Who, you ask?
A perfectly sensible question. We’ll explain immediately.
We’ve recently heard that The Coen brothers, Ethan and Joel, are planning a movie titled Hail Caesar based largely on the careers of two legendary movie executives — Eddie Mannix and Howard Strickling — of huge importance to the inner workings of MGM studios. Supposedly lined up to up to portray the two are Josh Brolin and George Clooney.
The Coen’s new venture is largely based on a book we’ve written about, E.J. Fleming’s The FIXERS: Eddie Mannix, Howard Strickling and the MGM Publicity Machine.
Strickling, five years younger, was an ingratiating smoothie whose chief mission in life seemed to be kissing MGM boss Louis B. Mayer’s derriere. Mannix was the most powerful of the two mostly because he unstintingly undertook the dirtiest assignments Mayer doled out.
Although very different as individuals (they rarely socialized off the lot) they were quite a team. For more than four decades they were almost inseparable during working hours and, most especially, when problems arose involving MGM’s incomparable movie star charges.
Wrote Fleming: If fans knew that Gable fathered an illegitimate child or ran over and killed a pedestrian with his car (in the fall of 1933, according to legend), if Wallace Beery was known as a murderer, if Garbo was known to be an active bisexual, the results would have been disastrous.
So MGM had to keep the secrets. Make the arrangements. “Fix” things….Eddie Mannix and Howard Strickling were involved in some of the most spectacular cover-ups in the history of MGM, Hollywood and the movies.
According to Fleming, the Mannix-Strickling team swept the following under the MGM rug:
— Gables’s fathering an out-of-wedlock child (a girl) by Loretta Young. (For more on this topic, see our two blogs on the subject, Jan. 4, 2012’s DID LORETTA YOUNG HAVE AN ILLEGITIMATE CHILD? and Who Really Was Judy Lewis’ Father? published the following day)
— Van Johnson’s arranged Mexico marriage to actor Kennan Wynn’s ex-wife when rumors about Johnson’s homosexuality became too pervasive for Mayer to bear. (See our several blogs on this subject by entering Johnson’s name in our “type your search” box on the upper right.)
— The toll illegal drug use took on Judy Garland. When Mannix learned a female drug dealer associated with gangster Lucky Luciano was indeed selling drugs to Garland (in the 1940’s), according to Fleming, Mannix had another gangster threaten the drug dealer with being tossed from the highest point of an amusement park Ferris wheel. The dealer immediately disappeared from the MGM lot.
— The details surrounding the suicide of Mexican spitfire Lupe Veldez, one of the few times that the Mannix-Strickling team didn’t pull off a complete cover up. They had more success with burying the details of her manic sex life.
Included in Fleming’s book are juicy, even hair raising — but shushed up — tales involving Beery, Tallulah Bankhead, Gary Cooper, Charles Laughton, Cary Grant, Jean Harlow, Robert Taylor, Barbara Stanwyck, Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald, Mickey Rooney, among others.
Mannix was no stranger to scandal himself. His second wife, a former Ziegfeld Follies actress-dancer, embarked (supposedly with his blessing; he had plenty of affairs of his own) on an illicit romance with George Reeves, the original TV Superman of the early Fifties.
Mannix was for some time (and perhaps is still) suspected of having Reeves’ murdered. The situation is entertainingly covered in the 2006 movie, Hollywoodland, costarring Ben Affleck as Reeves and Diane Lane as Mrs. Mannix.
Strickling was less colorful in both his professional and personal life. A true-blue company man, he brilliantly built up MGM’s publicity operation to be Hollywood’s best. The techniques he pioneered are still in use today.
Mannix and Strickling, quite a duo. They are pictured below with Clark Gable, after he learned his wife Carole Lombard’s plane had crashed, and that there were no survivors.