Years ago, when I was beginning in the newspaper business in Los Angeles and was working as a sports editor while providing feature articles as well, I had the opportunity to interview Budd Schulberg at his Beverly Hills home. He was then married to actress Geraldine Brooks, who would pass away a few years later from cancer.
As a young writer interviewing someone who had by then achieved the status of legend, I was nervous at the beginning, but that ended fast. Schulberg had a way of putting you at ease. He exuded the effortless air of a friendly neighbor.
The interview was conducted in his yard and he brought to the table a bottle of good bourbon and some glasses. I immediately thought, "Here is a man comfortable with journalists."
"What Makes Sammy Run?" detailed back lot Hollywood cinema backstabbing in a work about a young man named Sammy Glick from New York's East Side. Glick was in such a hurry for success that he was willing to do whatever it took to win his place at the top of the executive ladder.
Schulberg believed that such a story needed to be published and went ahead, despite his father's warning that if the book breathed life that any future he might have in the film industry would abruptly end. Fortunately B.P. Schulberg would be proven wrong.
Schulberg was someone who made his point with no wasted words in plain talk. This was precisely what he gave the audience when director Elia Kazan, someone of whom he spoke very highly during our interview, provided the opportunity for Schulberg to write a screenplay about an important topic that resulted in an Academy Award for 1954.
The film was "On the Waterfront". It was an outgrowth of a Pulitzer Prize winning series in the New York Sun about the infiltration of the New York docks by mob bosses. A courageous priest fought for the cause of the dock workers, testifying before Congress.
When Schulberg was researching his topic he became a friend of Father John M. Corridan, who served as the model for Father Barry, played on the screen with sturdy conviction by Karl Malden.
The most famous words penned by Schulberg were stirringly delivered by Marlon Brando as former boxer Terry Malloy in a conversation with his brother, played by Rod Steiger:
"I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody. Instead of a bum, which is what I am."
The subject matter of the film and intensive research were also hallmarks of the Schulberg plan of selecting an important social problem, studying it thoroughly, then presenting it in clean, graphic dialogue springing from believable characters.An essential reason for seeking out the interview with Schulberg was his involvement in a project he launched at a crucial point in Los Angeles' history.
The Watts Riots registered a sizable impact on the city's as well as the national psyche. As a writer always exploring the big picture, Schulberg knew that residing within that area of South Los Angeles were scores of budding authors seeking to tell about what they knew about life in the African American ghetto of the west's largest city.