'Mank': Gary Oldman film takes on 'Citizen Kane' issue, shows Herman as screenwriter, here's who really wrote it

Gary Oldman stars as Herman J Mankiewicz, the screenwriter through whose perspective we see Hollywood of the 1930s as he chases around the story for 'Citizen Kane'


                            'Mank': Gary Oldman film takes on 'Citizen Kane' issue, shows Herman as screenwriter, here's who really wrote it
A still from 1941 film 'Citizen Kane' (IMDb)

'Citizen Kane', when it released in 1941, had reportedly lost $160,000 for RKO Pictures despite the good reviews and the credit for writing the film was shared between Orson Welles and Herman Mankiewicz. However, there has been a few claims regarding how Welles hadn't contributed much to the screenplay at all and had asked to share credit with Mankiewicz to ensure that he could get paid according to his contract. This was a claim that was made by Mankiewicz's son Frank in his memoir titled 'So As I Was Saying'.

He wrote that Welles, “literally pleaded for at least a joint screen credit ‘so [he] could get paid at all" going by his contract. Frank who served as Robert Kennedy's Press Secretary also noted a different genesis of the most popular dialogue in the film — "Rosebud" — by Kane, a referance to his childhood sled in the film. Ther have of course been a variety of claims and theories regarding the genesis of this word. Frank in his memoir, however, indicates this was a reference to his father's Rosebud-brand bicycle which he had owned as a child. Film critic Nigel Andrews had mused in his piece for The Financial Times that the word could be a reference to Welles' days working in the radio industry.

Then there is the claim by author Patrick McMilligan that this is a reference to 'Old Rosebud', the 1914 Kentucky Derby winner, a horse that Herman bet on big. He quoted long-forgotten court papers as the source of this information in his book 'The Years of Luck and Genius on the Path to Citizen Kane'. So who really wrote 'Citizens Kane'? This question was answered by Journalist turned historian Harlan Lebo in his work 'Citizen Kane: A Filmmaker’s Journey'.

Here, Lebo quotes two overlooked scripts of 'Citizen Kane' which were found in the archives of  Museum of Modern Art in New York City and the University of Michigan. These script showed proof of Welles working on certain important scenes from scratch. One scene in particular that was stated as example was when Kane says, “If I hadn’t been very rich, I might have been a really great man.” There there are also notes from Welles' assistant Kathryn Trosper Popper about certain changes made by Welles including change that Mank did not like. She had noted, “Welles: Loves it. Mank: It stinks!”

It is Lebo's style of documenting that gave his claim an edge when compared to many others that were made and also serves as an indication as to how both Welles and Mankiewicz had worked on the project together. Of course, the movie had been mired in controversy one too many times including when he film was almost buried by publisher William Randolph Hearst, but more on that later.

'Mank' is slated to release on Netflix on Friday, December 4, and can be streamed worldwide.

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