Marlon Brando in ON THE WATERFRONT.
Screenwriter Budd Schulberg, 90, reminisces on making Waterfront
New 35mm restoration of On The Waterfront playing at Film Forum
By Jerry Tallmer
Fifty years later, and eight months after his 90th birthday, Budd Schulberg looks back on a walk through Hoboken that he took with Marlon Brando on the Sunday before the Monday that shooting started on On the Waterfront.
Brando said to Schulberg: Lets walk through the whole town. He put on the clothes he would wear as Terry Malloy, and they set out.
We went into a bar and had a beer, says the man who wrote the screenplay of that movie, and nobody knew who this was. Halfway through the walk, a Catholic school let out, teenagers, and I thought: Now theyll know. Nothing. They went right past him.
And that is how the first and greatest piece of acting in American cinema was foreordained; had to be.
This Friday, Nov. 5, 2004, Elia Kazan and Budd Schulbergs 1954 On the Waterfront opens for an anniversary week at Film Forum, in the way it should be seen, on the big screen, with everything in Boris Kaufmans photography painstakingly restored from the original negative along with Leonard Bernsteins score.
Schulberg will be at the Houston Street theater to say a few things, answer a few questions, opening night.
Meanwhile, asked about how On the Waterfront actually was born, one of its eight Oscar-winners says for these pages:
Someone told me about some articles that were coming out by Malcolm Johnson in the old New York Sun [a Pulitzer Prize-winning series on the strong-arm treatment of New York/New Jersey longshoremen by their own thug-controlled union]. I read every article, saved them all, every day.
I was on my farm at New Hope, Pennsylvania. One day a young man named Joe Curtis came to see me. He was a nephew of Harry Cohn [the tiger at the head of Columbia Pictures], and he had with him Robert Siodmak, the director who had made The Killers, a very good picture, from the Hemingway story. They asked if I would write a film on the subject covered in those Malcolm Johnson articles.
I had just finished The Disenchanted [Schulbergs novel about Scott Fitzgerald], and my father, B.P. [Hollywood producer B.P. Schulberg], who had fallen on hard times and was living in my guest house, would be one of the producers, so that appealed to me, even though there was almost no money in it.
I went to see Malcolm Johnson, who was very nice, and he pointed me to Father John Corridan of the St. Francis Xavier Labor School on West 16th Street in Chelsea. I went down and had lunch with Corredan at Billy the Oystermans, and he told me how men were getting killed, right there on the waterfront, and how nobody would talk about it. Youre a writer, maybe you could do something to let people know, he said.
When you see Karl Malden in the film as Father Barry, giving a fiery sermon in a ships cargo hold on how the murder of Kayo Dugan is a crucifixion, thats Father John Corridan.
I swear, says Budd Schulberg, Karl Malden looks like him, walks like him, talks like him, smokes like him. Corridan was a tall man, very tall and strong. Vigorous. Looked like a longshoreman. Talked like a longshoreman. Swore like a longshoreman. Worse than that.
He called Big Bill McCormack, the Mr. Big of the whole waterfront, a son of a bitch. McCormack was a power behind the mayor of New York, Impelliteri. Whenever McCormack called City Hall, Impellitery would stop whatever he was doing and take the call.
Schulberg went to meetings in the basement of Father John Corridans church. Meetings exactly like the one in the movie, where the men plead D and D deaf and dumb in fear of their lives and their families lives.
I was there so much, Walter Winchell in one column said I was taking instruction [on becoming a Catholic]. The Jewish organizations got on my case.
Schulberg wrote a script, direct from what hed seen and heard. Columbias Harry Cohn turned it down. Three times. Called it communistic. Harry Cohn, be it said, was legendary in more than one way. He was also a partial prototype of Sammy Glick, the protagonist of What Makes Sammy Run whod risen from copy boy to Hollywood czar over the professional corpses of his friends, mentors, and women. Budds first novel, completed at the age of 26, had made the deepest of imprints on a whole generation, and certainly on me.
Well, Joe Curtis and Robert Siodmak dropped out of the waterfront film. And one fine day, somebody else came to see Budd at New Hope. A fellow hed never met. Fellow named Kazan.
He said hed love to work with Schulberg; that he wanted to make a movie taking place in the eastern part of the United States and on a socially conscious theme. Maybe something on the Trenton 6, Kazan suggested a case not dissimilar from that of the Scottsboro boys in the 1930s. I went to Trenton and checked it out, but then I told him about my waterfront idea.
Kazan got excited. Budd went back to work on the script. And everybody in Hollywood turned it down. Every studio. Every studio chief. Every single one. Even Darryl F. Zanuck, for whom Kazan had made the controversial award-winning Gentlemans Agreement and Pinky. Zanuck told Kazan and Schulberg that their proposed waterfront film was exactly what America doesnt want to see. All youve got is a lot of sweaty longshoremen.
Kazan and Schulberg, who had paid their own way out to California and were running out of money, were also running out of hope. They were depressed, desperate. And at that moment the long arm of coincidence opened a door the door to a room across the hall from theirs at the Beverly Hills Hotel. A room occupied by freebooting independent movie producer Sam Spiegel (who in his later, loftier moments, billed himself as S. P. Eagle). Spiegel just then had turned out a movie called Melba that was going nowhere and never did.
Come in, boys, Spiegel said. Why are you so depressed. They told him why. Well, Im giving a big party tonight for all the stars, said Sam Spiegel. Come to the party, and tomorrow morning you can tell me what your pictures all about. Budd said: But Im going back to New York in the morning. Spiegel said: Come early, before you go.
Budd had had a vivid historic memory of Sam Spiegel even then.
My mother at one point, soon after I got out of college, was in London, putting on airs, having a very successful career as an agent. Shed rented a big house, and was putting on some huge fancy affair when, in the midst of it, the butler came in and said: Madam, Brixton Prison is on the telephone. It was Sam Spiegel, broke, in debt, caught in some funny business, calling to beg for money.
Back to the Beverly Hills hotel. At 7:30 in the morning, Budd Schulberg pushed open the unlocked door of Sam Spiegels hotel room and tiptoed in. The place was a wreck. Cigarette butts, glasses, napkins, the detritus of the night before.
Sam was asleep in bed, the sheet up to his eyes. I said: Sam, I hate to wake anyone up, and he didnt stir. I walked around the bed for 20 minutes, telling the story. Sam looked dead. Suddenly he pulled the sheet down to his chin and said: Ill see if I can do it. Later he said: If you guys think you can do it for $800,000, and do it fast, 35 shooting days, Ill try to raise the money from United Artists.
He didnt get the money from United Artists, but he sold the idea to guess who Harry Cohn, and we went to work.
One weekend, when that work had started with yet another rewrite of the script, Budd had to go up to his alma mater, Dartmouth College, in Hanover, New Hampshire, to plan a memorial for a great English teacher of his (and mine), Sidney Cox.
Budd, where are you going? said a panicked Sam Spiegel. Budd told him. For how long? Just till Monday, Budd told him. How are you getting there? By a small airplane, Budd told him. But what about the script? Dont worry, Schulberg told Spiegel, Ill have the script with me. BUT BUDD WHAT IF THE PLANE CRASHES?
Most of the actors who were to gain immortality through On the Water were drawn by Kazan from the Actors Studio and the classes of Stella Adler. One was Karl Malden. Another was Marlon Brando.
Schulberg had not seen Truckline Cafe, the play in which a young Brando had made such a vivid first impression, but he had seen A Streetcar Named Desire, the play that certified Brandos brilliance. It was directed on Broadway by Elia Kazan, produced by Irene Selznick.
Gadge and Irene Selznick had had a major fight over the casting of Stanley Kowalski. (Budd Schulberg may be the only person still alive who still calls Kazan Gadge.) Irene wanted John Garfield, a marquee name. Gadge said: I love Julie Garfield, I was on stage with him [in the Group Theaters Golden Boy], and hes right for it, but this kid in the Studio has got something extra that you cant define.
The part went to Brando.
Same thing happened with Waterfront. says Budd. Garfield would have been good in it, and was pissed off when we went to Brando.
I sent a script to Marlon. It came back after a week and a half. The pages hadnt been turned. I said to Gadge: He hasnt read the damn thing. So then I suggested Frank Sinatra not only a natural for the part, but a Hoboken natural.
Sinatra as Stanley Kowalski would require some further changes in the script, in particular the line delivered by big brother Charley (Rod Steiger): You were as beautiful as Billy Conn the light-heavyweight Pittsburgh Kid who lost to Joe Louis in one of the most celebrated fights of just before WW II.
But Billy Conn weighed 175 pounds, and Sinatra weighed, what? 135? says lifelong boxing expert and Schulberg. So I rewrote the line to make it: You could have been another Jimmy McLarnin a 135-to-140-pound welterweight champion of that era.
Even as Sinatra was reading the script, Sam Spiegel, who could be a great seducer when he wanted to, went and got Marlon to do it. It wasnt Gadge who got Marlon, it was Spiegel.
And what about the role of Edie, the girl whose brother Joey has been pushed off the roof to his death and who falls in love with Terry Malloy in spite of herself? The more one looks at this superb movie over and over again through the years, the more one is knocked out by the luminescence of Eva Marie Saint as Edie Doyle.
Yes, says Schulberg, the purity.
The purity and yet the desire, an interviewer hazards.
That too, Budd replies. And then: We had more trouble casting that part. Went through the whole Screen Actors Guild book kept turning the pages, getting nowhere. Eva Marie Saint was working in a play on Broadway with Lillian Gish, and had one small scene. [The play was Horton Footes The Trip to Bountiful at Henry Millers Theatre, 1953-54.]
Gadge said: You go. I went, and was very impressed with her.
She had never been in a movie before. In her first scene, she later told me, she was scared to death. All of a sudden, there she is with Marlon Brando.
You know, I spoke to Eva Marie, whos out in California, just a few days ago. She said shed got along very well with Marlon. At the time she was newly married and nervous, but Brando He was very nice never made a pass at her.
All the major research for the film, says Schulberg, was done on the West Side, in the Hells Kitchen and Chelsea areas.
But when it came to the actual filming, Gadge said that shooting it down there will be too tough, because of the traffic and the danger of the mob. He and I went to Hoboken, and we talked to the Chief of Police, Arthur Moretta. Told him our problem, about the mob, and he appointed his brother to protect the set.
One day at lunch, some goons grabbed Gadge and roughed him up. Just like the Marines, this Lieutenant Moretta came to the rescue.
Yes, says Schulberg, what Rod Steiger had once told the present writer and had, it seems, also told a lot of other people was true. In the famous taxi scene between lawyer Charley and kid brother Terry, Marlon Brando was not always there for some of the shooting. His contract allowed him to keep his sessions with his shrink in Manhattan.
Marlon would say: Its 4 oclock, Im sorry, I have to see my psychiatrist, and off hed go. So Kazan would read Marlons lines to Steiger. Watching the movie, youd never know Marlon was absent. Rod felt humiliated, second fiddle, all of that, and would never stop talking about it.
On the whole, Schulberg says, Brando stayed with the script and was on time. Here and there he would add a word that was very effective.
Finally, theres this:
Around and about for all these years has been what Stendahl called an idee recu conventional wisdom to the effect that Elia Kazan and Budd Schulberg made On the Waterfront, in which Terry Malloy is finally persuaded to testify against union boss Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb) and his hoods, as a rationale for Kazan and Schulbergs naming of names during the plague years of HUAC and the blacklist.
Ive always resented that, says Budd Schulberg these 50 years later. In my first script I didnt have that testimony at all. It was Father Corredan who, in telling Budd people are getting killed down there on the waterfront every day, many people, had urged him to take in the Waterfront Commission hearings in Manhattan. I went and sat and listened at least 40 times. So to me, that whole theory doesnt make sense. But the truth never seems to catch up.
The truth in fact is that all of that is irrelevant. Whats relevant is the movie itself. Name me a better one.