Thanks, Budd, for everything, even for Sammy Glick
By Jerry Tallmer
Kate Mostel scratched out one after another of the close friends in her address book. Theyre dropping like flies, the Irish in her said. And that was more than 25 years ago. Zero she didnt have to scratch out. He was already gone. And she would go not too long later.
Well, Kate, just this past couple of weeks weve lost Walter Cronkite, whom I knew only through the tube; Frank McCourt, whom I knew and loved in print and in the flesh; Sidney Zion, whom I think I could call my closest friend for 45 years; and now, just before the weekend, Budd Schulberg, age 95, whom Ive known and hero-worshipped since I was in my teens, and whose What Makes Sammy Run had a certain one-to-one shaping force on my life that no other book could ever parallel.
Budd Schulberg was at Dartmouth College, in the hills of New Hampshire, seven years before me; in fact, he also preceded me by seven years as editor in chief of The Dartmouth, a five-days-a-week broadsheet that was the oldest college newspaper in this country. There are people who would also have called it the best.
In my time the central crisis with which we had to deal was Hitler, Fascism, Isolationism and World War II. In Budds time it was Depression, Breadlines, Strikes, Big Business vs. Labor, the New Deal.
Budd set a precedent for us in displaying editorial guts. He took himself and The Dartmouth into Vermont to report, in depth, on the bitter granite quarry strikes. Among the quarry owners there were a number of fat cat Dartmouth alumni who had in years past contributed heavily to the college.
Lets put it this way: It cost the college a million dollars, but it was worth it to have a Budd Schulberg at Dartmouth, said Ernest Martin Hopkins, the grand old college president of Budds day and my own and this, in either case, in an era when there were damned few Jews, big-city Jews, in the student body altogether, much less running the school newspaper.
Which brings us to What Makes Sammy Run, the Hollywood novel on which Budd, the son of Paramounts B.P. Schulberg, was at work, across the river in Thetford, Vermont, in my junior year of 1940-41. I would go across the river and hang out at Budds house because I was in love with his wife, Jigee, but everyone in and out of Hollywood was also in love with Jigee (Virginia Ray) Schulberg, so that was all right.
Budd did not show me or anyone I knew any part of the work in progress, and that was all right, too. All the greater bite and impact when, a year or two later, What Makes Sammy Run did come out, with its quietly acid-etched portrait of a copy boy who rises to Hollywood tycoon over the disemboweled corpses of those who befriended him, worked with him, loved him.
The unspoken point about Sammy Glick was, and is to this day, that he was not only a Jew but also a certain kind of Jew, a hustler who could almost have sprung from the cartoons in Julius Streichers Nazi newspaper avaricious, ruthless, tireless, principle-less, the ironic opposite of self-effacing, sensitive, stammer-prone Budd himself.
The day I finished reading What Makes Sammy Run was the day I swore never to become a Sammy Glick myself so thank you, Budd, for keeping me from becoming a Hollywood mogul with bucks up the bazoo, or any other kind of tycoon, alas.
Speaking of which: In 1952 or 53 the Hollywood mogul Sam Spiegel was assembling the elements of what was to become a movie called On the Waterfront, script by Budd, direction by Kazan, etc. etc.
(Sidebar: When Sam Spiegel was thinking of changing his billing to S.P. Eagle, Darryl Zanuck said: If Sam Spiegel can do that, Ill become Z.A. Nuck.)
At Dartmouth College, in Budds day and my own, there had been an extraordinary professor of English named Sidney Cox. Now, in the early 50s, some few years after Coxs death, Budd thought there should be some sort of memorial to him. He assembled a small group himself, myself, a half-dozen others to go up to Hanover of a spring weekend to work out the details of such a memorial. Budd, as shooting neared on On the Waterfront, flew up to Hanover by way of a small airport in Lebanon, New Hampshire.
But Budd, shrieked Sam Spiegel when Budd told him he was taking the weekend off, what about the picture?
Dont worry, Sam, Budd said, Ill have the script with me, and Ill fly back Monday morning.
But Budd, Sam Spiegel shrieked, what if the plane crashes?
All of which reminds me of an earlier movie 15 or so years earlier. An epic called Winter Carnival, produced by prestigious Dartmouth alumnus Walter Wanger, to be partially shot in Hanover during the real winter carnival of 1938, my freshman year.
For one whole week or more, The Dartmouth was full of features about the movie, its stars (Ann Sheridan, Richard Carlson), its settings, its crews, its creators and other endless gobbledygook.
Seven years later upon returning to the campus and The Dartmouth after World War II I went through the bound-volume stories of that weekend, several of which mentioned Budd Schulberg among the screenwriters. And one other sentence, just one: Also in the party is the writer F. Scott Fitzgerald.
We did not know who he was. In 1938 we at Dartmouth, we kids, we about-to-be stellar members of the classes of Sidney Cox, did not know who Scott Fitzgerald was. He had already been forgotten.
But Budd Schulberg knew. He was in fact taking care as best he could that weekend of that unknown Hollywood writer who was also in the party. And a dozen years later, in 1950, Budd put him into another novel, The Disenchanted, which subsequently became a Broadway prizewinner starring Jason Robards, Jr.
There are many other Budds, of course, whom I did not know, do not know. The Budd who was a prizefight nut I never knew sensitive, quiet, deep-think, tongue-tied Budd Schulberg, the heavyweight champion of ringsiders well, tied with Norman Mailer and Pete Hamill, among others.
The Budd Schulberg who named names that Budd I never knew, and never talked with him about it, either. Figured it was his business and I had seen On the Waterfront anyway, with its apologia for naming names, and worshipped it for other, more dazzling, less arguable reasons, and still do.
I was even one of the few theatergoers who thought the 1995 Broadway musical adaptation of On the Waterfront, though a crazy idea, wasnt actually all that bad.
The very last time I ever saw Budd, at the Players Club a few months ago a very beautiful old man under a crown of thick, glossy white-on-white hair he told me, with pride, in a thin, halting whisper, that that same musical adaptation of On the Waterfront was at that very moment a smash hit in London.
I asked if he would like to be interviewed by me about his whole life and times, looking back from age 95, and he nodded yes. Then this thing happened, and that thing happened, to him as well as to me, and I never got around to it. So this will have to do, Budd, and thanks for everything, starting with that anti-role model, Sammy Glick. I owe you one.