Oscar Artists: Schulberg, Budd–Oscar-Winning Writer (On the Waterfront) and Friendly Witness Dies at 95

Budd Schulberg, who wrote the Hollywood novels “What Makes Sammy Run?” and “The Disenchanted” and who won a 1954 Oscar for his original screenplay for Kazan’s “On the Waterfront,” died of natural causes Wednesday, August 5, at his home in Westhampton Beach, Long Island. He was 95.

The Sammy Glick character from “What Makes Sammy Run” is the paradigm of power-driven, amoral studio executives.   Although “What Makes Sammy Run” was never made into a film, it became a Broadway musical, and Schulberg himself directed a 1959 TV adaptation.

His novel “The Disenchanted,” another bitter tale of Hollywood, also cast a long shadow over the public’s perception of the fate of such literary figures as F. Scott Fitzgerald and William Faulkner and the time they spent in Los Angeles as screenwriters.

Neither work endeared him to the film industry, into which he was born and raised.  His father B.P. Schulberg had been head of production at Paramount Pictures in the 1930s, and his mother Adeline was an agent. He notoriously named names to the House Un-American Activities Committee in Congress (as did “On the Waterfront” director Elia Kazan). “On the Waterfront” was seen as an apologia for “ratting.”  The film’s protagonist Terry Malloy (played by Marlon Brando in an Oscar-winning turr) exposes corruption among longshoremen.

Born in New York City, Schulberg was educated at Dartmouth. But even before that he was a publicist at Paramount, starting at age 17, and was a screenwriter at age 19.   He was uncredited but contributed dialogue to the 1937 version of “A Star is Born.”  He was credited on 1938’s “Little Orphan Annie.” A year later he was co-credited by RKO on “Winter Carnival” (with Lester Cole) based on the event at his college. He was  to collaborate with Fitzgerald, and the two traveled to Dartmouth together, but it was not a happy experience as Fitzgerald was at the end of his life due to alcoholism.

Schulberg moved east and, in 1941, “What Makes Sammy Run,” his first novel, became a controversial work.  Schulberg’s fathher asked him to shelve the book and his fellow travelers in the Communist Party requested he water down his criticisms of their progressive ideas, but he refused to listened.  That same year, he received a story credit on “Weekend for Three” (written by Dorothy Parker and Alan Campbell).

During WWII, Schulberg worked closely with John Ford’s documentary film unit.   Shortly after the publication of “The Disenchanted,” Schulberg testified before HUAC. But “On the Waterfront,” which was thought to be a response to Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” (which condemned “witchhunts”) won him an Oscar.  In 1956, his novel “The Harder They Fall” was adapted into a film starring Humphrey Bogart.

His second significant screen contribution was  in “A Face in the Crowd,” also directed by Kazan, which was a flop.  It was the story of Lonesome Rhodes, a down and out folk singer who becomes a cultural hero via television. Schulberg again scored with a prescient look at the far-reaching influence of TV on public consciousness.

After “Wind Across the Everglades” in 1958, Schulberg’s only bigscreen credit was the 1985 documentary “Joe Louis: For All Times,” which he also produced.

A major boxing fan, Schulberg often wrote journalistic accounts of his experiences at ringside and was inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame in 2002.

Schulberg won an Emmy Award for “The Angry Voice of Watts, a 1966 special, and also did “A Question of Honor.” He had started the Watts Writers Workshop following the 1965 riots, an endeavor that attracted the attention of Robert Kennedy when he ran for president in 1968. Schulberg recalled in later interviews his experience being among those in the pantry of the Ambassador Hotel when Kennedy was shot following the California primary, and how he briefly grabbed hold of Sirhan Sirhan with the gun in his grasp.

In the early 1990s Schulberg worked on a sequel to “Waterfront” entitled “Back to the Waterfront,” and  also reworked “A Face in the Crowd” for Whoopi Goldberg.

Schulberg continued to write in his later years, in pieces for Vanity Fair and Variety’s V Life, and was at work on a number of book projects at the time of his death, including a followup to his memoirs, a novel version of “On the Waterfront.”