One who has, at least a little bit, is regular reader Mike Sheridan, who emailed following last week’s blog about renowned Hollywood mobster Mickey Cohen, the subject of the current Gangster Squad movie from Warner Bros. Writes Mike:
Just as big a thug (as Cohen) but with LONGEVITY and probably more power was the very famous EDDIE MANNIX. Can you tell us about him? He literally was L.B.(Mayer’s) strong arm.
Right you are, Mike. The elder half of the Mannix-Strickling duo (reads like the billing of a vaudeville act) was indeed the tougher of the two. Mannix (pictured above) has been described as a New Jersey bricklayer whose closest friends were mobsters.
Howard Strickling, five years younger, was an ingratiating smoothie whose chief mission in life seemed to be kissing the derriere of MGM boss Louis B. Mayer. Mannix was the most powerful of the two mostly because he unstintingly undertook the dirtiest assignments Mayer doled out to him. But both men were most forceful when they 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 E.J. Fleming’s fascinating book on the pair — The Fixers: Eddie Mannix, Howard Srickling and the MGM Publicity Machine — 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), according to Fleming, Mannix had another gangster threaten the drug dealer with being tossed from the highest point of a huge, New Jersey amusement park Ferris wheel both happened to be riding at the time. 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 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, 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.
Strickland was far 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 his wife Carole Lombard’s plane had crashed and the received word that there were no survivors.