Budd Schulberg, 'On The Waterfront' Writer


Notable Deaths Elsewhere

August 06, 2009|By The Washington Post

Budd Schulberg, an Academy Award-winning screenwriter who wrote about corrosive ambition and power in "On the Waterfront" and "A Face in the Crowd" and in best-selling books such as "What Makes Sammy Run?," died Aug. 5 at his home in Westhampton, N.Y. He was 95.

Mr. Schulberg was the son of a Hollywood producer whose fortunes rose and fell dramatically. As a result, he once said he was intrigued by "how suddenly [people] go up, and how quickly they go down."

He used his insider knowledge of Hollywood politics to write his first novel, "What Makes Sammy Run?" in 1941. A grotesque account of vice being rewarded, the book was widely praised (though not in Hollywood) and made him a star author at 27.

Vivid, crackling dialogue was his hallmark in about 10 other books and a handful of riveting films. He wrote the memorable speech that included the line "I coulda been a contender," spoken by actor Marlon Brando in "On the Waterfront" (1954).

Besides Mr. Schulberg's Oscar for best story and screenplay, the film won for best picture, best director (Elia Kazan), best actor (Mr. Brando) and best supporting actress (Eva Marie Saint).

Schulberg's next project, "A Face in the Crowd" (1957), skewered the television industry and became a lasting favorite of critics and moviemakers. The film, again directed by Kazan, featured Andy Griffith in what many regard as his best role. Griffith played "Lonesome" Rhodes, a cracker-barrel prophet who self-destructs after he lands a national television show.

Mr. Schulberg's fascination with ambition found a consistent theme in boxing in his films, books and short stories. He considered the fight game the rawest depiction of human struggle.

Legendary boxer Gene Tunney rated Schulberg's 1947 novel "The Harder They Fall" among the best fictional accounts of boxing. A film version followed in 1956, with Humphrey Bogart as a sports reporter turned boxing promoter who sells out his good name for big money.

He was also a popular boxing authority, his work having appeared in the first issue of Sports Illustrated magazine. He supported heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali's right to defend his title after being stripped of it when Ali would not fight in the Vietnam War.

Mr. Schulberg grew up in Los Angeles, where his father, Benjamin "B.P." Schulberg, was head of production at Paramount studios. His mother was the former Adeline Jaffe, a powerful literary agent.

He was a 1936 graduate of Dartmouth College and edited the student newspaper. He returned to Hollywood after school and worked as a junior writer.

He worked with Ring Lardner Jr. polishing up "A Star is Born" (1937) and then with F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of "The Great Gatsby," on the college picture "Winter Carnival" (1939).

He was stunned meeting Mr. Fitzgerald, whose career had spiraled downward from drink, debt and other personal problems.

The two authors were ordered to Dartmouth to gather local flavor for "Winter Carnival." Mr. Fitzgerald got drunk, embarrassed the studio and was fired. Mr. Schulberg later finished the project with two other writers.

He used the episode for the core of "The Disenchanted" (1950), a best-selling novel credited with helping revive serious study of Mr. Fitzgerald's career.

- The Washington Post

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