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October 19, 2009

Writer Budd Schulberg Dies at 95

Oscar and Emmy winner, creator of indelible characters

Writer Budd Schulberg, author of the controversial Hollywood novels What Makes Sammy Run? and The Disenchanted and who won an Oscar for his original screenplay On the Waterfront, died of natural causes August 5, 2009, at his home in Westhampton Beach, on Long Island. He was 95.

Schulberg’s influence over Hollywood was strong. Sammy Glick, the antihero of What Makes Sammy Run?, is regarded as the archetypal power-mad movie executive.

Although What Makes Sammy Run? was never made into a film, it reached Broadway as a musical in the 1960s, and Schulberg himself directed a 1959 television adaptation.

Schulberg had a unique perch from which to observe the inner workings of Hollywood — his father, B.P. Schulberg, was head of production at Paramount Pictures in the 1930s, and his mother, Adeline, was an agent.

He irked some in the industry again when he named names to the House Un-American Activities Committee in Congress — as did Waterfront director Elia Kazan.

Born in New York City, Schulberg was educated at Dartmouth College. But even before that he was a publicist at Paramount, starting at age 17, and was a screenwriter at age 19.

He did uncredited work on the 1937 version of A Star is Born, and was credited on the 1938 production Little Orphan Annie. Shortly after collaborating with F. Scott Fitzgerald on the 1939 film Winter Carnival, Schulberg returned to the East Coast, where he wrote What Makes Sammy Run?

The book caused an uproar in Hollywood. Schulberg said that his father asked him to shelve the book and his friends in the Communist Party wanted him to downplay his criticisms of their progressive ideas. He listened to neither.

That same year, he received a story credit on Weekend for Three (written by Dorothy Parker and Alan Campbell).

During WWII, Schulberg worked closely with John Ford’s documentary film unit.

Shortly after the publication of The Disenchanted, Schulberg testified before HUAC. But On the Waterfront, which some interpreted as a rejoinder to Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible (which condemned witch hunts) earned Schulberg an Oscar — one of the film’s eight Academy Awards, which included best picture.

Schulberg went on to publish the novel The Harder They Fall, which was adapted into a film starring Humphrey Bogart.

He also wrote the screenplay for the 1957 feature A Face in the Crowd, a scathing comment on the influence of television that starred Andy Griffith as Lonesome Rhodes, a down-and-out folk singer who becomes a cultural hero via TV.

Schulberg won an Emmy for The Angry Voice of Watts, a 1966 special, and also did A Question of Honor. He had started the Watts Writers Workshop following the 1965 riots, an endeavor that attracted the attention of Robert Kennedy when he ran for president in 1968. Schulberg recalled in later interviews his experience being among those in the pantry of the Ambassador Hotel when Kennedy was shot following the California primary, and how he briefly grabbed hold of Sirhan Sirhan with the gun in his grasp.

In addition to his wife, Schulberg is survived by five children.

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