Thursday, August 6, 2009

Budd Schulberg


He was born into what he described as "Hollywood Royalty" (his father headed Paramount, his mother was a member of the Jaffe family of agents, producers, and actors), but that didn't help Schulberg get along with his minions. He raised the ire of Hollywood several times over a long career, beginning with his first published novel, What Makes Sammy Run?. It was the tale of an unscrupulous young firebrand who back-stabbed his way into becoming a film producer, and hit such an uncomfortable chord in Hollywood that all attempts to film the story have failed. Ben Stiller reportedly has a new screenplay adaptation ready to go, but even he is having trouble financing the story, originally written back in 1941 but still too close to home for Hollywood types today. There were two television adaptations broadcast in TV's early days, including one starring Jose Ferrer in the 40s, and another more famous version (right) starring John Forsythe, Barbara Rush, Dina Merrill, and Larry Blyden in the late 50s (this one is out on DVD).

Schulberg provided the book to a musical version of the story in the mid-60s, which ran about a year on Broadway and starred Steve Lawrence (above).

More recently, Schulberg has complained that the once-incendiary novel became a "handbook for yuppies."

Budd pissed off Hollywood even further when he appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee, and named names. He was a frequent collaborator with that other squealer, Elia Kazan, on several high profile films, including On the Waterfront, for which he won an Oscar, and A Face in the Crowd. As a young man, he collaborated with F. Scott Fitzgerald, and wrote a play about the experience, The Disenchanted, for which Jason Robards won a Tony.

Schulberg also wrote short stories and non-fiction, and was the first Boxing Editor for Sports Illustrated. His memoir reflects the exalted position he believed he held in the Hollywood establishment; it is called Moving Pictures: Memories of a Hollywood Prince.

Whatever one may think of his decision to implicate others in his attempt to escape the Commie witch hunts of the early 50s, he must be congratulated for providing one of Hollywood's all-time greatest lines of dialogue:

"I coulda been a contender."
Budd Schulberg died this week at the age of 95.

No comments: