British-born showbusiness columnist became a confidant to dozens of stars, even inheriting Cary Grant's wardrobe
Published 26/09/2010 | 05:00
A close friend of Cary Grant, David Niven, Richard Burton, Anthony Hopkins and Grace Kelly -- and the lover of Kim Novak and Alexandra Bastedo -- Roddy Mann wrote a hugely popular, syndicated weekly column for the Sunday Express and the Los Angeles Times for 40 years, from the Fifties to the Eighties, one that was read by millions in Britain and America.
He and Cary Grant thought of themselves as brothers, and when Grant died he left all his clothes to Mann. And it was Mann who urged Niven time and again to write his hilarious autobiography, The Moon's a Balloon, even though Niven was lazy and reluctant to do it. When the book was published in 1971 it was so funny, and became such a huge bestseller, that some were convinced Niven could not have written it himself and that Mann had ghosted it for him.
This was untrue, but Niven was so unsure of himself as a writer, and so nervous about the book, that he gave Mann and several other friends £100 each to go out and buy 40 copies. The book went on to sell more than five million copies around the world.
Mann often stayed with Niven at his villa on Cap Ferrat in the south of France. One night the actor announced that they were going to drive over to Monaco and "pick up a chum". The "chum" turned out to be Princess Grace, who sneaked out of the palace without Prince Rainier, and became so anxious at Niven's wild driving that she wailed: "David, you'll get into trouble! This is a one-way street!"
"How can we get into trouble?" chortled Niven. "You own this place!"
Mann agreed with Noel Coward's assessment of Niven as the greatest raconteur he had ever heard: "I would sit with him, pissing myself with laughter, as everybody else was, while he told a story, and then I'd think, 'Wait a minute: I was there and it wasn't that funny', and then I realised how he was able to take nothing and make it wonderful."
Mann told Niven's biographer Graham Lord that Niven "could put away more booze than anybody I've seen. Niven, Robert Wagner, Natalie Wood and I once sat in a little bistro in Villefranche and afterwards I counted 15 empty bottles. But he was a real pro when he was filming: he could be as drunk as a skunk the night before but he wouldn't show it and he'd always be on time."
As for old age, Niven was philosophical. "Never resent growing older," he told Mann. "Millions are denied the privilege."
Roderick Mann was born in Birmingham on December 20, 1922 to Scottish parents who moved to Glasgow soon afterwards. In 1940, aged 17, he joined the Royal Air Force, trained in Canada as a pilot, and went on to fly Hawker Typhoon fighter bombers.
After the war he became a journalist in Birmingham, moved to London, and worked at first for Ian Fleming, then the foreign manager of The Sunday Times and the author of the James Bond novels. One of Mann's first jobs for Fleming was to discover how to make the perfect scrambled eggs. After interviewing several Cordon Bleu chefs, Mann decided that the secret was to use real cream and very low heat. Joining the Sunday Express in 1950 he became one of the star writers in the paper's post-war heyday.
Mann wrote five novels, one of which, Foreign Body, was filmed in 1986, starring Victor Banerjee and Trevor Howard. He also wrote an episode of the television series Hart to Hart. He retired as a journalist in 1988.
Roddy Mann, who died on September 17 aged 87, is survived by his wife of 25 years, Anastasia Mann, who runs the Corniche travel agency in Los Angeles.