Budd Schulberg, the self-described "Hollywood prince" who became the industry's keenest chronicler with the caustic 1941 novel What Makes Sammy Run?, the screenwriter who worked with both F. Scott Fitzgerald (on Winter Carnival) and with Spike Lee (on a Joe Louis script, still unproduced), the Oscar-winning writer of the two seminal films of the 1950s, On the Waterfront and A Face in the Crowd, the conscience-pricked citizen who, after he witnessed his adoptive city in flames, founded the Watts Writers Workshop in 1965, has passed. He was 95.
One of the most colorful and complicated figures of the 20th century, Schulberg was the son of Paramount Pictures mogul B.P. Schulberg and a Hollywood brat who was chauffeured in a custom-made limo to the newstand where he hawked magazines. The childhood stutterer who trained pigeons (a hobby he gave to Marlon Brando's Terry Malloy in Waterfront) developed a confident and formidable voice as a screenwriter, sportswriter and novelist. The Harder They Fall, his 1947 expose of prize-fighting, became a best-seller and popular 1957 Humphrey Bogart film, the actor's last. The Disenchanted, Schulberg's novel dramatizing his sodden collaboration with Fitzgerald, was a 1950 publishing hit. And to this day, his short story "A Dinner at Ciro's" remains the most perceptive group portrait of the movie industry. In 1951, Schulberg , the so-called "socialite Socialist" who had been a member of the Communist party in the 1930s, named names to the House Un-American Activities Committee, a move that brought him jeers from the Left and cheers from the Right.
Were these the only elements of his biography, Schulberg would be universally known. But he moreover had the uncanny instinct -- like an intellectual Forrest Gump -- of being an eyewitness to and major player in history. As James Fisher's lovely post in the Irish Times notes, "He was standing next to his friend Bobby Kennedy in a passageway at LA’s Ambassador Hotel when RFK was murdered in June 1968. He was seated ringside when his friend Muhammad Ali reclaimed his heavyweight title from George Foreman in Zaire in October 1974. That was nearly three decades after Budd not only arrested Leni Riefenstahl (Hitler’s favorite filmmaker) while working for his friend the legendary director John Ford in the wartime OSS; he wrested from her an implicit admission she knew about the Nazi death camps, a truth she subsequently denied for decades."
As a tribute to Schulberg, I personally intend to watch A Face in the Crowd when I get home tonight. You? Favorite Schulberg line of dialogue? Moment? This Budd's for you.