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Thursday, December 3, 2020

My Nearly 40-Year Saga: from EPIC to "Mank"


David Fincher's heralded new movie, Mank, drops on Netlfix tomorrow, December 4, and as I have written previously, its main plot point--to my surprise!--finds Herman Mankiewicz inspired to co-write Citizen Kane because of the outrages of Hollywood and Hearst in destroying Upton Sinclair's leftwing race for governor of California in 1934.  Sinclair led the massive EPIC movement--for End Poverty in California. As I have also noted, this subject is of special interest to me, as author of the Random House book The Campaign of the Century--which explores that race and those outrages--which was recently picked by the Wall Street Journal as one of the five greatest ever on an American election, and earlier won the Goldsmith Book Prize.

So now: How did this happen?  I'll sketch this briefly and if you'd like to know more--write me at my email address, the only one I've ever had, yes:  Epic1934@aol.com.   Order book or ebook here.  See my New York Times piece on all this and more this week.

I first read about the then-obscure campaign in the late 1970s after Michael Medved of all people (he later became quite conservative) wrote an entry about it in the original People's Almanac.  By 1982, I had gotten an assignment from Bob Kuttner at Working Papers magazine to write a feature on the campaign, and made my first research trip to California.  I dug out so much new stuff it resulted in a massive, and much-hailed,  feature spread over two issues.  A few years later, I returned to the subject, with feature pieces at both American Heritage (for Byron Dobell) and American Film (for Peter Biskind).   I even met Upton's son, David, among dozens of other key figures.

Then I wrote a book proposal, snatched up by a top editor, Ann Godoff, then at Atlantic Monthly Press.  Just a few months from publication, she jumped to Random House and took the book with her.  It was published in April 1992, and drew wide praise, and was excerpted in numerous outlets, including The New York Times and Newsweek.   It would win the Goldsmith Book Prize and was named one of five finalists for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.  It also led to my involvement as chief adviser to one program on the campaign for PBS's much-admired Great Depression series in 1993.  

Several movie producers expressed interest but an option never quite happened.  However, it was developed with my support into, of all things, a musical which had major "concert" versions presented in Chicago, New York City, and Los Angeles, and seemed headed for Broadway around 2012 when the two writers--who had just won the Tony for Best Musical for another project--parted ways.  

This led to a fairly quiet period--when a new paperback edition arrived I did appear with everyone from Chuck Todd to Laura Flanders--but it always drew interest and sales and now it has gained new attention thanks to Mank.  I've written a piece for The New York Times slated for next week and it appears that it is headed for a movie option at last.    So check out Mank then check back here for more!

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