So As I Was Saying . . .: My Somewhat Eventful Life

So As I Was Saying . . .: My Somewhat Eventful Life

by Frank Mankiewicz, Joel L. Swerdlow


$24.29 $26.99 Save 10% Current price is $24.29, Original price is $26.99. You Save 10%.
View All Available Formats & Editions


“I first met Robert Kennedy because I spoke Spanish. I spoke Spanish because the U.S. Army taught me that before sending me to France, Belgium, and Germany to fight Hitler’s Army. This makes complete sense if you are familiar with military bureaucracy.”

Such is the trademark wit of Frank Mankiewicz. With his dry sense of humor and self-deprecating humility—despite his many accomplishments—Frank’s voice speaks from the pages of So as I was Saying... in a way that is both conversational and profound. Before he died in 2014 Frank’s fascinating life took him from Beverly Hills to the battlefields of Europe; from the halls of power in Washington D.C. to the far corners of the world. A lifelong student of humanity and mentor to many, including presidents, Frank was a loving father, husband, and friend, and his legacy is will endure for generations.

Born into Hollywood royalty but determined to make his own way, Frank served in World War Two, wrote speeches for Robert Kennedy, ran a presidential campaign, carried messages to Fidel Castro, served as president of National Public Radio (helping create Morning Edition), and as regional director for the Peace Corps. Naturally such a long and interesting life gave rise to a myriad of opinions, and Frank was not afraid to share them. In this intriguing, insightful, and often humorous memoir, Frank recalls his favorite memories while sharing his opinions on everything from Zionism to smartphones. Imbued with the personality of one of the twentieth century’s most gifted raconteurs, So As I Was Saying... invokes nostalgia for the past even as it gives hope for the future.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250070647
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 02/16/2016
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

FRANK MANKIEWICZ (1924-2014) was a public relations consultant, lawyer, writer and journalist. He is best known as Robert F. Kennedy's press secretary but also as the president of NPR, regional director of the Peace Corps, and George McGovern's campaign director

DR. JOEL L. SWERDLOW is an author, editor, journalist, researcher, and educator. A senior writer and editor at National Geographic for 10 years, his published works include To Heal a Nation: The Story of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Read an Excerpt

So As I Was Saying ...

My Somewhat Eventful Life

By Frank Mankiewicz, Joel L. Swerdlow

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2016 Frank Mankiewicz and Joel L. Swerdlow, Ph. D.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-8097-9


In Which I Make a Birthday Visit to Robert F. Kennedy's Grave, Compare Myself to Someone Named Fred Snodgrass, and Mention That Speaking Spanish Led Me to Robert F. Kennedy

I stand in silence. School groups and families walk by, click pictures on cell phones, chat, and keep moving — barely breaking stride. I don't notice them and certainly do not look at them. My eyes are on the grave.

I am at Arlington National Cemetery. It is a few minutes past the gates opening at eight A.M. on Robert F. Kennedy's birthday, November 20, which brings me here every year. A gray sky is drizzling. Workers prepare the ground in nearby Section 60 for men and women recently killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Robert Kennedy's grave is a simple white cross on a grass-covered hillside. Nearby trees have lost about half their leaves to the autumn weather. Not one leaf remains on the grass, which is cut low and even.

The growing crowds probably see me, if they see me at all, as someone with his head bowed — an older man wearing a sport jacket and a bow tie. Balding, thin, all-white hair, slight paunch. No need to notice and certainly no reason to look twice. "If you only knew," parts of me want to say. "If you only knew."

The scene is right out of an early James Bond novel: Bond arrives on a small Caribbean island on an assassination mission. He pays a courtesy call on the British ambassador, whose invitation to dinner Bond cannot refuse. Bond finds the other two guests unbearably boring and feels relieved when they leave early. The ambassador offers Bond a cigar and smokes one himself as he and Bond sit in the drawing room and exchange polite small talk. A butler serves whiskey, then disappears. It is 9:30 P.M., too early for Bond to leave gracefully. The couple still on his mind, Bond makes an offhand comment about the apparent dullness of their marriage, which prompts the ambassador to begin a story about love, deceit, and intrigue. The story starts softly, takes some unexpected turns, and begins to describe some extraordinary occurrences. Bond finds himself leaning forward to hear better. When the story ends, the two men finish their whiskeys and walk to Bond's car. "If you ever invite those people to dinner," Bond tells the ambassador, "please include me." The ambassador is surprised. "But those were the people here for dinner with us tonight," he says.

Of course, I'm no James Bond. And I'm certainly not here because I want to talk to strangers — or anyone, for that matter. But everyone, and perhaps especially we "older" people, can feel bad when people look through us.

On this day, every year beginning in 1968, I have come to Arlington National Cemetery by myself. Lately, I've asked a friend to drive me here because I'd canceled my driver's license and sold my car. "Best do that before something bad happens," I had thought. "Better quit when you're ahead of the house." I'd been driving for nearly seventy years without an accident and had suffered nothing worse than a few parking tickets but did not want to press my luck.

For decades, I would encounter Kennedy family members and old friends from the Kennedy years, who also came as early as possible on the morning of RFK's birthday. Often, I'd chat with Ted Kennedy.

During these visits, I often noticed another man standing alone, hat in hand. The man was Tom Brown, who had been a supporter of Robert F. Kennedy and has no claim to great fame other than loyalty and remembering. For decades, Tom and I had exchanged silent nods. Then, in the past few years, we'd started to talk. We did not know each other beyond first names and saw each other once a year, early in the morning of November 20. By now, we're friends.

I greeted Tom Brown, who was waiting for me on the pathway leading to the Kennedy graves. Then I stood in front of the simple white cross on a grass-covered hillside.

* * *

When one leaves the Robert Kennedy grave, facing right away is the back of a large, tall tombstone that had been in place long before the assassination of John F. Kennedy. That's my favorite. I love seeing it every time I come here. It reads "Michael Musmanno." And then, listed under the name: "16 books, Justice on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Trial Judge at the Nuremberg War Crime Tribunal." The front of the stone is not visible from the pathway, so you must step over the low chain fence and walk around to read,

There is an eternal justice and an eternal order, there is a wise, merciful and omnipotent God. My friends, have no fear of the night or death. It is the forerunner of dawn, a glowing resplendent dawn, whose iridescent rays will write across the pink sky in unmistakable language — man does live again.

— The final words of Michael A. Musmanno in his debate with Clarence Darrow, 1932

He lucked out. He's in the right place. Musmanno will never be forgotten.

* * *

From the cemetery, I stop at my favorite diner. Inside is a jukebox, a selection pad in every booth, and movie posters. By our booth are life-size posters of Marilyn Monroe and James Dean. Monroe died at age thirty-six; Dean at twenty-four — both remembered and romanticized because they died young.

The grill man chatted with waitresses, waiters, and customers as he flipped home fries. On the menu, eggs Benedict costs $8.95, and eggs Benedict with spinach costs only $8.50. It makes no sense, until you realize no one would order eggs Benedict with spinach, and anyway, no one bothers to look at the menu.

I chose this diner in large part because it had no Wi-Fi, no television, and no screens. No one plugs anything in. We could talk here without the latest "breaking news."

* * *

I used to be a chain-smoker, rarely without a cigarette. Three packs a day, unfiltered; curtailed eventually to three packs a day, filtered. During the 1968 Kennedy campaign, news accounts had described me as "a one-man smoke-filled room." Then, in the late 1970s, after nearly five decades of smoking, I quit. I rarely talked about it, never reminiscing about the pleasures of tobacco and never mentioning how I'd like just one more cigarette.

Now I guess I'm a chain coffee drinker. I might always have been, but it became obvious after the cigarettes disappeared. If I'm talking, I'm told, and realize my coffee has cooled or the cup is empty, I often stop in mid -sentence, break eye contact, and look around until I catch the attention of someone who can bring a fresh, hot refill. The coffee arrives, and soon my cup is almost empty again, though it seems to any observer that I've barely lifted it to my lips.

* * *

Fred Snodgrass. I'll be like Fred Snodgrass.

For a while in his youth, Fred Snodgrass was an outfielder for the New York Giants and as a ballplayer relatively undistinguished. Snodgrass played nine years, maybe, in the major leagues. But in 1912, when he was twenty -four years old — God help him — he dropped a routine fly ball in the tenth inning of a World Series game, which eventually cost his team the game and the Series. He retired from baseball a few years later, went back to California, became a banker, thrived, prospered, was a major philanthropist, and served as the mayor of Oxnard for many years. He was married to the same woman for sixty-five years, and he had two daughters and countless grandchildren and great-grandchildren. And when he died in 1974, sixty-two years later, the headline on his New York Times obituary read, "Fred Snodgrass, 86, Dead; Ball Player Muffed 1912 Fly."

That's how obituaries are done, and that's the way it'll be for me. I could win two Nobel Prizes, a Pulitzer, be appointed to the Supreme Court, and receive an Academy Award during the rest of my life, but the headline on my Times obituary would read, "Frank Mankiewicz, 106, Was Kennedy Aide."

You know, that would be okay — just fine with me.

* * *

I first met Robert Kennedy because I spoke Spanish, and I spoke Spanish because the U.S. Army taught me that before it sent me to France, Belgium, and Germany to fight Hitler's army. This makes complete sense if you are familiar with military bureaucracy.

It started in Hollywood and Beverly Hills.


In Which I Grow Up as a Mankiewicz in Hollywood, Return to Family Dinners — an Algonquin Round Table West, with F. Scott Fitzgerald and Harpo Marx — and Drive into the Hills with My High School Dates

I was two years old in early 1926, when my father, Herman Mankiewicz, left Manhattan and literary life. He was the first drama critic for The New Yorker as well as a drama critic for The New York Times. He must have been very talented because he succeeded despite an open disdain for authority.

Moving to Hollywood, Pop began to write "titles," screens with dialogue or plot explanations, for silent movies. Transition to sound movies came in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Many people resisted sound as a distraction and unnecessary, but my father was among the small group — now nearly all forgotten — who invented what we now call a screenplay.

He never mentioned the shift from writing storyboards to full scripts. In fact, my father never took any aspect of Hollywood writing seriously. The whole thing was just a big joke to him. Once, when a movie studio employer wanted to punish him for something, the man ordered him to rewrite the ending of a movie starring Rin Tin Tin, the German shepherd, then the most famous dog in the movies and thus in the world. Those days, writers were still employees of studios and had to do what they were told. My father turned in a script whose climax showed the heroic dog picking up an abandoned baby and carrying it into a burning building.

Pop felt almost ashamed of his work on movies, and I don't think he ever actually went to see a movie, including those he had written, except for Citizen Kane.

My father never talked about movies. He just did not find them interesting. Does a bricklayer come home and talk to his family about changes in the mortar? I seem to have inherited, or absorbed, much of his attitude. As a kid, I enjoyed movies but then basically stopped watching them. To this day, I have not seen superhit, classic movies like The Godfather, which was released in 1972. I only watched movies when friendships or political connections required it; for example, Warren Beatty's anti–Vietnam War work led me to see Bonnie and Clyde (years after its release in 1967). And Robert Kennedy stayed at the home of the movie director John Frankenheimer when campaigning in Los Angeles not because RFK admired his movies, which included the award-winning political thrillers The Manchurian Candidate (1962) and Seven Days in May (1964) — he'd never seen either — but because Frankenheimer and I were tennis buddies from the 1950s. Indeed, it was only after my younger son, Ben, became the weekend host of Turner Classic Movies that I made an effort to watch a lot of movies, including those done by my father and his brother, Joe.

* * *

To one activity, however, Herman Mankiewicz was dedicated. He was the chairman of the Southern California branch of the Columbia Alumni Association. He had assumed the office almost voluntarily, because there were very few Columbia alumni in Los Angeles, but Pop was a devoted alum and followed closely the fortunes of the Columbia Lions football team. The team in the 1933 season had been exceptionally successful, winning eight games and losing only to Princeton. When Princeton turned down an invitation to play the Pacific Coast champion, Stanford, in the Rose Bowl, Columbia, aided by fierce publicity from the nationally syndicated New York sportswriters, was invited and eagerly accepted. The Rose Bowl game, as the only postseason game in the country, created, more or less, the national champion, so Pop began to focus on New Year's Day 1934.

He insisted that somehow Coach Lou Little and the team be met by a lion when they arrived in Pasadena for the game, and so my brother Don and I (then aged eleven and nine) turned our attention to where a lion might be available. Luckily, Don had heard of a local suburban establishment called Gay's Lion Farm, where the movie studios could rent exotic animals as needed. And the lion farm was the home, we learned, of Leo the Lion, the fierce symbol of MGM, whose growl preceded all that studio's movies.

Getting a lion to take to the train station proved to be a problem. First of all, Southern California was in the midst of a historic rainstorm, up to six inches having drenched the county in three days, the week before the game. Local fire departments were needed on New Year's Day to pump the stadium so the football field would be in playable condition. A further complication was that Mr. Gay told us he, regrettably, had no lions available at Gay's Lion Farm (other than Leo, of course, who was far too old, and stately, to be trotted out to greet a mere football team). But Mr. Gay did tell us he had a mountain lion, called that in California — elsewhere a "cougar" or a "puma." Mr. Gay added he hoped the rain would abate, because the mountain lion hated the water. The alumni association signed up for the cougar.

The day of the game dawned and continued, off and on, with heavy rain, reducing the crowd for the Rose Bowl game to an all-time low — in part because of the rain and in large part because the game was widely believed to be severely one-sided; powerful Stanford was favored over these pale easterners by eighteen points, and the gamblers had set the odds on the game at eight to one. So it was no great surprise when the Columbia team arrived at the Pasadena train station the day before the game and was met by a rather small group, consisting entirely of Pop, Don, and me, dragging on a leash a very recalcitrant, soaked mountain lion. "That's a good-looking bunch of backs," my father remarked to Coach Little as the boys emerged from the train. "Backs, hell," the coach replied, "that's the whole team!"

Coach Little was right, only seventeen team members played in the entire game, which — astoundingly — resulted in a 7–0 victory for Columbia, called the greatest upset in Rose Bowl history. The alumni association had done its job.

* * *

Before my father went to Hollywood, he'd been part of the famous Algonquin Round Table, authors, playwrights, and journalists — including some people who qualified as all three — who met often, informally, for lunch at a large round table in New York's Algonquin Hotel dining room to exchange quips, news, anecdotes, gossip, and comic insults. Members included a Who's Who of literary life. Among my father's favorite put-downs was one he attributed to the author Edna Ferber, who arrived one day a few minutes later than most of the usual crowd wearing a rather severely tailored suit. "Why, hello, Edna, you look just like a man," Noël Coward, an openly gay playwright, said in greeting her. "So do you, Noël," was her retort. And Dorothy Parker once told the group, "If all the Vassar girls at a Yale football weekend were laid end to end ... I wouldn't be surprised."

These gatherings began in 1919 and lasted for about twelve years, their end apocryphally certified in 1932 when Ferber showed up for lunch one day and found a family from Kansas sitting at the table.

As I grew up in Beverly Hills, our family dinner table was a sort of Algonquin West, a must-stop for East Coast literary figures who found themselves in California. There they were, matching wits with my father, in conversation often interlaced with fond and ribald memories of his pre-Hollywood days. I don't remember Don and I ever having dinner alone with my parents. Either he and I ate in the breakfast room because they were out or they were entertaining later in the evening. Or we ate at the dining room table with the guests.

The dining room table was big, easily accommodating ten. It was long, always with nice silverware and wineglasses. If it got to be more people than about six, dinner was served formally; otherwise, servants would fill the plates in the kitchen and bring them in. My mother never spent much time in the kitchen at all. She was always a guest, and she always had a little buzzer under the rug by her end of the table. She'd hit the buzzer with her foot to show that the course was over; the "help" could come in and clear the dishes, bring the soup or whatever. And the buzzer, of course, was audible in the kitchen but not in the dining room.

Relatives, friends, and work colleagues were guests. Most special were old friends and pals from New York. The latter group seems to have included only writers of one kind or another, reporters, playwrights, publishers of classy books. Visitors from New York included S. J. Perelman, Bennett Cerf, Alexander Woollcott, George S. Kaufman, even F. Scott Fitzgerald — a fairly steady stream. Arthur Kober, Robert Benchley, now and then a Marx brother, usually Harpo, and often, of course, my father's old friend Ben Hecht. But never, never, so far as I can recall, movie people, except for other transplanted New Yorkers.


Excerpted from So As I Was Saying ... by Frank Mankiewicz, Joel L. Swerdlow. Copyright © 2016 Frank Mankiewicz and Joel L. Swerdlow, Ph. D.. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Preface: A Portrait of Frank Mankiewicz ix

Foreword: "If Your Last Name Is Mankiewicz" Ben Mankiewicz xiii

Foreword: "Somebody's Going to Offer You Something" Josh Mankiewicz xvii

Introduction: Frank's "Rosebud" Joel L. Swerdlow, Ph.D. 1

1 In Which I Make a Birthday Visit to Robert F. Kennedy's Grave, Compare Myself to Someone Named Fred Snodgrass, and Mention That Speaking Spanish Led Me to Robert F. Kennedy 9

2 In Which I Grow Up as a Mankiewicz in Hollywood, Return to Family Dinners-an Algonquin Round Table West, with F. Scott Fitzgerald and Harpo Marx-and Drive into the Hills with My High School Dates 14

3 In Which I Watch Orson Welles Rehearse Live Radio Broadcasts and Develop a Love for Radio That Later Shapes Much of Today's NPR 26

4 In Which "in Three Months and for a Few Thousand Dollars" Herman Mankiewicz Creates Citizen Kane and We Learn the Secret of "Rosebud" 29

5 In Which I Dismiss My Oral History Interviews, Play with "Retronym"-a Word I Invented-and Resent an Attack on My Memory 40

6 In Which I Return to My Childhood, Discuss Airs. Moore, My Seventh-Grade English Teacher, Recite Poetry by Memory, Remember Late-Night Arguments About Zionism, and Explain "Unrequited Hatred" 46

7 In Which I Discuss the Death of My Father and His Obituary Triggers a Search for Why He Was Hated by the Nazi Leader Joseph Goebbels 57

8 In Which Pearl Harbor Knocks Ale Out of America First, James Joyce Enters My Life, as a World War II Infantryman I Learn Spanish, a Mess Sergeant. Quotes Gilbert and Sullivan While Sewing Broken Ping-Pong Balls, During the Battle of the Bulge I Receive Dry Socks from General Eisenhower, I Fall in Love with a Red Cross Volunteer, and Begin to Worry America Might Have Jumped the Shark 61

9 In Which I Call Death "the Lady in the Marketplace" See Obituaries as Literature, Explain What Is Remembered Versus What Is Important, Continue to Quote James Joyce, and Seem to Be Writing My Own Obituary 90

10 In Which an Electoral Victory Makes Me a Local Political Boss, I Become a Hollywood Lawyer, and I Work for Indians in Pre-casino Days 103

11 In Which I Help Form the Peace Corps, Am Radicalized by What I See in Latin America, Train Volunteers to Be Community Organizers, Become a Chum of Donald Rumsfeld's, Confront LBJ in the Oval Office, and Receive a Phone Call from Someone Claiming to Be Robert F. Kennedy 116

12 In Which I Am Certified by Robert F. Kennedy, I Assure Him That Debating Ronald Reagan Will Be "Easy," We Visit the JFK Gravesite in Arlington, I Discuss My Favorite RFK Speech, and RFK Runs for President, Making Remarks That Still Haunt, Inspire, and Challenge Us 146

13 In Which I Address the Democratic National Convention While Police "Riot," I Receive Advice from a Supreme Court Justice, a Dead Puppy Is Blamed for Watergate, George McGovern Winning in 1976 Seems Reasonable, and I Say Kind (Personal) Things About Ronald Reagan 194

14 In Which the Death of Daily Print Newspapers Makes Me Grumpy and I Bemoan the Loss of "Above the Fold," "Jump," and "Op-Ed" 213

15 In Winch I Carry Messages and Cigars Between Henry Kissinger and Fidel Castro, Clarify Baseball's New Designated Hitter Rule to Cuban Officials, and Discuss Freedom, JFK, and the "Splendid Marxist Message of Jaws" with Castro 219

16 In Which I Agree with Hunter S. Thompson About "Truth," Critique American Journalism, and Initiate America's Most Popular Radio News Program 230

17 In Which I Offer Public Relations Advice ("Tell the Truth, Tell It All, Tell It Now"), Explain Why Rich People Fighting over Money Make the Best Clients, and Show That "Commode" Means Different Things in Different Parts of the United States 240

18 In Which the Various Strands Seem to Come Together and My Story Ends-at Least for Now 263

Acknowledgments 265

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews

So As I Was Saying...: My Somewhat Eventful Life 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A great read. Light, fun and a time so grew up in. You get to look behind the curtain and you are not disappointed. So much of what you read you can stop and watch the new version on TV. Well worth the read.