Feature

Ben Mankiewicz's 6 favorite books

The host on Turner Classic Movies celebrates the Oscars by recommending three books about the movie business and three novels perfect for the screen

Tender Comrades edited by Patrick McGilligan and Paul Buhle (Univ. of Minn., $30). Somehow the shame of the Hollywood blacklist remains unknown to millions of movie lovers. This oral history collection tells the story with an intimacy that only those who were blacklisted could convey. The upside is that the pitiful deceit of the House Un-American Activities Committee makes you feel better about Congress today.

Rum Punch by Elmore Leonard (HarperCollins, $15). Django Unchained is a blast, but Quentin Tarantino's best film remains Jackie Brown, adapted from this novel. In Tarantino's skillful screenplay, Leonard's signature flair for dialogue comes through.

Fatherland by Robert Harris (Random House, $15). Not that HBO's 1994 adaptation wasn't good, but it didn't capture the spectacular cinematic potential of Harris's chilling premise: an alternate history in which the Nazis took Europe. Here, it's 1964 — Hitler's 75th birthday — and President Joseph Kennedy is visiting Berlin. A story this big requires a big-screen adaptation.

The Woody by Peter Lefcourt (Simon & Schuster, $24). Lefcourt inspires in me late-at-night, wake-up-your-girlfriend laughter. This scathing indictment of Congress, sexual politics, Big Pharma, and Vermont's menacing maple-syrup mafia has always had the potential for big-screen success — though I concede that an erectile-dysfunction plot point could cause the film to top out at cult-classic status.

Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho by Stephen Rebello (Soft Skull, $17). Rebello's research is so deep and his storytelling so effective, I suspect you'll learn as much from this book about the moviemaking process as from any broad history of Hollywood in the studio era.

My Life as a Mankiewicz by Tom Mankiewicz (Univ. Press of Kentucky, $40). While not every member of my family loved cousin Tom's book, published after his 2010 death, it captures his voice. You can hear Tom tell these stories — of navigating sexy, alluring Hollywood while burdened with the expectations that came with being the son of Joseph Mankiewicz.

Ben Mankiewicz is a host on Turner Classic Movies and the grandson of Citizen Kane's co-screenwriter.

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