Budd Schulberg, Screenwriter, Novelist and Playwright, Dies

Obituaries   Budd Schulberg, Screenwriter, Novelist and Playwright, Dies
Budd Schulberg, who chronicled the corrupting mores of modern American life in works such as the novels "What Makes Sammy Run?" and "The Harder They Fall," and the movies "On the Waterfront" and "A Face in the Crowd," died on Aug. 5. He was 95 and lived in the Brookside section of Westhampton Beach, NY.
Budd Schulberg
Budd Schulberg

A tireless writer, the populist-minded Mr. Schulberg worked in nearly every field that required words. His forays into theatre were few, but of significant impact. In 1958, he and Harvey Breit adapted his novel "The Disenchanted" into a stage play starring Jason Robards, Jr., as Manley Halliday, a disintegrating, alcoholic novelist based on F. Scott Fitzgerald. The novel had drawn from Mr. Schulberg's disastrous experience in 1938 collaborating on a screenplay with Fitzgerald, who was then at his drunken, irresponsible nadir. The two men went to New Hampshire to research the film, called "Winter Carnival," but the trip backfired when Fitzgerald went off on a bender, leaving Mr. Schulberg to pick up the pieces.

The stage version of "The Disenchanted" was not a great success, running only 189 performances, but it was nominated for a Tony Award and won Robards his only Tony Award.

Mr. Schulberg's most famous novel, 1941's "What Makes Sammy Run?," a early and seminal examination of the raw ambitions fostered by Hollywood, was adapted into a Broadway musical in 1964. Again Mr. Schulberg collaborated with another writer, this time his brother Stuart Schulberg. Ervin Drake composed the score and Abe Burrows directed. Their task was not an easy one. The central figure of the book is Sammy Glick, an up-from-the-slums go-getter who is as morally reprehensible as he is remorselessly ambitious. But the considerable charm of Steve Lawrence, then at the peak of his popularity, went a long way with audiences. Sammy ran for 540 performances, though it closed among recriminations and red ink. Lawrence received a Tony nomination for his performance. (The property had been revised in recent years, and producers hoped it would have a wider life.)

Mr. Schulberg's third and last Broadway credit was his least successful, though drawn from his most famous screenplay, "On the Waterfront." The stage adaptation, written with Stan Silverman, lasted a mere mere performances in 1995, falling before savage reviews, despite a cast that included James Gandolfini, David Morse, Penelope Ann Miller, Kevin Conway and Ron Eldard. The iconic 1954 film, starring Marlon Brando, told the story of a washed-up boxer, Terry Malloy, who tries to redeem his grim, dead-end life by challenging the criminal mob that controls life at the waterfront where he and everyone he knows works. Many consider the movie Mr. Schulberg and director Elia Kazan's answer to critics who had condemned them for "naming names" before the Communist-hunting House Un-American Activities Committee. Mr. Schulberg won an Oscar for his screenplay.

The writer never gave up on the script. In 2008, a new adaptation was seen at the Edinburgh Theatre Festival. Kazan and Mr. Schulberg worked together again on the film "A Face in the Crowd," an early examination of the corrosive power of television, both on the viewer and the performers it turns into celebrities. His novel "The Harder They Fall," a gritty look at the boxing world, was turned into a 1956 film starring Humphrey Bogart and Rod Steiger.

Budd Wilson Schulberg was born March 27, 1914, into privilege. He was the son of B.P. Schulberg, who ran Paramount Pictures in the 1930s. He wrote "What Makes Sammy Run?" in part as a response to the behavior he saw around him as he grew up. Hollywood moguls, who controlled the public image of the movie industry very tightly, were angered and shocked by the depiction of their world as amoral and cruel. Louis B. Mayer declared he should be deported. Mr. Schulberg could not get work in films for many years thereafter.

For many years, the name Sammy Glick was code for all that is slimy and detestable in showbiz's ladder-climbing culture. Hollywood's ways have changed little during that time, but the view of Glick has. "Young people today seem to admire Sammy," Mr. Schulberg said. "I do find it rather disconcerting. Once I was speaking at a college, and a young man came up afterwards and said, 'I just want to shake your hand. I'm a senior, and I've been worrying about how I'll make it in the real world. And now that I've read your book, I'm inspired.'"

Married four times, he is survived by a daughter, Victoria Kingsland, from his first marriage; a son, Stephen, from his second marriage; a son and daughter, Benjamin and Jessica, from his fourth marriage; and two grandchildren.

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