Life of studio fixer Eddie Mannix inspires movie Hail, Caesar!

In Hail, Caesar!, George Clooney plays an actor who is kidnapped and intellectually seduced by a ring of communist screenwriters.
In Hail, Caesar!, George Clooney plays an actor who is kidnapped and intellectually seduced by a ring of communist screenwriters.PHOTO: HAIL, CAESAR! MOVIE'S FACEBOOK PAGE

The life of studio fixer Eddie Mannix, whose job was to keep stars out of trouble, inspires the movie Hail, Caesar!

LOS ANGELES • "The stories begin. The stories end. But the work of Eddie Mannix will never end." So says a booming voice at the end of Hail, Caesar!, a movie set for release by Universal Pictures on Feb 5.

The film is a Hollywood fantasy, written and directed by Ethan and Joel Coen. Josh Brolin stars in a role inspired by and named for Eddie Mannix, a studio "fixer" who for decades kept obstreperous celebrities in line and out of the gossip columns.

The real Mannix, who died of a heart attack in 1963, was the general manager of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

According to author E.J. Fleming's The Fixers: Eddie Mannix, Howard Strickling And The MGM Publicity Machine, his was an all-purpose job.

Eddie Mannix's job involved keeping tabs on movie budgets, monitoring Western Union traffic and burying the misdeeds of stars such as actor Clark Gable and actresses Joan Crawford and Norma Shearer.

It involved keeping tabs on movie budgets (Mannix reported daily to film producer and co-founder of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios, Louis Mayer, and spied on him for the studio's New York-based overseer, Mr Nicholas Schenck), monitoring Western Union traffic (he was said to have been handed every telegram sent or received by an MGM player) and burying the misdeeds of stars such as actor Clark Gable and actresses Joan Crawford and Norma Shearer (who married production chief Irving Thalberg, after a fling with Mayer, or so writes Fleming).

In the movie Hail, Caesar!, Brolin gets into the spirit.

He hunts up a husband for his bawdy, pregnant water ballet star, played by Scarlett Johansson, and slaps some sense into George Clooney, who plays a none-too- bright actor kidnapped and intellectually seduced by a ring of communist screenwriters.

That group is supervised by a Soviet agent, played by Channing Tatum, who escapes to a Russian submarine off Malibu.

And Brolin's Mannix is religious. Think Barton Fink (1991) meets A Serious Man (2009). With dancing.

But that booming voice - is it God or does it just sound like him? - raises another question. Who does the work of Mannix today?

Well, the job is too big for any one person.

It takes a little bit of someone such as lawyer Martin Singer, who has been asked to manage scandals for celebrities such as Charlie Sheen and Bill Cosby, and a dollop of the crisis consultant Allan Mayer, whose behind-the-scenes advice has helped the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences protect its image.

You might need political manoeuvring from Mr Matthew Hiltzik, who worked for politician Hillary Clinton and used to keep Miramax co-founder and film producer Harvey Weinstein out of trouble; some power-agent work from talent agent Ari Emanuel of American talent agency William Morris Endeavor; and help from at least one of those quiet, intricately wired physical production executives, who seemingly know all the secrets and where they are kept.

An example of this last group might be Mr Andrew Davis, president of production administration for Sony's Columbia and TriStar film units.

Those units occupy the Culver City studio that was once patrolled by Mannix and is still lined with buildings named for Mannix pals such as Gable and Jimmy Stewart.

As for the religion, no one is likely to match the real Mannix.

In his heyday, unlike those mild- mannered contemporary operatives, he was suspected of plotting murder and accused by the news media of beating his wife, who died in a car crash in Palm Springs, just before a planned divorce filing.

But he was nonetheless buried at Holy Cross Cemetery, on Sept 3, 1963, after a solemn high requiem mass.

Cardinal James Francis McIntyre, then the archbishop of Los Angeles, presided. Stewart was a pallbearer.

As the Hollywood columnist Louella Parsons had written just a few years earlier: "We just couldn't have a motion picture industry without E.J. Mannix."

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 19, 2016, with the headline 'World of the Hollywood fixer'. Print Edition | Subscribe