BUDD SCHULBERG BIOGRAPHY

A novelist and screenwriter whose works are deeply rooted in the great humanistic and social traditions of American literature, Budd Schulberg won an Oscar for his screenplay of On the Waterfront (1954), directed by Elia Kazan. In the story, former prizefighter Terry Malloy, played by Marlon Brando, eventually fights for his fellow dockworkers against a corrupt mob-ridden union. The film was based on the actual struggles to democratize the New York and New Jersey Longshoremen’s Union. In his memoir, director Kazan wrote of Budd’s dedication to their struggle,"...I saw that his interest was not a tactic of the trade but passionate and true, and that he saw the grim tragedies and grotesque humor of that place with compassion for victims and devotion to the just."

Seymour Wilson (“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 his memoir Moving Pictures: Memories of a Hollywood Prince). B.P. was one of the motion picture industry’s pioneers, one of its first screenwriters, and Paramount's head of production in the late 1920s and early 1930s. He won the first Oscar for best picture in 1927 for Wings. As a child, Budd Schulberg suffered from a speech impediment; he stammered his way from therapist to therapist. In compensation, he became an acute listener and developed an ear for dialogue. "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." (from Moving Pictures)

His early writing was encouraged by his mother, Adeline Schulberg, later a famous literary agent. When she returned from a visit to the Soviet Union in the early 1930s, she brought him Short Stories Out of Soviet Russia. Gorky was already a familiar name to Schulberg, but Isaac Babel was new. "Far into the night I kept reading and dreaming of the day when I could be included in such an anthology."

Schulberg attended Los Angeles High School (1928-31), where he edited the daily magazine. At the age of seventeen he was already working as a publicist at Paramount, writing stories about the ambitions of the stars before they had become famous. He completed high school at Deerfield Academy, and then entered Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. At Dartmouth he continued to write and his short stories began to appear in Liberty, Colliers, The Saturday Evening Post and Esquire.

After graduating from Dartmouth in 1936, he returned to Hollywood to begin a career as a screenwriter. During this same period, he joined the Communist Party, and married Virginia Ray, known as “Gigee.” They had a daughter, Victoria, before they divorced in 1942.

In 1939, Schulberg was hired to co-write the screenplay for Winter Carnival with F. Scott Fitzgerald. "I thought he was dead," he would later write, on hearing he’d been assigned to work with the legendary writer. "If he is," cracked his producer, "he must be the first ghost who ever got $1,500 a week.”  The romantic comedy dealing with college romances failed at the box office, but became the basis for his book, The Disenchanted.

After the Winter Carnival fiasco, Schulberg began work on his seminal novel about Hollywood, What Makes Sammy Run? He had joined the Communist Party as a young idealist, but became dismayed by the Soviet regime’s persecution of writers, artists and intellectuals. His opposition to the Party crystallized during the writing of Sammy because he was being forced to submit chapters and the book’s ending for Party approval, and he broke with the Party in 1940. What Makes Sammy Run? (1941) achieved overnight commercial success and was the National Critics' Choice as best first novel of the year. In this insider’s view of Hollywood, office boy Sammy Glick rises to become head of a major motion picture studio, trampling on those who help him rise to power. “He’s a Sammy Glick” soon entered the lexicon as the descriptor of a man of ruthless ambition.

After Pearl Harbor, Budd Schulberg entered the United States Navy, rising to the rank of Lieutenant. He was a member of John Ford's OSS documentary unit, and wrote narration with James Kevin McGuinness for Ford's picture, December 7th, which won an Oscar in 1944 for best documentary short. Schulberg also did rewrites on the film, They Were Expendable (1945). After the war Schulberg was charged with collecting photographic evidence for the Nuremberg trial. He and his OSS colleagues (including his younger brother, Stuart) assembled The Nazi Plan from captured German footage and newsreels. In the process, he arrested Leni Riefenstahl and took her to Nuremberg to serve as a material witness.  In 1938, he had been instrumental in organizing a boycott against her when she’d been invited to show her film Olympia in Hollywood; and in 1946 wrote an article for The Saturday Evening Post, in which he labeled Riefenstahl a "Nazi Pinup Girl."

In 1943, Budd Schulberg married Victoria Anderson.  They had two sons, Steven and David, before they divorced in 1964.

After being discharged from the Navy, Budd Schulberg went to work on his second novel. The Harder They Fall (1947) was about racketeering in the world of boxing. Schulberg took the title of the book from the saying, "the bigger they are, the harder they fall," commonly attributed to the boxer Robert Fitzsimmons. The movie adaptation was filmed in 1956, starring Humphrey Bogart in his last role, that of the cynical out-of-work sportswriter who finally wakes up to the corruption in the sport and the dreadful exploitation of the fighters.  The movie includes an interview with a real-life, punch-drunk ex-boxer, and the remarkable boxing scenes were photographed by Burnett Guffey.

The Disenchanted (1950) was loosely based on his screenwriting experiences in Hollywood. Its protagonist, Manley Halliday, a famous novelist whose career is now in ruins, was modeled after F. Scott Fitzgerald. His fate is seen through the eyes of Shep, a much younger man and political idealist. 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 starring Jason Robards, who won a Tony for his portrayal of Halliday.

In 1947 the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) had started its investigations into the motion picture industry, and Budd Schulberg was subsequently named by Richard Collins as having been a member of the Communist Party.  Having turned against the CP, he chose to appear before the Committee in 1951 as a so-called “friendly witness.” "My opposition to communists and Soviet dictatorship is a matter of record," Schulberg wrote in his telegram to HUAC. As a result of his cooperation, some of his close friends, with whom he had shared a vision of social justice, cut all contact.

His anger at and disappointment with the Party did nothing to diminish his commitment to social and economic justice, and to racial equality. To the end of his life, he remained a ardent advocate of what is generally called the Non-Communist Left (NCL). "There was a time when I was young when I sang the ‘International.’  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)

Budd Schulberg had become fascinated with the plight of New York dockworkers, thanks in part to a series of newspaper articles by Malcolm Johnson. He spent a year hanging out with the men who worked the New York and Hoboken harbors, and then wrote the movie On The Waterfront(1954).Directed by Elia Kazan, it won 8 Academy Awards, including one for Budd for his screenplay. When Marlon Brando, playing the role of stevedore Terry Malloy, spoke Budd’s unforgettable lines, he became a huge star: You don't understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am…”

Brando won the Oscar for best actor; Eva Marie Saint, in her movie debut, won the Oscar for best supporting actress. Kazan won for this direction, and Boris Kaufman (Dziga Vertov's brother) won for cinematography. Most of the key roles were based on real people -- Karl Malden's waterfront priest on Father John Corridan; Brando's whistle-blowing longshoreman on Anthony De Vincenzo; and Lee J. Cobb on mobster Albert Anastasia.

Frank Sinatra, a Hoboken native, had very much wanted the role, and thought it had been promised to him.  He sued producer Sam Spiegel for breach of contract.

In 1957, Budd and his brother Stuart formed Schulberg Productions to produce Wind Across The Everglades (1958), one of the first screenplays about endangered species. The movie starred Christopher Plummer as a young Audubon agent, trying to stop the killing of the plume birds. Peter Falk made his debut in the film, and it featured Gypsy Rose Lee, Burl Ives, members of he Seminole tribe, and a large number of menacing alligators and snakes. Financed by Warner Brothers, the film was fraught with problems – the chief one being the heroin addiction of its director, Nicholas Ray, who was in no condition to direct a film.

In 1958, Schulberg collaborated for a second time with Elia Kazan, writing the screenplay for A Face In The Crowd, a morality tale about the power of the new medium of television to sell products and political candidates. A film that was way ahead of its time, it made stars of Andy Griffith – the folksy entertainer who turns into a power-hungry demagogue -- Patricia Neal, and Walter Matthau. Given that in 1958 only 20% of Americans owned a television, the film was extraordinarily accurate in predicting the importance of the media in the world of politics.

Budd was invited to Cuba to interview Fidel Castro and met and spoke with Che Guevara in the weeks following the overthrow of Batista. Although sympathetic to Castro’s 1959 revolution, he came to mourn the Castro’s oppression of artists and homosexuals. His novel Sanctuary V (1971) decried a Caribbean Communist regime wheeling towards tyranny. The novel’s revolutionary leader, Angel Bello, was modeled on Fidel Castro.

In 1964, Budd Schulberg married the actress Geraldine Brooks.  Before her death from cancer some years later, they would collaborate on Swan Watch, the non-fiction chronicle of a family of swans that featured Brooks’s photographs.

After the Watts uprising in August 1965, Budd went to Watts to found the Watts Writers Workshop.  For years thereafter, he nurtured the careers of African-American writers through his teaching and publishing contacts.  He edited From The Ashes: Voices of Watts, an anthology of those writers. The book became the basis for an NBC television special, produced with his brother Stuart Schulberg.  In 1971, with Fred Hudson, Budd founded the Frederick Douglass Creative Arts Center in Harlem.

Budd Schulberg remained a lifelong advocate of democratic labor unions that represented the true interests of the rank and file.  His mission to root out corruption within the unions was reflected not only in On The Waterfront, but also in his book about the Teamsters Union, Everything That Moves.  When Bobby Kennedy died, they were collaborating on a movie adaption of Kennedy’s book, The Enemy Within, and Budd was with Kennedy at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles when he was assassinated.

Budd was also a longtime friend and confidante of Muhammad Ali, and one of the first to come to his defense when Ali adopted the Muslim faith and refused to enter the draft.  He was in Ali’s entourage for the legendary “Rumble in the Jungle,” the heavyweight match-up between Ali and Foreman in Kinshasa, Zaire. Loser and Still Champion: Muhammad Ali (1972) is his biography of Muhammad Ali.

Considered one of world’s greatest experts on the art of prizefighting, Budd was inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame in 2002. He mentored several boxers over the years, and even, as the expression goes, “owned a piece” of a fighter whom he helped to train. He wrote hundreds of articles on boxing, served as boxing editor of Sports Illustrated, and wrote several more books on the “manly art,” including Ringside: A Treasury of Boxing Reportage and Sparring with Hemingway.

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, a theme that ran through much of his work.  He had seen his own father, B.P. Schulberg, rise and fall, which Budd chronicled in his memoir, Moving Pictures: Memories of a Hollywood Prince (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 told him horror stories about her childhood stardom; and 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 director John Huston said of the book: "Budd Schulberg is uniquely equipped to tell about Hollywood. He sprang from its loins, so to speak; nurtured in its bosom as its son, labored in its vineyards."

In 1978, Budd Schulberg married Betsy Langman, and they had two children, Benn-Stuart and Jessica.  Benn Schulberg is currently completing a film about his father, Hollywood Renegade: The Many Lives of Budd Schulberg.

At the time of his death, in August 2009, Budd Schulberg was working on a film with Spike Lee on the famous clash of boxing titans, Max Schmeling of Germany and the American “Brown Bomber” Joe Louis. With Ben Stiller and Jerry Stahl, he had adapted his Hollywood novel, What Makes Sammy Run? for the screen.  And he was at work on the second volume of his memoirs.

During his long career as a writer, Budd Schulberg taught writing at Columbia University, Long Island University, Hofstra, Phoenixville Veterans Hospital; and University of the Streets, New York. Besides his Oscar for On The Waterfront, he received many other honors, including the American Literary Association Award, New York Critics Award, Foreign Correspondents Award, Screen Writers Guild Award, Humanitarian Award from B'nai Brith, Amistad, Bahai, German Film Critics Award, and the Emmy Award.

 

 

 

The Harder They Fall

Poster for the 1956 release of The Harder The Fall,
based on the novel by Budd Schulberg