How agreeable it is greet a new picture that is inspired by a key behind-the-scenes figure of classic Hollywood.
Opening last Friday in the U.S. and Canada was Universal Pictures’ Hail, Caesar directed by the Coen Brothers (Ethan and Joel) and which covers the highly secretive maneuvers of one Eddie Mannix, once the powerful general manager of Metro-Goldwyn Mayer and principal aide-de-camp of MGM studio chief Louis B.Mayer.
Mannix has been described as a New Jersey bricklayer made good whose closest friends were mobsters. (He is played in the new picture — described as a “fantasy” — by Josh Brolin, pictured above.)
The Coen’s new venture is based at least in part on a book we’ve written about, E.J. Fleming’s The FIXERS: Eddie Mannix, Howard Strickling and the MGM Publicity Machine. Howard Strickling, five years younger, was an ingratiating smoothie whose chief mission in life as a high-level MGM man seemed to have been kissing Mayer’s derriere.
But Eddie Mannix was the far more powerful of the two mostly because he unstintingly undertook the dirtiest assignments Mayer doled out. Both men worked together. 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 movie star charges.
Author Fleming’s book puts it in context. Stars such as Clark Gable and Greta Garbo were worth untold millions to MGM, and the loss of such an asset could easily doom the studio.
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 was behind cover ups relating to the following:
— 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 strong 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) Mannix had another gangster threaten the dealer with being tossed from the highest point of a huge amusement park Ferris wheel. The dealer immediately disappeared from the MGM lot.
— The details surrounding the suicide of Mexican spitfire Lupe Velez, one of the few times that the Mannix-Strickling team didn’t completely cover up. They had more success with burying the details of her sex life. (Actor Charles Bickford once described Lupe as a “sex-driven, drug-crazed wreck.”) Mannix and Strickling arranged to have Veldez’ final boyfriend, actor-playboy Harald Ramond, who impregnated her, banned from every Hollywood studio.
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 (above with Mannix and Robert Montgomery), Robert Taylor, Barbara Stanwyck, Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald, Mickey Rooney and on and on…
Mannix’s 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 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. Eddie Mannix is portrayed by Bob Hoskins.
Hollywoodland had relatively modest public circulation (worldwide box office was only $16.8 million.) Hail Caesar, although it received a lukewarm reception among critics, grossed more than $12 million domestically in its opening weekend. Foreign grosses are expected to boost the box office total substantially.
Eddie Mannix died of a heart attack in 1963. He’s been one of Hollywood’s tightest-kept secrets from the general public largely for years.
Now — he’s getting his closeup.