TCM daytime weekend host has ties to Hollywood royalty
By Kate Benz
Published: Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012, 8:57 p.m.
There are some things in life that are just timeless by nature. For Turner Classic Movie daytime weekend host Ben Mankiewicz, nothing is more timeless than a good story. Hard to argue with someone who's got movies in his blood … literally. For the Mankiewicz clan, Hollywood hit close to home thanks to grandfather Herman, who shared an Academy Award with Orson Welles for the screenplay of “Citizen Kane” (1941) and great uncle, Joseph, the triple threat writer-producer-director who scored Oscars for “Letter to Three Wives” (1949) and “All About Eve” (1950).
Ironically, his own interest in classic films was cultivated as most things in life are — by gentle persuasion from mom. While he was a teen, a family viewing of “North by Northwest” proved to be more interesting than he thought it would be. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Tuesday, Mankiewicz will be coming to Pittsburgh to introduce “On the Waterfront” (1954) for a free screening at the Byham Theater as part of TCM's 10- city “Road to Hollywood” Tour. Even better? He'll be joined by Eva Marie Saint, who won an Oscar for her performance as Edie Doyle. Although the screening is free, a ticket must be presented for entry. Details: www.tcm.com/roadtohollywood
Question: How are classic movies able to hold their own against films today that are constantly pushing the envelope in terms of special effects and shock value?
Answer: Let's eliminate shock value and talk about special effects. Special effects are a tool in making movies, but special effects all by itself doesn't make a movie. There are special effects in classic movies — they aren't as realistic as they are now, but that's only a small part of it. That leaves out the main weapon that a director and writer have before them when they make a movie, which is story — story, script, character development. If you have those things, you have a movie. A compelling story in 1936 is a compelling story in 2012.
Q: Is it the sentimental value of classic movies that captivates us?
A: No question. When we interact with fans, it's overwhelming. It's people who saw these movies when they came out, and it's movies people remember watching with their parents. So, there are plenty of people for whom those movies have sentimental value. I think sometimes we forget (that) before cable, when so many people grew up with five channels, when there was a big movie on television, that was a big deal. And you watched it with your folks, friends and brothers and sisters, and that's nice. I remember getting exposed to all sorts of movies for the first time in the 1970s, and those movies were 30 years old then.
Q: Do you worry that these films will be lost on the younger generations?
A: I don't think it's going to be lost. I don't think there's any more jeopardy of them being lost in 2012 as it was when TCM signed on the air in 1994. A quality product — there's always an audience for it. You need young people who are into these movies and making these movies. As influential as James Cameron and Steven Spielberg are, they could learn a little more about how to make movies based on (younger filmmakers).
Q: Your intros offer some great behind-the-scenes tidbits from each film. What's one tale in particular that you really enjoyed hearing?
A: I'm surprised to hear about a zillion of them — there are so many. In an intro, what I like best is to tell a compelling story about how a movie was made. Those stories aren't always compelling, but I like to put it in historical context.
Q: There was a certain mystique surrounding movie stars back in the day that seems obliterated by the accessibility we have to them today. Has technology ruined the idea of a film icon?
A: I don't think so. You look at a guy like George Clooney — he'd be a gigantic huge star in any era. And Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington. It's certainly made the directors bigger stars than they were. They were big stars in Hollywood and inside the business, but now, Spielberg and (George) Lucas and Cameron and (Ridley) Scott and (Martin) Scorsese — they're big stars all by themselves.
Q: Given your family ties with the film industry, did you always have an interest in classic flicks?
A: It grew on me. I grew up in a different world. My father was in politics, so I grew up in Washington, D.C., where George McGovern was a bigger star than Jack Nicholson. I was in my teens and thought, “These movies are in black and white and not interesting and in another era.” I have a very solid memory of my mother convincing me not go into my room and convincing me to watch “North by Northwest” with her on TV. So I watched that, and that made a difference. I got past it, and if I can get past it, others can get past it, too.
Q: Name your ultimate leading lady, living or dead.
A: Carole Lombard. Girls who make me laugh always get me going, and she was bawdy and (gutsy) and cursed and (was) both sexy and sexual while still being so freaking funny — and a fearless performer.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Steelers bring back long snapper Warren
- Panthers free agent safety headed to Steelers
- Orpik rises to occasion as Penguins take down Capitals once again
- Penguins notebook: Letang skating, but no return set
- 2 NYC buildings collapse in explosion; 1 dead
- Figure skating coach dies in crash at Washington County Airport
- Police charge Westmoreland County priest in $124,000 theft case
- Obamacare dramatically increases costs for some small businesses
- Testimony continues in Jordan Miles civil lawsuit
- Can Pirates star outfielder McCutchen be even better in 2014?
- Malfunctioning traffic light at Squirrel Hill Tunnel caused temporary delays