LOS ANGELES — “The stories begin. The stories end. But the work of Eddie Mannix will never end.”
So says a booming voice at the end of “Hail, Caesar!” — a movie set for release by Universal Pictures on Feb. 5.
The film is a Hollywood fantasy, written and directed by Ethan and Joel Coen. Josh Brolin stars, in a role inspired by and named for Eddie Mannix, a studio “fixer” who for decades kept obstreperous celebrities in line, and out of the gossip columns.
The real Mr. Mannix, who died of a heart attack in 1963, was the general manager of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. According to E. J. Fleming’s “The Fixers: Eddie Mannix, Howard Strickling and the MGM Publicity Machine” and other sources, his was an all-purpose job. It involved keeping tabs on movie budgets (Mr. Mannix reported daily to Louis B. Mayer, and spied on him for the studio’s New York-based overseer, Nicholas M. Schenk); monitoring Western Union traffic (he was said to have been handed every telegram sent or received by an M.G.M. player); and burying the misdeeds of stars like Clark Gable, Joan Crawford and Norma Shearer (who married the production chief Irving Thalberg, after a fling with Mr. Mayer, or so writes Mr. Fleming).
In “Hail, Caesar!,” Mr. Brolin gets into the spirit. He hunts up a husband for his bawdy, pregnant water ballet star, played by Scarlett Johansson, and slaps some sense into George Clooney, who plays a none-too-bright actor kidnapped, and intellectually seduced, by a ring of Communist screenwriters. That group is supervised by a Soviet agent, Channing Tatum, who escapes to a Russian submarine off Malibu.
And Mr. Brolin’s Mannix is religious. Think “Barton Fink” meets “A Serious Man.” With dancing.
But that booming voice — is it God, or does it just sound like Him? — raises another question. Who does the work of Eddie Mannix today?
Well, the job is too big for any one person.
It takes a little bit of someone like the lawyer Martin D. Singer, who has been asked to manage scandals for celebrities like Charlie Sheen and Bill Cosby, and a dollop of the crisis consultant Allan Mayer, whose behind-the-scenes advice has helped the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences protect its image.
You might need political maneuvering from Matthew Hiltzik, who worked for Hillary Clinton and used to keep Harvey Weinstein out of trouble; some power-agent work from Ari Emanuel of William Morris Endeavor; and help from at least one of those quiet, intricately wired physical production executives, who seemingly know all the secrets and where they are kept.
An example of this last might be Andrew Z. Davis, the president of production administration for Sony’s Columbia and TriStar film units. Those occupy the Culver City studio that was once patrolled by Mr. Mannix, and is still lined with buildings named for Mannix pals like Mr. Gable and Jimmy Stewart.
As for the religion, no one is likely to match the real Mr. Mannix. In his heyday, unlike those mild-mannered contemporary operatives, he was suspected of plotting murder, and accused by the news media of beating his wife, who died in a car crash in Palm Springs just before a planned divorce filing. But he was nonetheless buried at Holy Cross Cemetery, on Sept. 3, 1963, after a solemn high requiem Mass.
Cardinal James Francis McIntyre, then the archbishop of Los Angeles, presided. Mr. Stewart was a pallbearer.
As the Hollywood columnist Louella Parsons had written just a few years earlier, “We just couldn’t have a motion picture industry without E. J. Mannix.”