“When I was a little boy, I lived with my parents in what was then a small suburb of Los Angeles called Hollywood. My father was general manager in charge of production for Firmament-Famous Artists-Lewin. It was a mouthful, but I used to have to remember the whole thing for the your-father-my-father arguments I was always having with a kid down the block whose old man was only an associate producer at Warner Brothers.”
– From Some Faces in the Crowd
Budd Schulberg, who passed away last year at the age of 95, was one of the first true Hollywood insiders, a great novelist who wrote the screenplay to On the Waterfront, and a key figure in the blacklisting of Hollywood writers during the McCarthy era.
His father, B.P. Schulberg, a founding mogul of Hollywood, relocated his family from New York to Los Angeles when Budd was just a boy to share a film studio with the infamous Louis B. Mayer (who would later become his rival). B. P. Schulberg was responsible for evolving the art of the screenplay (known as ‘photoplays’ at the time), as well as launching the careers of some of Hollywood’s most famous stars, like Clara Bow and Gary Cooper.
Roaming the studio lots with the sons of other studio heads, Budd had a privileged chilhood, pelting the stars with figs and collecting autographs; all the while, the movie business growing up around him. At his family home in Malibu, his parents nurtured in him a love of literature; his father, a once aspiring writer would read classics to the family every Sunday, while his mother would pay him 25 cents for every book he read.
During his summer breaks he worked with the Paramount publicity department, writing copy for movie magazines, interviewing everyone from Gary Cooper, to the great Russian director Sergei Eisenstein (who was planning, unbelievably, to make a Western for Paramount).
But Budd Schulberg’s dream was to escape Hollywood and become a more traditional type of writer. He had seen how the wordsmiths working for his father operated – mismatched collaborators in cramped rooms, drinking and gambling, under tremendous pressure from the studio chiefs.
After graduating from Dartmouth College, he initially worked for the studios; but by age 26 he had completed his first novel What Makes Sammy Run?, the story of the unscrupulous Sammy Glick who claws his way to the top of the Hollywood food chain at the expense of his friends and colleagues.
Budd’s father, thinking of the future problems the book could cause his son, advised him not to publish it: Schulberg’s unique Hollywood childhood had given him an unprecedented insight into the world of silver shadows and its secrets, and there were those in the business that would not be happy to have their dirty laundry aired.
But having witnessed his father’s ill-treatment at Paramount – demoted, despite being one of their top producers, Budd was keen to expose the hypocrisy of a system that promoted family values in its films, yet was saturated with backbiting, vice and infidelity.
The book launched his writing career, but as his father had predicted, it alienated him from the community he had grown up in.
He would later experience a second round of alienation during the McCarthy-HUAC investigation into the communist influence in Hollywood. Named as a former member of the party, Budd in turn named others, and it was perceived as a severe betrayal by those around him.
However, Budd Schulberg always had a strong social conscience, identifying with the underdog in society. In the aftermath of the Watts Riots of 1965, he set up a writers workshop for the mostly African-American community of Watts. It attracted the support of Robert Kennedy, and Budd later acknowledged that this was the thing he was most proud of in his life.
IMDB Entry for Budd Schulberg: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0775977/