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Budd Schulberg (1914-2009)

 

Novelist and screenwriter, whose works were deeply rooted in the great humanistic and social tradition of American literature. Budd Schulberg won an Oscar for his screenplay of On the Waterfront (1954), directed by Elia Kazan. In the story a former prize fighter, who has fought all his life for money and lost, eventually fights for the other waterfront workers against corruption-ridden union. The film was partly based on Schulberg's research on the life of longshoremen in Hoboken, and the struggle within their union. "... I saw that his interest was not a tactic of the trade but passionate and true," wrote his friend Elia Kazan in his book of memoir, "and that he saw the grim tragedies and grotesque humour of that place as great stories as seen, with compassion for victims and devotion to the just."

"Along with the chicken pox, German measles and scarlet fever, I came down with another childhood affliction – poetry. I no longer recall the exact moment of infection when I first began to crawl as far back as I could under the piano, to put my thoughts into rhyme. As the self-appointed, mother-encouraged poet laureate of Lorraine Boulevard, I composed couplets appropriate to various holidays. For Mother's Day I withdrew into the darkest corner under the Steinway for longer than usual: I wanted to make this my masterpiece." (from Moving Pictures: Memories of a Hollywood Prince, 1981)

Budd Schulberg was born in New York City in 1914, but raised in Hollywood. His father, B.P. Schulberg, was "a political liberal in the reactionary world of Mayer and Hearst" (from Moving Pictures). He was one of the motion pictures pioneers, one of the very first screen writers, and Paramount's head of production in the late 1920s. As a child Schulberg suffered from fainting fits and speech impediment; he stammered his way from therapist to therapist. In compensation became a good listener and began to write poems and stories at an early age. In this he was greatly encouraged by his mother, Adela Schulberg. When she visited the Soviet Union in the early 1930s, she brought him from Moscow Short Stories out of Soviet Russia. Gorky was already familiar name to Schulberg, but Isaac Babel was new – "Far into the night I kept the light on in my Pullman berth, reading and dreaming of the day when I could be included in such an anthology." Later Adela became a successful agent.

Schulberg was educated at Los Angeles High School (1928-31), where he edited the daily magazine. After studies at Deerfeld Academy, he entered Dartmouth College, Hannover, New Hampshire, receiving his A.B. (cum laude) in 1936. In the same year he married the actress Virginia "Jigee" Ray; they divorced in 1942 and she married the writer Peter Viertel. "Jigee" Ray had belonged to a leftist discussion group of which Schulberg was a prominent member. The group was sponsored by the Communist Party, which she ultimately joined. Probably because of her political views, she was fired from her job with Sam Goldwyn.

While still at school Schulberg continued to write and published short stories in little magazines. At the age of seventeen Schulberg worked as a publicist at Paramount, writing stories about the ambitions of the stars before they had gained fame. In 1936 he became a screenwriter. During this period he joined the Communist Party. His short stories appeared in Liberty, Colliers and The Saturday Evening Post. In Winter Carnival (1939) Schulberg cooperated with F. Scott Fitzgerald. "I thought he was dead," said Schulberg when he heard that he would work with the legendary writer. "If he is," cracked the producer, "he must be the first ghost who ever got $1,500 a week." The romantic comedy dealing with collage romances failed at the box-office. When the German director Leni Riefenstahl, a friend of Hitler, visited Hollywood with her film Olympia (1938), about the 1936 Munich Olympics, Schulberg participated in protests against her. Later in 1946 he wrote an article for The Saturday Evening Post, in which he labelled Riefenstahl a "Nazi Pinup Girl".

After losing his job in Paramount in 1939, Schulberg left Hollywood. He lived at Connecticut River, and at Norwich, Vermont, where he completed his first novel, What Makes Sammy Run? (1941). It was rumored that the hero was partly modeled after Jerry Wald, a hardworking Hollywood screenwriter and producer, who collaborated on many scripts without seeking screen credit. The work gained a commercial success and was the National Critics' Choice as Best First Novel of the Year. In the satirical story of corruption an office boy, Sammy Glick, who rises to head of a major motion picture studio. Schulberg then spent some time in Mexico, and wrote screenplays. In 1943 he married Victoria Anderson. After divorce in 1964, Schulberg married the actress Geraldine Brooks, who died in 1977. Schulberg's fourth wife was the actress and writer Betsy Ann Langman.

During World War II Schulberg served in the United States Navy, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Junior Grade. He was a member of John Ford's documentary unit, and wrote new narration with James Kevin McGuinness to Ford's picture December 7th, which won an Oscar in 1944 for best documentary short subject. The film dealt with intelligence failures preceding the bombing of Pearl Harbor but mostly attempted to uplift patriotic mood. Schulberg also made some rewrites in thefilm They Were Expendable (1945) – the screenplay was written by Frank Wead and based on a book by William L. White. After the war Schulberg was in charge of photographic evidence for the Nuremberg Trials. With George Stevens he assembled from captured German newsreel and propaganda footage The Nazi Plan.

"I often think of film-making as a horse race in which teams of three or four or five horses must run together. If they run at all it is rather remarkable. If they run as well as they can, manage not to trip each other up, and cross the finish line together, it is a not-so-small miracle. This may explain why the most gifted of film-makers, Ford, Stevens, Huston, Kazan, may achieve only three or four truly memorable films in a lifetime of hard work." (Budd Schulberg in Writing in America, ed. by John Fischer and Robert B. Silvers, 1962)

The Disenchanted (1950) was loosely based on his screenwriting experiences in Hollywood. Its protagonist, Manley Halliday, a famous novelist sunk at the bottom of his career, was modelled after F. Scott Fitzgerald. His fate is seen through the eyes of Shep, a young, politically active man. Anthony Burgess proclaimed: "Halliday is a three-dimensional creation who will haunt the imagination of all who have the good fortune to be coming, for the first time, to this remarkable novel." The book was later adapted into a Broadway play by the author and Harvey Breit. In 1947 the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) started its investigations in the Hollywood Motion Picture Industry. A screenwriter named Schulberg as a former member of the Communist Party – he had left the party about in 1940. "My opposition to communists and Soviet dictatorship is a matter of record," Schulberg wrote in his telegram to HUAC. Like Elia Kazan, Schulberg testified as a friendly witness before the committee. As a result of his cooperation, some of his close friends, with whom he had shared similar ideals, cut all contacts to him.

"There was a time when I was young when I sang the "International". Who would have guessed that the "International" would result in the two largest countries in the world, both "Socialist", brandishing lethal weapons at each other? As long as we can wonder and remember, speculate and (perhaps vainly) hope, we are not dead. The non- or anti-communist humanist writer of novels may be slightly out of style, but there are miles and decades and many books to go before he sleeps." (Budd Schulberg in Contemporary Novelists, ed. by James Vinson, 1972)

In 1958 he became president of Schulberg Productions and in 1965 President of Douglass House Foundation. Wind Across the Everglades (1958), produced by his own company, led to a disagreement between the director Nicholas Ray and Schulberg who wrote the screenplay. When Ray was absent for the final one or two weeks, Schulberg and Charles Maguire shot the last scenes. Ray wanted his name removed from the film because he did not accept Burl Ives's acting in the death scene. Sanctuary V (1971) portrayed a revolutionary leader, Angel Bello, who resembled much Fidel Castro.

Several of Schulberg's books have dealt with the world of boxing – he also once owned a piece of fighter and was the boxing editor of the Sports Illustrated in 1954. The Harder They Fall (1947), Schulberg's second novel, was about racketeering in professional boxing. It was filmed in 1956, starring Humphrey Bogart in his last role as a cynical out-of-work sportswriter, Eddy, who promotes a huge heavyweight named Toro. He doesn't know that his opponents take dives. Nick (Rod Steiger), Eddy's boss, arranges a fight against much superior champ, Baer. Toro with his "powder-puff punch and a glass jaw" is sadistically beaten by him. Eventually Eddy, who has succumbed to corruption, restores his integrity. The remarkable boxing scenes were photographed by Burnett Guffey. The Harder They Fall includes an interview with real-life, punch-drunk ex-boxer. Schulberg took the title of the book from the famous saying, "the bigger they are, the harder they fall," commonly attributed to the boxer Robert Fitzsimmons. Loser and Still Champion (1972) was a biography of Muhammad Ali. Schulberg also wrote the script for the documentary film Joe Louis: For All Time  (1984). In 2001 he began to work with the director Spike Lee on a screenplay about the legendary heavyweight title fights between Joe Louis and the German boxer Max Schmeling.

In the late 1960s Schulberg helped found the Douglass House Watts Writers Workshop in Los Angeles and in 1971 New York's Frederick Douglass Creative Arts Center. Schulberg went to Watts while "buildings were still smoking" and produced with young writers a book, From the Ashes (1967). The Four Seasons of Success (1972) examined six American novelists, Sinclair Lewis, Scott Fitzgerald, William Saroyan, Nathanael West, Thomas Heggen, and John Steinbeck, and their relationship to success and failure. During his long career as a writer Schulberg also taught writing at Columbia University, New York; Phoenixville Veterans Hospital; and University of the Streets, New York. Among his several awards were American Literary Association Award, New York Critics Award, Foreign Correspondents Award, Screen Writers Guild Award, Academy Award for screenplay, Humanitarian Award from B'nai Brith, Bahai, German Film Critics Award, and Emmy Award. Budd Schulberg died on August 5, 2009, in Long Island, NY, at the age of 95.

Schulberg's memoir of his childhood as a "Hollywood prince," Moving Pictures, came out in 1981. A number of famous names appear on its pages – Marlene Dietrich who was the first woman whom Schulberg saw wearing pants, Elizabeth Taylor who tells him on a beach horror stories of childhood stardom, and the writer Ben Hecht, who advised him to get a summer job on a newspaper: "On a newspaper you get kicked around. You learn the hard way. You gotta sit down and write it, ready or not." The author Irwin Shaw praised the book as "a fascinating account of a fascinating part of our recent history," and the director John Huston said: "Budd Schulberg is uniquely equipped to tell about Hollywood. He sprang from its loins, so to speak; nurtured in its bosom as its son, laboured in its vineyards." In 2001 Schulberg ran as candidate for WGAE (Writers Guild of America, East), saying in his web site: "After almost a year out with physical tsuris, I'm back in fighting shape again and ready to join my Council mates in facing all the new challenges that lie ahead. While our Guild has made miraculous improvements in our welfare since I first entered the fray in the mid-30's, the technology revolution has created new writing fields as unorganized as screenwriting was in the early 1930's."

Terry (Marlon Brando): It was you, Charley. You was my brother. You should have looked out me instead of making me take them dives for the short end money.
Charley (Rod Steiger): I always had a bet down for you. You saw some money.
Terry: See! You don't understand! I could've been a contender. I could've been class and been somebody. Real class. Instead of a bum. It was you, Charley.
(from On the Waterfront, 1954)

Schulberg's famous work, On the Waterfront, was originally titled The Bottom of the River. He had written articles of waterfront's work gangs for Commonwealth, the liberal Catholic magazine, and knew Father John Corridan, who tried to reform their corrupt union. Among Schulberg's other sources were newspaper articles by Malcolm Johnson, but he also spent much time with the longshoreman. "Budd could stand up to a bar and match Hoboken's finest, drink for drink, all night," remembers Kazan. The screenplay attracted the director who wanted to show his old 'comrades' that he had not backed away from his convictions, and respond to the attacks on newspapers. All major studios turned down the script. Finally the independent producer Sam Spiegel, known for his chicanery and trickery, arranged a deal with Columbia. When he offered Marlon Brando the role of Terry, the actor first refused to work with Kazan because of his testimony to HUAC. In the film Malloy testifies before the Crime Commission, and is ostracized by his friends. Frank Sinatra, who thought he had got the role, sued Spiegel for breach of contract.

Most of the key roles were based on real-life persons – Karl Malden's on waterfront priest John Corridan, Brando's on whistle-blowing longshoreman Anthony De Vincenzo and Arthur Brown, 'Brownie,' who was a defiant of the 'mob,' and Lee J. Cobb's on mobster Albert Anastasia. The film won eight Academy Awards: for best picture, Brando as best actor, Eva Marie Saint as best supporting actress, Boris Kaufman's (Dzinga Vertov's brother) cinematography, Kazan's direction, Schulberg's screenplay, among others. Leonard Bernstein's score was a great success, but it did not win the Oscar, which went to The High and the Mighty by Dimitri Tiomkin. Bernstein never wrote another film score.

For further reading: 'The Writer and Hollywood' by Budd Schulberg in Writing in America, ed. by John Fischer and Robert B. Silvers (1962); Contemporary Novelists, ed. by James Vinson (1972); Contemporary Authors New Revision Series 19 (1987); A Life by Elia Kazan (1988); World Authors 1900-1950, Vol. 3, ed. by Martin Seymour-Smith and Andrew C. Kimmens (1996); Budd Schulberg by Nicholas Beck (2001)  

Selected works and film adaptations:

  • Winter Carnival, 1939 (screenplay, with F. Scott Fitzgerald; film 1939, dir. by Charles Riesner, starring Ann Sheridan, Richard Carlson, Helen Parrish)
  • 'Passport to Nowhere,' 1940 (in Story)
  • What Makes Sammy Run?, 1941 (TV film 1948, dir. by Fred Coe, teleplay by Paddy Chayefsky, with José Ferrer, Bert Lytell; TV film 1959, producer: Robert Alan Aurthur, dir. by Delbert Mann, featuring Larry Blyden as Sammy Glick)
  • 'The Real Viennese Schmalz,' 1941 (in Esquire)
  • Weekend for Three, 1941 (film dir. by Irving Reis, screenplay Dorothy Parker, Alan Campbell, story by Budd Schulberg, strarring Dennis O'Keefe, Jane Wyatt, Philip Reed)
  • Cinco fueron escogidos, 1942 (film dir. by Herbert Kline, story by Budd Schulberg)
  • City Without Men, 1943 (film dir. Sidney Salkow, story by Budd Schulberg, starring Linda Darnell, Michael Duane, Sara Allgood)
  • Government Girl, 1943 (film directed by Dudley Nichols, based on the story by Adela Rogers St. Johns and Budd Schulberg, starring Olivia de Havilland, Sonny Tufts, Anne Shirley)
  • The Harder They Fall, 1947 (film 1956, dir. by Mark Robson, screenplay by Philip Yordan, starring Humphrey Bogart, Rod Steiger, Jan Sterling)
  • The Disenchanted, 1950
  • Some Faces in the Crowd, 1953
  • On the Waterfront, 1954 (screenplay; film 1954. dir. by Elia Kazan, starring Marlon Brando, Eva Marie Saint, Lee J. Cobb, Rod Steiger, Karl Malden; Seref kavgasi, 1966, prod. by Roket Film (Turkey), dir. by Mehmet Aslan)
  • Waterfront, 1956
  • A Face in the Crowd: A Play for the Screen, 1957 (film 1957, dir. by Elia Kazan, story 'Your Arkansas Traveller' by Budd Schulberg, starring Andy Griffith, Lee Remick, Walter Matthau and Patricia Neal.) "If Kazan and Schulberg had been content to make their case by implication, it might have been a completely sophisticated piece of movie-making. Instead, everything is elaborately spelled out, and the film degenerates into preposterous liberal propaganda." (Andrew Sarris)
  • A Face in the Crowd, 1958 (screenplay; with an introduction by Elia Kazan)
  • 'The Barracudas,' 1958 (in Playboy)
  • Across the Everglades: A Play for the Screen, 1958
  • Wind Across the Everglades, 1958 (screenplay; film 1958, dir. by Nicholas Ray, starring Christopher Plummer, Burl Ives, Gypsy Rose Lee)
  • The Disenchanted, 1959 (play, with Harvey Breit, prod. in New York, 1958)
  • 'A Second Father,' 1961 (in Playboy)
  • What Makes Sammy Run?, 1964 (musical libretto with Stuart Schulberg, music by Ervin Drake, prod. in New York)
  • 'Say Goodnight to Owl,' 1966 (in Cosmopolitan)
  • From the Ashes: The Voices of Watts, 1967 (edited and with an introd. by Budd Schulberg)
  • Sanctuary V, 1971
  • Loser and Still Champion: Muhammad Ali, 1972
  • The Four Seasons of Success, 1972
  • Swan Watch, 1975 (photos. by Geraldine Brooks)
  • Everything That Moves, 1980
  • On the Waterfront: Original Story and Screenplay, 1980
  • Moving Pictures: Memoirs of a Hollywood Prince, 1981
  • A Question of Honor, 1982 (teleplay; based on Point Blank by Sonny Grosso and Philip Rosenberg, prod. by EMI Television, dir. by Jud Taylor, featuring Ben Gazzara, Paul Sorvino, Robert Vaughn, Danny Aiello, Tony Roberts)
  • Writers in America: The Four Seasons of Success, 1983
  • Joe Luis: For All Time, 1984 (documentary script)
  • Love, Acton, Laughter, and Other Sad Tales, 1989
  • Sparring with Hemingway: And Other Legends of the Fight Game, 1995
  • Ringside: A Treasury of Boxing Reportage, 2006 (with an introduction by Hugh McIlvanney)
  • Nurenberg: A Vision Restored, 2007 (documentary; with Pare Lorentz, prod. Nistarim International Media, dir. by Pare Lorentz, Sean Stone)


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