Tom Mankiewicz was a deft and witty screenwriter whose scripts brought the cinematic heroes, James Bond and Superman, to life. It could be said that Thomas Frank Mankiewicz was born to write screenplays. The year before his birth, his uncle Herman had co-written Citizen Kane with Orson Welles. And the year he was born his father, Joe, wrote the screenplay of Woman Of The Year for Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. His mother, the beautiful blonde Austrian actress Rosa Strader, had been a Max Reinhardt star in Vienna. She took her life when Mankiewicz was 16.
Studying drama at Yale, young Tom wanted to act but after watching one of his performances, his father told him, "Tom, marry them, divorce them, talk to them, write for them, direct them, go out with them, ignore them - but please don't be one." His first job was as a production assistant on John Wayne's The Comancheros in 1961 and three years later on Gore Vidal's The Best Man. A surf movie called The Sweet Ride, his first screen credit, followed. It was not a success, nor was his script for a Broadway version of Georgy Girl, but David Picker from United Artists was impressed enough to recommend Tom to the producer, Albert "Cubby" Broccoli. Diamonds Are Forever, the seventh of the Bond film series, needed urgent surgery and Mankiewicz proved to be an adept and inspired surgeon.
Sean Connery was sufficiently impressed by the fee and the script to return to the role of 007. Connery called Mankiewicz "Boyo" and regarded him as his favourite 007 screenwriter. Mankiewicz wanted the trapeze act in a scene in Diamonds to be called "the Flying Broccolis", but Cubby refused to permit it. Roger Moore, who succeeded Connery as Bond in Live And Let Die, also admired Mankiewicz's style, which particularly suited his lighter, flippant, less dangerous 007. His tendency for tongue-in-cheek was stronger on the next Bond production, The Man With The Golden Gun, loosely - very loosely - adapted from Ian Fleming's last novel.
His involvement with the franchise lasted almost a decade as he worked on rewrites of The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker. Mankiewicz said of Fleming's cinematic hero: "There's something idiosyncratic about Bond and that's the humour or an outrageous scene where people laugh. In The Spy Who Loved Me, Bond gets into this Lotus with Barbara Bach and they go into the ocean and they're under the ocean - the car's under the ocean. That's fine, that's Bond. But what makes that - what I'm proudest of - is the car turns, but he puts his blinker on under water. That's what Bond is to me - it's putting the blinker on and the audience roars. That's what made it different than others, y'know."
In 1976, three films for which he had written the script appeared - a disaster movie, The Cassandra Crossing; Bill Cosby's Mother, Jugs And Speed; and Michael Caine's The Eagle Has Landed. In 1977, he rescued a bloated, unwieldy script of Superman and had the superhero take Lois Lane up into the sky with him. He also rewrote Superman II and is credited with the screenplays for Ladyhawke and Dragnet.
In 1979, he turned to television, rewriting Sidney Sheldon's detective series, Double Twist, which became Hart To Hart and ran for 111 episodes until 1984. He was also a script consultant for Peter Falk's Colombo. An animal lover, he owned thoroughbreds and a house in Kenya and chaired the fundraising arm of the Greater Los Angeles Zoo, who named a rare snow leopard cub, Tom, in his honour. Tom Mankiewicz was born on June 1, 1942, and died on July 31. He never married.
* The National