script while he was healing after a September 1939 car accident. Mankiewicz had tried to hitch a ride to New York with screenwriter Tommy Phillips, who ran his car off the road after becoming distracted. The accident left Mankiewicz with a broken leg in three places and a lengthy and painful healing process, much of which took place at a ranch in Victorville, California after Orson Welles recruited him to collaborate on the Citizen Kane script. Joining the two men were Welle's former Mercury Theater ally John Houseman, a German nurse to look after Mankiewicz's leg, and a secretary named Rita Alexander.
Not likely. There's no mention of this in her memoir The Times We Had: Life With William Randolph Hearst. In fact, she states that she never even watched Citizen Kane when it was released. At best, this seems to be an exaggeration of the fact that the script found its way to Hearst and his lawyers via Marion Davies' nephew Charles Lederer.
The Mank real story reveals that Howard "Jack" Fincher, a former journalist and LIFE Magazine San Francisco bureau chief, wrote the screenplay for Mank in the 1990s. His son David had tried to get the project off the ground even prior to his death in 2003. Yet, the film never got past the early pre-production planning level until 2019.
We've awarded Mank a reality score of 5.5/10. While the movie gets many of the broader details correct, the film's attempt to tie the 1934 California gubernatorial campaign of Upton Sinclair to Herman Mankiewicz appears to be entirely fictional. In the movie, Mankiewicz harbors deep wounds over Upton Sinclair's election loss. The film uses William Randolph Hearst's funding of staged newsreels that discredited Sinclair as motivation for Mankiewicz's unsavory characterization of Hearst in his Citizen Kane screenplay. Yet, there's no historical evidence to suggest this was the reason Mankiewicz and co-screenwriter Orson Welles turned Kane into a negative characterization of Hearst.
The movie's depiction of who wrote Citizen Kane also deviates from what has been commonly accepted as the truth. Fincher's film takes an anti-Welles approach, giving practically all of the screenplay credit to Mankiewicz, while ignoring and leaving out details that point to Welles' significant contribution.
"You cannot capture a man's entire life in two hours. All you can hope is to leave the impression of one," Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) says of his Hearst-like character Charles Foster Kane. Fincher's Mank does a better job at doing the latter, leaving a well-crafted impression of Mankiewicz, but in order to do so, it injects a noticeable amount of fiction into the historical record.
Deepend your understanding of the true story behind Mank by watching the original 1934 staged newsreels attacking California gubernatorial candidate Upton Sinclair. Then check out the Citizen Kane and Mank movie trailers.