The new movie "Hail, Caesar!" starring George Clooney is loosely based on the life of a notorious Irish Catholic “thug from New Jersey” who – according to a recent feature in the New York Post – “bribed cops, bedded hundreds of would-be actresses, ran with the mob and may have ordered the killing of Superman George Reeves.”
But mob ties and murder allegations may not be the worst of it: Mannix also played a role in what is widely considered to be the nastiest anti-Irish movie to ever make it’s way out of Hollywood.
He was born Joseph Edgar Allen John Mannix, though by the time he had risen up the ranks at the MGM movie studio, he was known as Eddie. Mannix (played by Josh Brolin in "Hail, Caesar!") was born in Fort Lee, NJ and became an infamous “fixer” for the stars to whom he touted his Catholic faith, but only as an explanation as to why he could never get a divorce despite the many romantic affairs he engaged in.
He was married in 1916 to Bernice Fitzmaurice, a daughter of Irish immigrants. Soon enough Mannix was stepping out on his wife, but divorce was not an option given the religion of both Mannix and his wife.
It was in 1927 that Mannix began working as an MGM producer on a little picture about poor Irish immigrants entitled "The Callahans and the Murphys." Initial buzz on the picture was strong. Legendary comic actor Harold Lloyd thought it was “one of the funniest movies ever made,” according to Hollywood biographer Betty Lee.
But once the film began hitting theaters, many Irish moviegoers complained about the film’s use of cliches and stereotypes. There was lots of drunken brawling in the movie. The depiction of tenement life in general – not to mention Irish American life specifically – was so offensive to so many that boycotts were swiftly organized.
A group calling itself The American Irish Vigilance Committee blasted the film because it “vilified Irish home life.”
Mannix and other producers on the film scrambled to re-edit the movie to halt the protests and boycotts.
Editorial writers at the The Irish World newspaper were not pleased with the results.
“The so-called revision by MGM consists of the elimination of some of the features to which objection was taken, but it fails. The Simian grimaces...are vulgar and unseemly and a caricature of Irish women,” the paper wrote.
One worker on the movie lamented that the Irish were “picketing the theaters” and sending “a long scroll to the studio signed by thousands of names, protesting our deliberate attempt to ridicule the Irish.”
Eventually, Cardinal Dennis Joseph Dougherty of Philadelphia called on MGM to pull "The Callahans and the Murphys" from all theaters. Mannix and other producers on the film begrudgingly complied.
Many at MGM were particularly surprised by the uproar because many of the people who worked on the film were Irish themselves.
As Lee writes: “The producer, Eddie Mannix, had nothing but Irish blood in his veins,” while director George Hill’s “grandparents were born in Ireland.”
Either way, the whole mess over "The Callahans and the Murphys" would have long-term consequences for Mannix and everyone else in Hollywood. The justifications for the strict “movie code” that would eventually be passed, censoring all Hollywood films by the early 1930s, were not merely about sexual content. Religious and ethnic minorities, such as the Irish, were also sick and tired of films they deemed offensive.
As for Mannix, he remained a Hollywood mover and shaker. Hollywood legend has that he fixed problems for everyone from Spencer Tracy (who’d slept with a 14 year-old Judy Garland) to Clark Gable (who may have killed a pedestrian while driving drunk).
Most notoriously, Mannix knew about an affair his second wife was having with "Superman" actor Reeves. After Reeves moved on, in June of 1959, he was found shot dead after a party. Officially ruled a suicide, many in Hollywood whispered that Mannix had arranged the killing.
Maybe. But that allegation is not really much uglier than what Mannix (who died in 1963 at the age of 72) had done with "The Callahans and the Murphys."* Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.