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Budd Schulberg, novelist and screenwriter, dies

August 7, 2009
Budd Schulberg as a young man.

Budd Schulberg as a young man.

Budd who?

See, this is what happens when you live to be 95, and the work you’re most likely to be remembered for is 30, 40 or 50 years in the past.

A bit of a Renaissance man when it came to writing — he did all kinds, with equal distinction — Schulberg is perhaps best known for writing the script for On the Waterfront, the 1954 classic movie in which a young Marlon Brando, as a washed-up boxer, challenges Mob control of the docks where he works. Schulberg won an Oscar for the screenplay. His other film work included another ’50s classic, A Face in the Crowd, an early expose of the corrosive power of television, featured a bitter, funny performance by Andy Griffith.

As a novelist, Schulberg wrote What Makes Sammy Run?, a scathing examination of the venality of Hollywood. It came out in 1941, exerting an enormous influence. The name “Sammy Glick” became a byword for unscrupulous ambition in showbiz–Ari Gold, on HBO’s Entourage, is a direct fictional descendent. Schulberg, however, lived to see his novel evolve into an inspirational book. “Young people today seem to admire Sammy,” Schulberg once said. “I do find it rather disconcerting.”

Schulberg’s other novels include The Disenchanted. The story of a young screenwriter collaborating with a famous but broken-down novelist on a screenplay, it was based on Schulberg’s disastrous attempt to work with F. Scott Fitzgerald in the late 1930s. The novel was a best seller, and Schulberg turned it into a Broadway play that earned a Tony Award for Jason Robards. A boxing novel, The Harder They Fall, was made into a film starring Humphrey Bogart.

The son of a Paramount Pictures executive, Schulberg grew up on back lots and movie sets. He saw first hand the slimy behavior depicted in What Makes Sammy Run? — a book that so incensed Hollywood moguls that he was barred from screenwriting for years.

A one-time Communist, Schulberg gained notoriety in 1951, during the infamous House Un-American Activities hearings, when he “named names” of communists he believed were infiltrating the Screen Writers Guild. By 2008, all was forgiven: The Writers Guild gave Schulberg a lifetime achievement award

In addition to everything else, Schulberg was an early editor at Sports Illustrated. In 2003 he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Alexis Strand permalink
    August 7, 2009 10:55 pm

    Schulberg wrote some good movies, but should never have named names in the McArthy hearings. I realize he thought he was doing the right thing, but I don’ t care what his reasons were. This is a blemish on his career that can never be removed. He helped ruin the lives and careers of talented fellow writers whose only crime was having a political opinion that was different from his. He hurt real people and his testimony gave legitimacy to the anti-communists witch hunt.

  2. Thomas permalink
    August 8, 2009 3:26 pm

    There is a difference between McCarthy’s PSI witch hunt and The House Commitee on Un-American Activities, the two are commonly mixed up. Schulberg testified before the Un-American only after another screenwriter accused him of being a Communist. Schulberg reacted as any American is expected to, he told the truth. Schulberg saw first hand Nazi concentration camps, investigated war crimes for the Nuremburg Trials and was having people he knew, not just thought were Communist trying to influence his films. America lost a good man, one who’s breed is disappearing and being replaced with folks who care more about American Idol as opposed to the American Way (at least the lofty idea of what the American Way could be). The Disenchanted is a great book which deserves a re-read.

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