Writer Budd Schulberg dies at 95
Won an Oscar for 'On the Waterfront'Budd Schulberg, who won an Academy Award for the screenplay for "On the Waterfront" and penned the definitive portrait of a Hollywood hustler in his novel "What Makes Sammy Run?" died Wednesday. He was 95.
His wife Betsy told the Associated Press that he died of natural causes at his home in Westhampton Beach, N.Y. He was taken to a nearby medical center, where efforts to revive him were unsuccessful.
Alternately scorned and lionized by Hollywood during the course of his career, Schulberg, the son of a powerful studio executive, was a writer of varied forms, including magazine articles, novels and screenplays. He adapted his short story "Your Arkansas Traveler," about the rise and fall of a popular entertainer, for the screen as "A Face in the Crowd," which Elia Kazan directed in 1957.
Called before the House Un-American Activities Committee investigating allegations of Communism in the motion picture industry, Schulberg was vilified for appearing as a friendly witness, naming Hollywood colleagues as Communists, a political philosophy he admitted to having flirted with during the 1930s. He contended that he named only names that were already known to the red-baiting committee.
Born Seymour Wilson Schulberg on March 27, 1914 in Harlem, he was the son of movie producer Benjamin P. Schulberg. While a youngster, his family moved to the Hancock Park area of Los Angeles. The elder Schulberg partnered with Louis B. Mayer in an independent production company. But when B.P. Schulberg and Mayer dissolved their partnership, Schulberg's father went on to become production head of Paramount Studios.
While a teen, Schulberg wrote press releases for Paramount, cranking out outlandish stories for the fan magazines. His specialty was concocting colorful and endearing stories about what stars did for a living before they made it big.
He attended Dartmouth College with the intention of becoming an archeologist, but instead he developed his writing talents, turning out magazine articles. The college's Winter Carnival would later become the setting for his novel "The Disenchanted," in which he based a character on his friend F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Upon his college graduation, Schulberg returned to Los Angeles, where he found work as a writer on a number of studio assignments, contributing uncredited work to such movies as "Nothing Sacred" (1937) and "A Star Is Born" (1937).
His anthropologist's bent for analyzing cultures stayed with him. While contributing to screenplays, he also wrote offbeat stories, ridiculing contemporary fads.
Schulberg developed an especially keen eye for the Hollywood's tribal rituals, which he dissected in 1941's "Sammy," an acidic look at the shameless self-promotion and treachery of the movie industry. Although he insisted the titular character, Sammy Glick, a back-stabber who claws his to the top, was a composite character, he did acknowledge that writer/producer Jerry Wald provided one of his models.
The book angered producer Samuel Goldwyn, who felt that Schulberg was "doublecrossing the Jews" and offered Schulberg money not to publish it, according to a biography of Goldwyn by Arthur Marx. In a 1990 reissue of the book, Schulberg argued that both Sammy and many of his victims were Jewish, "suggesting the wide range of personalities and attitudes under the one ethnic umbrella."
Just 27, Schulberg found himself unemployable in Hollywood. Although it was a best-seller, with the New York Times Book Review declaring that Sammy was a true American anti-hero, the book led to Schulberg's ostracism. "The telephone is a mighty instrument in Hollywood, a maker and breaker, and when the bell stops ringing you live in fear, waiting for the arrival of the guards to lead you to the last chamber," Schulberg later said.
Years later, to his amusement and disdain, the slimy Sammy would become something of a prototype for "successful behavior" for up-and-coming agent/producers, who read it during the 1980s and '90s not as a satire but as a how-to guide on getting ahead.
The book has never been made into a film -- although at one point Ben Stiller was interested in the material. But it has seen two TV adaptations: A live version on "The Philco Television Playhouse" starring Jose Ferrer in 1949 and a two-part NBC movie starring Larry Blyden in 1959. It also became a Broadway musical starring Steve Lawrence in 1964.
Post-Hollywood, Schulberg moved to Bucks County, Pa. Researching union corruption on the New Jersey docks, he wrote "Waterfront" as a novel, which was eventually picked up by independent producer Sam Spiegel, who oversaw Kazan's Oscar-winning 1954 film starring Marlon Brando, Rod Steiger and Eva Marie Saint.
Even after the success of "Waterfront," Schulberg concentrated on novels and magazine writing. He wrote the boxing tale "The Harder They Fall" (1956) and "Wind Across the Everglades" (1958). Though he adapted "Face" for the screen, he generally steered clear of further screenwriting, although he did take on an occasional TV project like 1982's "A Question of Honor" and 1987's "Tales From the Hollywood Hills: A Table at Ciro's" (1987) for PBS' "Great Performances," where he looked back once again at his days in Hollywood.
After the 1965 Watts riots, Schulberg co-founded the Watts Writers Workshop and edited a compilation of stories, "From the Ashes: Voices of Watts," that came out in 1967. He was a supporter of Robert Kennedy's 1968 presidential campaign and was among the last to speak with the Democratic candidate before he was assassinated in Los Angeles.
In 1978, he married his fourth wife, Betsy Ann Langman, with whom he had two of his five children. He is survived by his wife and four of his children.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.