Budd Schulberg died on Wednesday.
Budd who? You ask.
He was one of the great screenwriters of the 20th century.
A keen observer and translator of the human condition was Budd Schulberg.
He wrote “On the Waterfront” — which featured the classic line delivered by Marlon Brando, “I coulda been a contender.”
One of my favorite movies.
“Waterfront” is still considered Brando’s greatest performance — even moreso than “The Godfather.” And it is probably how Budd Schulberg will be best remembered.
Both men won well-deserved Academy Awards for their individual achievements.
Schulberg was a novelist before writing for Hollywood.
His novel “What Makes Sammy Run” details the life of a Jewish boy who escapes the ghetto and climbs the ladder of success. It’s not an easy read because the character of Sammy Glick is not very scrupulous.
Schulberg also contributed in gathering evidence against war criminals for the Nuremberg Trials, which included arresting Hitler’s documentary filmmaker, Leni Riefenstahl.
In the 1950s, Schulberg was named as a member of the Communist Party by a squealer for the House Un-American Activities Committee championed by the crazed Sen. Joe McCarthy. He volunteered to testify and appeared as a friendly witness.
Budd Schulberg was also well-known as a boxing writer way back in the day and even worked for Sports Illustrated when it was in its infancy.
The boxing stories clearly influenced Schulberg to pen Brando’s character of Terry Malloy in “Waterfront,” who is an ex-pug who took “dives for the short-hand money” for his brother Charlie, who is the muscle on the waterfront and who says who works and who don’t work.
Malloy eventually turns in the waterfront boss before a crimes commission —- much like Schulberg himself did at those real-life witch hunt sessions.
Another boxing movie written by Schulberg was released a few years later. “The Harder They Fall” couldn’t go the distance with “Waterfront.” It’s a good movie and remains little more than a trivia question because it was the last movie Humphrey Bogart made.
Schulberg would be back with another knock out punch in 1957 with his script of “A Face in the Crowd.”
No boxing metaphors in this film —- Schulberg, again collaborating with “Waterfront” director Elia Kazan, took on television and the influence it has over everybody, from the housewife to the potential presidential candidate.
The movie made Andy Griffith — yep, the same Andy of Mayberry — a star in a role you would never imagine him playing: a charismatic yokel discovered in a backwoods sleepy Southern town who charms the TV public with his homespun hokey.
Naturally, as in Schulberg’s “What Makes Sammy Run,” power corrupts and Lonesome becomes a demogague.
He doesn’t divorce his teenage wife — he fires her.
He talks a presidential candidate into promising him “Secretary of Morality” if he helps him win.
This must’ve been heavy stuff for the 1950s.
Which is probably why it bombed at the box office.
Today it’s considered a classic.
Pretty prophetic stuff this movie. Made 20 years before the equally scathing “Network.”
Quite the cautionary tale of a demogague on TV with all that influence.
Sound familiar in today’s TV world?
Budd Schulberg died Wednesday at age 95.
He lived a full life. Sports writer, novelist, World War II Nazi hunter, Oscar-winning screenwriter.
Budd Schulberg did his best writing for the screen in the 1950s, that era of innocence people who never lived through it imagine it to have been.
Budd Schulberg saw the seething underbelly of what the human condition was like, and how it was ready to break out.
It was never pretty. Or innocent.
But because was at his peak in a more buttoned-down era, everything had to have a happy ending on the screen.
Through his experience covering those pugs in the ring, he probably knew it was best to go along with the suits who made the final cut their own.
In my eyes, even that wouldn’t have made Budd Schulberg any less of a contender.