Hollywood has had its fair share of scandals, and when there’s a mess, someone needs to clean it—someone like Eddie Mannix. When Hollywood’s elite needed help, Mannix was the go-to crisis manager. But Hollywood’s infamous fixer had a few skeletons in the closet himself.
Eddie Mannix was born to John and Lizzie Mannix in Fort Lee, New Jersey. Although his baptismal name was Joseph, Mannix officially called himself Edgar. Later, most people addressed him as Eddie. Red flags were there from the beginning. Before Mannix was even in high school, he dropped out...and what he did with his free time wasn't savory.
Mannix’s early career would play a crucial role in his later life. At first, Eddie got a job as a ticket taker at Palisades Amusement Park. His cool demeanor and capability impressed the attraction’s owners, the Schenck brothers, and they soon promoted him to bookkeeper. But this wasn't a boring accountant's job, oh no.
In his capacity as bookkeeper, Mannix's life got shady very quickly. The park was in deep with the New Jersey underbelly, so Mannix was necessarily involved in pushing mobsters' money around. And that wasn't all: Mannix also worked as a kind of bouncer for the park, and got a reputation as a tough guy who could get rid of any, er, "problems" with a heavy hand.
It wasn’t long before his particular set of skills had Hollywood calling.
One of Mannix's bosses, Nicholas Schenck, had an eye on becoming a film studio executive. So when the now-famous studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) formed in Los Angeles, Schenck thought he should be its head honcho. Except...no one called him up. Furious, Schenck decided to send his trusted lackey to the West coast—Eddie Mannix.
It was the trip that changed everything for Mannix, and truly set him on the path to infamy.
When Mannix went to LA, he had a clear mission. Although he was ostensibly an assistant to MGM producer Irving Thalberg, his real purpose was much darker. Schenck wanted Mannix to spy on and eventually ruin MGM head Louis B Mayer, since Mayer was the man who beat out Schenck for MGM's top spot.
But Mannix about to prove just how slippery he could be.
Within his first year at MGM, Mannix brutally betrayed his former boss Schenck. Instead of spying on Mayer, Mannix found himself working as the general manager of MGM—and soon enough he and Mayer were besties. Mannix became so important to operations, Mayer would have a personal meeting with him every morning to discuss MGM's finances. Only, that wasn't all they were discussing.
In reality, Mannix wasn't just MGM's general manager. His secret duties were horrific. Over the years, he became a protector of sorts to its roster of actors and actresses. While Hollywood stars worked hard, they played even harder. Unsurprisingly, their shenanigans often landed them in unsavory situations.
So when Clark Gable allegedly fatally hit actress Tosca Roulien with his car in 1933, it was Mannix who reportedly cleaned up the mess and covered it up. But that wasn't the only shady tool in his toolkit.
Mannix, alongside his MGM colleague Howard Strickling, also made sure that no one in the public even got a whiff that their favorite stars were living reckless lives. They would quash any stories of scandals in the press, hushing up things like Greta Garbo's relationships with women. Sometimes, though, a star didn't want to fall in line or stay silent.
When that happened, Mannix showed his violent side.
Sometimes, Hollywood stars can be a lot to deal with. If Mannix had a hard time with one of his stars, he took things further and brought in reinforcements, calling up his old mob buddies from New Jersey. It didn’t take long for the intended target to learn their lesson...and Mannix paid back his underworld friends in shocking ways.
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If Mannix's New Jersey buddies ran when he came calling, maybe it's no wonder why. In 1935, rising young starlet Thelma Todd was found dead inside her chocolate-colored Lincoln Phaeton, wrapped in her finest silks and mink. Although the authorities ruled the death as accidental, the truth may be much different.
Some believe Todd found herself in a mobster's bad books, and a wise guy had offed her. Then, showing allegiance to his New Jersey pals, Mannix quickly covered it up. We're just getting started, though.
Eventually, everyone knew Mannix as "The Fixer" of Hollywood—though his enemies probably used his other, less flattering nickname, "The Bulldog". Either way, he knew how to wrangle his stars. Indeed, Mannix read all incoming and outgoing communications at MGM, even keeping tabs on celebrities' personal messages, to make sure he knew every problem on the horizon. But he did have blind spots.
The lines between Mannix’s personal and professional lives blurred. Over time, he became close friends with some of the studio’s biggest stars. In fact, Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy were like brothers to him. But Mannix also knew the secrets that could ruin them. Besides Gable's little fatal car accident, there was also both Tracy and Gable's penchant for visiting houses of ill repute.
But at MGM, the stars weren’t the only problems.
At times, the MGM executives were almost worse than their actors—after all, both Irving Thalberg and Louis B Mayer had nasty reputations for trying to seduce and bribe young actresses. One night, this dismal office culture had infamous consequences. At one raucous studio party in 1937, a young dancer named Patricia Douglas went in with big dreams, and came out alleging that MGM salesman David Ross had intimately attacked her.
The moment Douglas went public with her story and took on the studio, Mannix went into damage control.
Douglas was the first person to ever allege something like this about a Hollywood studio, and Mannix and his cronies were shaking in their boots. Their response was swift and brutal. Mannix hired investigators to find anything they could use against Douglas. When that didn’t work, he tried to get the other women who were at the party to give accounts depicting Douglas as having a drinking problem.
None of it was true, but there was no happy ending for Patricia Douglas.
Eventually, MGM outlawyered Douglas, and the courts dismissed the case. Mannix and Co essentially used their clout and legal resources to silence Douglas...but they didn't stop there. When someone asked him later what happened to "that girlie," Mannix cruelly joked, "We had her killed," meaning the studio erased her so totally from public memory that her horrific night ceased to matter. To MGM, anyway.
But when it comes to Mannix, this is just the tip of the iceberg.
In 1934, Mannix's buddy Clark Gable was up to no good again. And by "no good" I mean "utterly reprehensible things". As a married 34-year-old, Gable forced himself on the 22-year-old up-and-coming starlet Loretta Young. More than that, this horrific liaison ended with her pregnant. Which is when Mannix entered the picture.
Mannix "helped" Young fake-adopt her own child to avoid the scandal of being an unwed mother. But his real reasons were nefarious. As always, it was more about making sure MGM (and his friend Clark) avoided more scandal. His most chilling act, however, was yet to come.
Mannix's most disturbing work for MGM, as it happens, also involved Clark Gable yet again, but this time it came with even more tragedy. In 1942, Gable's wife and fellow mega star Carole Lombard perished in a shocking plane crash. Incredibly, and awfully, Mannix was on the scene to do more damage control...he was the one picking through her remains.
And when it came to Mannix's own personal life? Well, hold onto your hats.
Way back in 1916, Mannix married Bernice Fitzmaurice, and the couple were rather devout Catholics. Then again, that didn’t stop Mannix from engaging in many affairs throughout their decades-long marriage. Still, his constant infidelity wasn’t the worst transgression he allegedly committed toward his wife. Mannix was apparently capable of much worse.
Mannix’s cruel nature allegedly extended to Bernice, and she suffered his massive fits of temper throughout their entire marriage. It reached a bone-chilling climax. During one fight, Mannix reportedly broke Beatrice's back. Although the couple’s religious beliefs had kept them together up until that point, Bernice finally had enough and asked for a divorce.
But Mannix wasn’t going to let her go so easily.
Hollywood’s notorious fixer found himself in an unusual position. This time, he was at the center of a touchy situation. Although he bent his religious convictions when it was convenient for him, divorce was out of the question. And wouldn't you know it? Before she could officially file for divorce, his wife Bernice perished in a car accident.
The coincidental timing of her demise had people talking. So did Mannix's next actions.
Mannix reacted oddly to his new status as a widower. Instead of mourning for his late wife, he shacked up with his mistress, actress and dancer Toni Lanier. Outsiders couldn’t ignore the circumstances and chain of events. Soon, whispers spread that his wife’s accident was perhaps not one. Mannix never officially faced accusations, but rumors linger to this day.
Still, would this next relationship prove healthy? Uh, not exactly.
In 1951, after living with Lanier for many years, Mannix finally married her. But there was more to their relationship than meets the eye. In his first marriage, Mannix was the unfaithful party, but now both agreed to carry on affairs throughout their marriage. In fact, Lanier started a long-term relationship with a boy toy eight years younger than her during the first year of their union.
Lanier’s choice would take her to soaring heights of bliss, and crash-land her into tragedy.
Mannix and his wife’s open marriage was very much out in the open. For one, everyone in Hollywood knew her boy-toy lover was none other than Superman himself, George Reeves, the star of the television series Adventures of Superman. Their arrangement continued for many years, and seemed consensual and functional...at first.
Mannix’s treatment of Reeves is completely surprising: He was quite generous towards the Superman actor. Indeed, the studio executive gave his wife permission to buy and furnish a home for Reeves. She also bought her lover a car, all on Eddie’s dime. Yet his cruelty showed through, too.
When Eddie and his lawful wife Toni traveled, they always went first class together—while their respective lovers sat in the back in economy. But wait, there's more.
Describing the Mannixes’ marriage as quirky is putting it lightly. Eddie and Toni slept in separate bedrooms with a red carpet, which Lanier named "The Red Sea," standing between them. Meanwhile, Eddie’s mistress, who did double duty as both their maid and Judy Garland’s publicist, stayed in their home.
But the couple’s, er, special brand of marital bliss would eventually come to a devastating end.
One of Mannix's most infamous cases centered around Paul Bern, a studio executive and new husband to screen siren Jean Harlow. In 1932, authorities found Bern's lifeless body in the home he shared with Harlow, and officers quickly ruled that the Hollywood high flyer had taken his own life. However, many say that's not the whole story.
Bern's passing was a problem for MGM for many reasons. Among them was the bizarre detail that before Bern took the gun to his head, he had fully undressed and stood in front of a mirror. If that got out to the press, the studio would have a major scandal on their hands over night. Only, that wasn't even the thing that scared them the most.
Perhaps the biggest issue Mannix was facing was the fact that at the time Bern married Harlow, he was already married to another woman—and perhaps it was even his first wife who had fired the bullet? Either way, Bern’s bigamy would have ruined Harlow’s image, and MGM worried the press, in the course of investigating the case, would portray one of its biggest stars as the "other woman".
So Eddie made sure MGM didn’t become collateral damage under his watch. He did what he had to do.
Mannix couldn’t allow this matter to blow up. In order to keep it contained, he tampered with evidence on the scene to make sure officers ruled it as a self-inflicted wound. That way, the press wouldn't want to sink their teeth into the story, and MGM and Harlow could sail away as cleanly as possible.
The whole Bern affair wasn’t the biggest coverup Mannix handled.
Bern's passing was big, sure, but Mannix tampered with evidence day in and day out. As it turns out, there was a juicier scandal. One with a huge Hollywood icon at the center of it—Joan Crawford. Rumor has it years that before Crawford achieved fame, she apparently made an appearance in a "blue" movie called Velvet Lips.
Yet, although Velvet Lips probably did exist, no one's been able to find it...can you guess why?
When it came to Crawford's scandal, Mannix had one goal only: Find and destroy every copy of Velvet Lips. He allegedly went on an enormous manhunt to do just that, costing MGM a pretty penny in the process. According to one source, Mannix had to cough up a whopping $100,000 for the master copy. But Mannix may not have given in that easily.
If Mannix did indeed hear that massive asking price for Velvet Lips, he didn't necessarily shake hands right then and there. There are reports that Hollywood’s fixer may have actually aggressively negotiated the price down to $25,000 with the help of his New Jersey mob friends and a couple of well-timed threats to the extortionists.
Crawford herself further fueled speculation that the rumor was true when she paid MGM $50,000 as part of her contract termination, perhaps as reimbursement for the destruction of the movie.
For most of his life, Mannix’s fortune followed the times. His career quickly rose to incredible heights when production companies held all the power, but his fall was just as fast. During the 1950s, the Supreme Court intervened and took away MGM’s monopoly over cinema chains, making them much less powerful.
Meanwhile, television became popular, and actors and directors received more favorable compensation on shows. In other words, Mannix's high life was coming to an end...and the timing was impeccable.
As a big man in the glamorous movie industry, Mannix partied hard. But he paid a heartbreaking price for his excess. He was already in poor health by the 1950s, which played a part in his decision to consent to his wife’s affair with George Reeves. After enduring a slow decline, Eddie’s misery finally came to an end.
By 1959, Mannix had suffered from a few heart attacks and required the use of a wheelchair. Eventually, his heart weakened to the point of no return. On August 30, 1963, one last heart attack was the end of him. Eddie Mannix was 72 years old.
Eddie Mannix proved to be devoted to his job. He worked for MGM from its very beginnings and never let go from then on. Despite being sick for many years, he continued to work tirelessly until his passing. Because of his lengthy tenure and impact on the film industry, Eddie Mannix’s name and infamous reputation continue on.
Until this day, Hollywood can’t forget Eddie’s influence on its past. In 2016, the Coen Brothers-directed movie Hail, Caesar! immortalized Mannix. Actor Josh Brolin played a character loosely based on him, who also named Eddie Mannix. The movie largely focused on Mannix’s reputation as a fixer and his take-no-prisoners approach...but still declined to dig into Mannix's dirtiest laundry.
If Mannix was loyal to anyone, it was himself—but the mob was a close second. During his career, leaders of the underworld attempted to take control of the studio unions, insisting the studio pay them in exchange for ensuring production wasn’t disrupted. Many believe they got help from Mannix in achieving their lofty goals. He was, after all, a studio insider.
Mannix was never able to shake off the whole affair with George Reeves, and it continues even now. In 2006, the story inspired the movie Hollywoodland, starring Bob Hoskins as Mannix, Ben Affleck as Reeves, and Diane Lane as Lanier. But as we know now, this was just one grim story of many involving Mannix.
Mannix’s legacy isn’t all devious. Although Hollywood remembers Mannix for his less glowing accomplishments, he did make positive contributions to the film industry. During his time at MGM, he kept a detailed financial ledger of its film productions, giving great insight into the studio’s financial planning.
At the end of the day, Mannix was a studio man through and through. Despite his close relationships with certain actors and actresses, Mannix wasn’t afraid to show his vindictive side. He was so good at being downright terrifying, in fact, that producer Irving Thalberg liked to bring Mannix with him to contract negotiations as "the muscle" so they could get a better deal for the studio.
If that didn't work, Mannix had another trick up his sleeve.
Mannix could be an extremely blunt man. Huge egos were abundant in Hollywood, and Mannix knew just how to deal with arrogant stars. In case any of the stars had other ideas, Mannix kept a special sign on his desk that read: “THE ONLY STAR AT MGM IS LEO THE LION!” It was a nod to the studio’s famous mascot featured in its logo.
For most of the 1950s, Mannix’s wife continued to see George Reeves. But, in 1958, after a wild night with socialite Leonore Lemmon, the actor pulled the plug on his old relationship to kickstart a new one. Both Eddie and Toni were shocked, as both had expected that Reeves would one day propose to Toni, not kick her to the curb. It set off a chain reaction.
Toni was inconsolable at the breakup of her relationship with Reeves, and an unhappy Toni made for an unhappy Eddie. Adding salt to the wound, Reeves became engaged to his new love Lemmon, then moved her into the same home Toni bought for him. It was too much for Toni, and she did not react well.
Eddie watched on from the sidelines as Toni constantly contacted her ex-boyfriend Reeves, followed his every move, and even likely stole his dog. Mannix, who was used to fixing other people’s personal problems, now found the tables had turned again. And we all know how Eddie liked to fix things...
Around this time, Mannix may have tried to get a vicious revenge. While Toni was sobbing in her bed every night, George Reeves ended up in a terrifying car accident that sent him through his windshield and barely let him escape with his life. When the mechanic saw the issue—a total lack of fluid in Reeves' brakes—he said, "Somebody wanted him dead".
Coincidence? Maybe. But were there ever any coincidences when Eddie Mannix was involved? The thing is, he wasn't finished.
In June of that year, George Reeves’ life finally ended with a massive head wound. Authorities eventually concluded that the actor had taken his own life. However, certain details surrounding the evidence at the scene didn’t seem to support that conclusion. People had their theories...and those theories included Mannix.
Mannix’s marriage was the stuff of gossip in the industry, and now the rumor mill went into overdrive. The whispers hinted at a bloody scenario. With Mannix's mob connections, many suspected he had hired a hitman to take out George Reeves once and for all. It couldn't fix Toni's heart, but smashing things always seemed to give Mannix satisfaction anyway.
Still, his lesser-known crimes are even darker.
Wives and lovers learned not to mess with Mannix. A romance with a former paramor, actress and dancer Mary Nolan, was one prime example of his vindictive nature. The story goes that Mannix physically hurt Nolan throughout their relationship. She reportedly needed multiple surgeries on her abdomen—15 of them.
After some time, Nolan decided to do something few in Hollywood dared to do.
As it happened, Mannix's beatings had made it impossible for Nolan to perform or act, and she quickly sued the studio fixer for all he was worth. While Nolan showed immense bravery in doing so, this was nowhere near Mannix's first rodeo, and she seemed to have forgotten who she was dealing with. Mannix made sure to send her a reminder.
There was a good reason to fear Mannix. When Nolan had the courage to seek justice, Mannix quickly nipped the matter in the bud in his usual style. His methods were ruinous. He threatened to have his connections in the LAPD detain Nolan over false claims that she was, after so many surgeries, addicted to pain medication.
It clearly worked, because Nolan gave up her fight.
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