Dickens of London
Monod, Sylvère. Rev. of Dickens of London, by Wolf Mankowitz. The Modern Language Review January 1979: 174-175. Web. **no access date.
Moorachian, Rose, and Lillian N. Gerhardt. Rev. of Dickens Of London, by Wolf Mankowitz. School Library Journal 24.7 (1978): 146. Academic Search Alumni Edition. Web. 16 July 2012.
The Extraordinary Mr. Poe, A Biography of Edgar Allan Poe
Heaney, Howell, J. Rev. of The Extraordinary Mr. Poe, A Biography of Edgar Allan Poe, by Wolf Mankowitz. The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography July 1979: 409-411. Web.
A Kid For Two Farthings
Matthews, Nancie. “Armed With a Horn of Plenty: A Kid For Two Farthings.” Rev. of A Kid For Two Farthings, by Wolf Mankowitz. New York Times 14 February 1954: 120. Web. 31 March 2010.
Laugh Till You Cry
Moore, Geoffrey. “Flea Powder In Paradise.” Rev. of Laugh Till You Cry, by Wolf Mankowitz. New York Times 17 April 1955: BR26.
Make Me An Offer
Ferguson, Delancey. “The Tricks of the Trade: Make Me An Offer.” Rev. of Make Me An Offer, by Wolf Mankowitz. New York Times 12 April 1953: 94. Web. 31 March 2010.
Klingender, F.D. Rev. of Wedgewood, by Wolf Mankoqitz. The Burlington Magazine November 1954: 356-357. Web.
Born in London in 1924 of Russian-Jewish descent, Wolf Mankowitz was the first pupil from his local grammar school to win a scholarship to Cambridge, where he was taught by the likes of F.R.Leavis. Soon after graduating he won a Society of Authors prize for poetry, but it is for his early fables of life in the Jewish East End of his childhood that he is most fondly remembered.
His much-loved novella A Kid for Two Farthings and his play The Bespoke Overcoat (the screenplay of which won Mankowitz an Oscar), were penned within a year of each other. The first tells the story of Joe, a six-year-old boy, and Africana, the one-horned kid he buys off the market and keeps in a box in the back yard of Mr Kandinsky the tailor. Mankowitz captures perfectly a time and a place that had more in common with the Old Country shtetls than the rest of London, with its schvitzes (bath-houses), its bareknuckle boxing tournaments, and teeming markets.
The Bespoke Overcoat is Mankowitz’s Jewish reworking of a Russian tale by Gogol, in which Fender, an elderly clerk who has spent his life working in Rantings’ stone cold warehouse, comes back as a ghost. Before he died, Fender had taken his old overcoat to Morry the tailor in the hope that he could mend it. With more holes than fabric, the coat is beyond repair, even for Morry with a “needle like Paganini”, so instead Morry offers to make him a new, bespoke overcoat at cost, though he can ill afford it. As the author’s note explains, this play is “a sustained, typically over-long Jewish joke—than which there is no funnier and no sadder story.”
These are people who have very nearly hit rock bottom but manage to carry on, saved by an ability to accept each new setback with humour and humility. Moreover, even in the humblest of settings, there is magic. Fender, for instance, dreams a poetic, sublimely surreal dream of flying overcoats, their pockets filled with hot, tasty soup that never spills; the dream compounds his simple desires, lifting them to a new level. Similarly, in A Kid for Two Farthings the small, sickly kid bought off the market becomes, in Joe’s eyes at least, a real unicorn as it lives out its final days in Mr Kandinsky’s back yard. Images kaleidoscope out of the figure of the kid, just as is in Chad Gadya, the traditional children’s Passover song, from which the story takes its title. These East End stories also reveal a debt to Yiddish masters such as Sholom Aleichem; as Mankowitz himself notes in his introduction to a treasury of Yiddish stories: “For the Yiddish writer mysticism touches the earthiest existence, the most simple and common life contains a moment of the highest meaning… life was funny, or tragic, but never merely decorative”.
While Mankowitz believed Jewishness to be dependent on far more than religious observance, he caught from his father the habit of “quite unreligious biblical study”, and his robust, argumentative attitude is given full rein in his reworkings of biblical stories such as The Samson Riddle and It Should Happen To A Dog, plays based on Samson and Jonah. He also published, together with the scholar Hyam Maccoby, The Day God Laughed, a selection of sayings and fables of the sages with a commentary. Mankowitz was an ardent commentator on his own work, too often adding notes and introductions. Elsewhere, in his riddling poems and fables, many a mere half page long, he displays an almost Talmudic turn of mind and appreciation of the interconnectedness of the world and life. Notably, he later in life devoted some of his energies to publicizing the Hasidic sect of the Lubavich.
Mankowitz’s early writing spawned hopes that he might become a British Bernard Malamud. “One cannot talk oneself out of being a Jew”, he wrote in the essay that accompanies The Samson Riddle, but while he did return to the East End in his fiction, he was never going to confine himself to chronicling Anglo-Jewish life in London. His were an immigrant’s aspirations, and although he maintained a strong sense of origin, he was proud to have come so far from the crowded two-room home in which he was raised, and was wary of sentimentalizing the old days. Writing in 1972 in the introduction to The Blue Arabian Nights: Tales of a London Decade, he explained: “For the children of the war, who had known no childhood, there were too many interesting parts available for the play itself to have much of a plot.” He went on to satirize the pop culture of 1950s Britain with Expresso Bongo, and captured the public fear of nuclear war with his screenplay for The Day the Earth Caught Fire. He became a specialist in Wedgwood pottery, that most genteel English creation, and he brought to life a charismatic world of personalities in his fiction and non-fiction: Dickens, Poe, Casanova, and Duchamp.
At the outbreak of the Six Day War, Mankowitz briefly threw his weight behind the Zionist cause, but he left Israel feeling that “though England had not entirely made me, I had done nothing to make Israel and therefore had no permanent place there” (The Samson Riddle).
If anything, Mankowitz was a man who wore his talent too lightly; by his own account, he was:
a shopkeeper and a gallery owner, a film writer and theatrical producer, an impresario and a television performer, a night-club owner and an inveterate night-walker, a musical librettist, and a newspaper columnist, a restaurateur, a ceramic encyclopaedist and a Wedgwood historian.
Add to that Visiting Professor at the University of New Mexico and sometime Honorary Consul to the Republic of Panama in Dublin, and one can at least partly appreciate the breadth of Mankowitz’s sprawling talent.
Ultimately, his lasting achievement is his ability to capture an East End that even during his lifetime was fading into rose-tinted memory; his humorous, anecdotal tales, with their sharp edge of pathos are a rare portrait of one of the most vibrant, significant chapters in Anglo-Jewish history, and as such they are without rival.
Anderson, Hephzibah. “Wolf Mankowitz.” The Routledge Encyclopedia of Jewish Writers of the Twentieth Century. 2003.
“Mankowitz, Wolf.” Encyclopedia of British Humorists: Geoffrey Chaucer to John Cleese. Ed. Steven H. Gale. 1996.
Johnson, William. Rev. of The Hireling, by Wolf Mankowitz. Film Quarterly Winter 1973-1974: 59. Web. **no access date.
Dunn, Anthony J. The Worlds of Wolf Mankowitz: Between Elite and Popular Cultures in Post-War Britain. London: Vallentine Mitchell, 2013.
**Author missing. “Playwright in Britain Sends Coffin to Critic.” New York Times 10 May 1961: *pages missing. Web. 9 April 2010.
Sayenko, Sergei. “Britain’s Spy Hysteria Over Russia.” Voice of Russia. 3 December 2010. Web. 24 July 2012.
“Wolf Mankowitz.” The Times 22 May 1998: Features. Web. 10 June 2013.
Barker, Dennis. “Making Art An Offer; Obituary; Wolf Mankowitz.” The Guardian 23 May 1998: 23. Web. 10 June 2013.
Calder, John. “Obituary: Wolf Mankowitz.” The Independent 23 May 1998. Web. 24 July 2012.
Kops, Bernard. “Appreciation: Wolf Mankowitz.” The Guardian 3 June 1998: 21. Web. 10 June 2013.
URL: The Independant: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/obituary-wolf-mankowitz-1158253.html
Linehan, Hugh. “Writer Wolf Mankowitz Dies, Aged 73.” The Irish Times 23 May 1998: 3. Web. 10 June 2013.
Lyall, Sarah. “Wolf Mankowitz, Novelist and Screenwriter, Dies at 73.” The New York Times 28 May 1998. Web. 10 June 2013.
Sanderson, Vicky. “Four Tries, Four Successes in Marathon Theatre Evening.” The Globe and Mail 13 July 1981. Web. 10 June 2013.
daily telegraph? 22 may 1998