“The first time I saw him he couldn't have been much more than sixteen years old, a little ferret of a kid, sharp and quick. Sammy Glick.” So begins What Makes Sammy Run?, the quintessential, mid-20th century novel about Hollywood ambition. Its author, Budd Schulberg, died yesterday in Westhampton, New York. He was 95. Schulberg, a N.Y. Times Web site obituary noted, “collaborated with F. Scott Fitzgerald, arrested the Nazi filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl and named names before a Communist-hunting Congressional committee. But he was best known for writing some of the most famous lines in the history of the movies.”
In a way those last two facts were intertwined. Budd Schulberg, whose father headed Paramount Studios, had been a member of the Communist Party during the Great Depression and, like Elia Kazan, felt sufficiently alienated and menaced by it to appear as a friendly witness before the House Un-American Activities Committee in the early 1950s. And, like Kazan, he would be criticized for his action for the rest of his life. Kazan and Schulberg's answer to that criticism came in their landmark 1954 film collaboration, On the Waterfront. Filmgoers can discern in it a stand-in for the CP in the form of the brutally corrupt dockers union that controls the lives of the story's cowed characters — until they cooperate with authority by testifying against their mob-run local.
Schulberg's life was spent championing the little guy and annoying the
powerful, including the Hollywood bosses who took offense at What Makes Sammy Run? and the boxing rackets in his second novel, The Harder They Fall. And, out of the ashes of Los Angeles' 1965 ghetto riots, Schulberg created the Douglass House Watts Writers Workshop.
See Paul Cullum's July 6, 2006 L.A. Weekly Schulberg feature, “A Face in the Crowd.”