Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Budd Schulberg, Class of 1936

A page of typed text."I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am…" proclaims Marlon Brando as Terry Malloy, the protagonist of Budd Schulberg's Academy Award winning screenplay On the Waterfront. However, director Elia Kazan originally was "not insane about Brando." In a letter to Schulberg he states that, "in my opinion he is quite wrong." A sentiment he repeated to Brando in an undated letter.

Schulberg, a boxing aficionado, was born into a famous Hollywood family in 1914. "I am known, alternately as the son of B. P. Schulberg, the producer, the brother of Sonya Schulberg, the young novelist and the son of Mrs. Ad Schulberg, the European agent," he once said early on in his career. However, by the time he died in 2009 at the age of 95, he had left his own mark on the literary and show business world.

Budd Schulberg published his first novel in 1941, What Makes Sammy Run?, against the advice of his father. B. P. Schulberg worried that his son’s scathing fictionalized account of a ruthless social climber in Hollywood hit too close to home. The book was a success, but after its publication Schulberg was promptly fired by Sam Goldwyn.
A dust jacket cover for "What Makes Sammy Run?"
During WWII Schulberg served with the Office of Strategic Services and was attached to John Ford’s film unit. The unit was in charge of collecting and recording film for a documentary about Nazi atrocities for the Nuremberg trials. Needing to identify prominent Nazis in the films, Schulberg was assigned to pick up Hitler's documentary filmmaker Leni Reifenstahl.
A photograph of a group of figures standing in front of a banner for a TV and Theatre workshop.
Schulberg at the Watts Writer's Workshop
After the war Schulberg returned to Hollywood where he continued to be a diverse author of short stories, articles, fiction and nonfiction books, as well as a writer of teleplays and screenplays. In 1965 he co-founded the Watts Writer's Workshop, in response to the devastation he had seen left behind after the infamous riots in Los Angeles. With branches from Long Beach to San Francisco, the workshops provided a springboard for the Frederick Douglas Creative Arts Center in New York City, which is still active today.

To learn more about Budd Schulberg's life, career and his writing process ask for MS-978.  A finding aid for the collection is available.

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