The Minnesota Comedian? Too Local.

By Jack Limpert

Frank Mankiewicz, one of the most interesting characters ever to come through Washington, died yesterday in DC at age 90. He was best-known as press secretary to Senator Robert F. Kennedy—he told the world of Kennedy’s death after the senator was assassinated in Los Angeles in June 1968. Frank then had a long and lively Washington career in media, politics, and public relations.

In 1977, he became head of National Public Radio and over the next six years he increased NPR’s audience and profile. With a smile, he liked to tell the story of the comedian from Minnesota who wanted a show on NPR. Frank listened, decided the guy was too local, and told him no.

Yes, it was Garrison Keillor.


  1. Most every editor who has to say yes and no a lot has a story about the one who got away. In 1981 when the Washington Star folded, Maureen Dowd came to The Washingtonian looking for a job. I offered her $25,000 a year, assuring her she’d never get more elsewhere. A few weeks later she called to say Time magazine was paying her $30,000. Then in 1983 she went to the New York Times.

  2. Five years ago, I trekked down to DC to interview Mankiewicz at his office in the hope of developing a book project he would write. A major New York editor with whom I was close had expressed interest in an eventual book by FM. At 85, he had all of his wits and was refreshing and active: a UCLA basketball schedule for the current season (2009-10) adorned his wall, with dates circled of games he wanted to attend in Westwood.

    I had become intrigued by Mankiewicz years before, when I was 22 and working at the Santa Monica Independent-Journal, a weekly broadsheet back home. FM had been the paper’s editor before I was born. By the day I discovered his photo on the I-J’s archival wall, he was distinguished and famous. He chuckled at the memory. As a child, I’d watched the aftermath of RFK assassination, which had occurred two miles from my school.

    The editor who’d shown interest in a Mankiewicz book had worked with Eugene McCarthy and Hubert Humphrey at different stages of their political lives. Alas, nothing came of the book project I suggested that day in 2009. Mankiewicz was professional, and still working in areas sensitive enough to merit discreet judgment in writing a memoir. He was, nevertheless, enjoyable company. R.I.P.

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