Screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz, who brought his dry wit to James Bond pics, thrillers and the Superman pics, died Saturday in Los Angeles of cancer. He was 68.
Mankiewicz wrote or co-wrote the screenplays for “Diamonds Are Forever,” “Live and Let Die,” “The Man With the Golden Gun,” as well as TV’s “Hart to Hart.”
The son of “All About Eve” writer Joseph Mankiewicz and actress Rose Stradner, whose uncle Herman won an Oscar for penning “Citizen Kane,” Tom Mankiewicz was a Yale drama major.
He started in showbiz as a production assistant in 1961 on Michael Curtiz’s “The Comancheros,” starring John Wayne, and was credited as a production associate on the bigscreen adaptation of Gore Vidal’s “The Best Man,” toplined by Henry Fonda in 1964.
Mankiewicz’s breakout hit came with 1970’s “Diamonds Are Forever.” Producer Albert Broccoli had wanted a script that would lure Sean Connery back to playing James Bond. Connery returned and thus began Mankiewicz’s long association with the iconic British spy, which also included uncredited work on “The Spy Who Loved Me” and “Moonraker.”
His reputation as a script doctor started when he was tapped to help rewrite “The Deep.” He then helped director Richard Donner overhaul the scripts for “Superman” and “Superman II,” leading to a Writers Guild credits dispute in which he prevailed.
“He was very unique, very talented, very funny,” Donner said. “I wouldn’t have done (‘Superman’) without him.”
Donner said he gave Mankiewicz the creative consultant credit because the WGA “wouldn’t give him the writing credit.” The two reunited on the 1985 romantic comedy “Ladyhawke,” starring Matthew Broderick and Michelle Pfeiffer.
Though he wasn’t always credited, he contributed scenes to other films including “Gremlins,” “Goonies,” “WarGames,” “Batman” and “Legal Eagles.” He also wrote and co-produced Bill Cosby comedy “Mother, Jugs and Speed.”
During the 1970s, Mankiewicz wrote or co-wrote screenplays for taut thrillers including “The Cassandra Crossing,” starring Sophia Loren, and “The Eagle Has Landed,” adapted from a Jack Higgins thriller and toplined by Michael Caine and Donald Sutherland.
On the smallscreen, he wrote and directed segments of the Richard Wagner/Stephanie Powers adventure skein “Hart to Hart” for ABC. He also was a creative consultant for all five seasons.
“He rewrote the characters, he created the template, the design and the style of the show,” Powers said. “It was an example of his wit.”
Powers said she’d been friends with Mankiewicz since they were both 17, and hoped to grow old together.
Mankiewicz later adding directing to his resume, including 1987’s “Dragnet,” starring Tom Hanks and Dan Aykroyd, which rebooted the old TV series, and episodes of “Hart to Hart.”
“He was a man delighted by so much and delightful to work with,” Hanks said. “We may not have made the greatest movie together, but we had the greatest time doing it.”
From 1979 to 1980, Mankiewicz served as a member of the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. He was also a trustee-professor at Chapman U. in Los Angeles, teaching filmmaking to grad students.
Mankiewicz was passionate about animals and was chair of the board of trustees of Greater Los Angeles Zoo. Survivors include a brother, film producer Christopher; and a sister, Alexandra.