Budd Wilson Schulberg (SHOOL-burg), a prominent novelist and screenwriter, also achieved major success in a variety of other genres. He was born in 1914 to an important Hollywood producer, Benjamin Percival (“B. P.”) Schulberg, head of production at Paramount Studios (1925-1932), and Adeline (Jaffe) Schulberg, later one of Hollywood’s leading agents.
Budd Schulberg moved with his parents and sister, Sonya, to Los Angeles in 1922, where Budd grew up amid the fledgling motion picture industry. During the summer of 1934, while a Dartmouth College student, he traveled to the Soviet Union with about fifty other students to study Communism at an institute for American students. After graduating from Dartmouth in 1936, he returned to Los Angeles, began writing for the movies, married Virginia “Jigee” Ray, and joined the Communist Party. He worked on the films A Star Is Born (1937) and Nothing Sacred (1937) without receiving screen credits. The first film for which he received a credit was Little Orphan Annie. At the same time, he was writing short stories for such magazines as Collier’s, The Saturday Evening Post, and Liberty, including several stories about a ruthless Hollywood climber named Sammy Glick that would lead to his first novel, What Makes Sammy Run?, published in 1941. By the end of the 1930’s, he had broken with the Communist Party over its attempt to control his writing for its political purposes.
One of the most famous events of Schulberg’s life occurred in January, 1939, when he was teamed with the great American novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald to write the screenplay for Winter Carnival. Part of the movie was to be filmed at Schulberg’s alma mater, Dartmouth, so the two writers were dispatched there to receive inspiration from their surroundings. However, Fitzgerald spent the entire time at Dartmouth drunk, and, along with Schulberg, was fired. Schulberg ultimately was rehired, and the incident inspired his later novel The Disenchanted.
During the 1940’s, Schulberg received critical acclaim for What Makes Sammy Run?; married for a second time (Victoria Anderson, in 1943); published his second novel, The Harder They Fall, which explores the world of boxing, a lifelong passion of Schulberg’s; and served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He was assigned to the Office of Strategic Services (forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency) to work with the great film director John Ford. Along with his brother Stuart Schulberg, he helped gather film evidence and organize it into the film The Nazi Plan for use at the trial of Nazi war criminals held at Nuremberg, Germany, in 1945.
The low point of Schulberg’s career may have been his appearance before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1951 to testify about his past associations with the Communist Party. His willingness to name individuals (almost all of whom had been previously identified) cost him some friends. In the same decade, though, occurred one of his greatest achievements: He wrote the screenplay for the film On the Waterfront, directed by Elia Kazan and starring Marlon Brando, Rod Steiger, Karl Malden, Lee J. Cobb, and Eva Marie Saint. The film received twelve Academy Award nominations and won eight Oscars in 1954, including awards for best story and screenplay for Schulberg and best picture. Brando received the Oscar for best actor and Saint for best supporting actress.
Schulberg never again quite equaled these early film and novelistic successes, but he continued to produce much high-quality work in the following decades, including Loser and Still Champion, a book about boxing great Muhammad Ali; Four Seasons of Success, about six important American writers (including Fitzgerald); the autobiographical Moving Pictures; highly successful stage versions of The Disenchanted and What Makes Sammy Run?, the later a musical adaptation; television documentaries; and several teleplays based on his short stories.
Schulberg also established a writers’ workshop in Watts in 1965, after riots burned out much of that Los Angeles neighborhood. He published a rich collection of writing from that workshop (by then based in the Frederick Douglass House) in From the Ashes. He later helped to create additional writing centers in San Francisco and New York City. His third wife, the actress Geraldine Brooks, with whom he had collaborated on a book of her photographs, Swan Watch, died in 1977. The following year he married Betsy Ann Langman. He and Betsy remained married until his death in 2009 at age 95.