Seymour Wilson “Budd” Schulberg — the writer who chronicled Hollywood excess in the novel What Makes Sammy Run, won an Oscar for his On the Waterfront screenplay, and stirred controversy with his testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee — died Aug. 5 in Westhampton Beach, N.Y., at age 95, according to the New York Times.
The redoubtable Schulberg forged a heralded career as an author and screenwriter while unshakably hewing to his own set of principles. Born in 1914 as the son of Paramount Pictures head B.P. Schulberg and legendary agent Sam Jaffe’s sister Adele, Schulberg bucked his status as a self-described “Hollywood Prince,” convincing his limo driver to drop him a few blocks from school due to “a tremendous sense of guilt about my family’s advantages.”
After collaborating with F. Scott Fitzgerald on the forgettable 1939 college drama Winter Carnival (the experience informed his 1950 novel The Disenchanted), Schulberg brazenly published his best-selling first novel, What Makes Sammy Run, an eviscerating portrait of the motion picture industry. Schulberg explained his impudence this way: “I looked at the studio tycoons with an affection considerably this side of love.” After Sammy, the feeling was mutual. Suddenly cast outside the studio walls, Schulberg served in the Navy during WWII, then wrote The Harder They Fall (1947), a look at the sleazier side of the boxing world. “I had left Hollywood, I thought for good,” he said.
But in 1954, he replaced Arthur Miller as the screenwriter for On the Waterfront, which would star a young Marlon Brando as a longshoreman buffeted by poverty and corruption. Schulberg and director Elia Kazan fought stalwart studio resistance to get the film made, which they managed to do with independent financing. Waterfront went on to win eight Oscars (Schulberg won for Best Screenplay) and is considered a classic. “It really was the longest of long shots,” he said.
Schulberg also played a prominent and characteristically controversial role during the ’50s red scare. As a young screenwriter in the ’30s, he had joined a Marxist study group whose stated anti-Nazi intent attracted him, but soon soured on the Communist Party. In 1951, though, Schulberg volunteered to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee — and named names. Though the decision cost him many friends, particularly those who decried the Hollywood blacklist, he never apologized. “I don’t feel what some people expect me to feel,” he once said. “I testified because I felt guilty for having contributed unwittingly to intellectual and artistic as well as racial oppression.” In a follow-the-leader world, Schulberg always went his own way. —Kirven Blount
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