So long, Buddy

Thursday, August 06, 2009

So long, Buddy

Updated 08/06/2009 – 04:51 pm

We... as in all of us... lost a great one yesterday afternoon with the passing of Quiogue's resi­dent man of letters, Budd Schulberg, at 95.

Budd Schulberg - 2007

Buddy, as he preferred, was a tough old bird on many counts, from his decades around the ring about which he wrote for so many years for Sports Illustrated and others, to his lon­gevity, not just in life but in surviving the 31+ years of his fourth marriage.

The obits and paeans to the man will be many, and cover his many accomplishments, from a celebrated debut novel, "What Makes Sammy Run?" to his Oscar-winning screenplay for the film which garnered Marlon Brando his first Academy Award... Brando was great, but it all starts with the written word... and his co-founding of the Watts Writers Workshop in the turbulent mid-'60s.

Although he was born to New York City's Lower East Side, it was early Hollywood where Buddy cut his creative teeth.

His father Ben (a/k/a B.P.) had risen from studio publicist to the head of mighty Para­mount, and the son's exposure to the movie milieu led to the publi­cation of that first novel on his 27th birthday.

(So savage was its insider's portrayal of the treacherous underbelly of the film industry that famed studio mogul Samuel Goldwyn, née Gelbfisz, offered Buddy $200,000 to not pub­lish it!

Almost 70 years later, it has never been filmed, although NBC aired a two-part eviscerated version of the work in 1959.)

There will also be some noted low points, such as his appearance before the second House Un-Amer­ican Activities Committee hearings and his presence in the pantry of the Ambas­sador Hotel with Bobby Kennedy when he was shot.

Oddly, it was the HUAC matter which brought the two of us together in the mid-'70s.

I had just recently read Stefan Kanfer's "A Journal of the Plague Years" about Hollywood and the Blacklist, which had been critical of Buddy (and others) for "naming names."

With that volume still in the forefront of my mind, when Buddy joined a group of us at the front table of Magic's Pub one night in 1977, it wasn't long before the opportunity and the Mount Gay Eclipse intersected and I asked him, in essence, why others had either gone to jail, been blacklisted or both, while he and director Elia Kazan hadn't.

He stammered... a life-long impediment... a non-response, so I and a cohort pressed on 'til Buddy arose and offered to take me, and whoever else, out of the sidewalk and punch some eyes closed.

I had over a quarter of century on him, but I prudently declined, and we finished the night in his Aspatuck Creek-side home, sipping bourbon... probably the last time that particular whiskey touched my palate.

We became chummy over the years, primarily through FAAG, the informal Friday Afternoon Authors Guild which convened at The Patio. Buddy, along with Lee Davis, Helene Gerard, Kathy Bouvier, Peter Swet and I were among the plank-owners.

He was, stammer be damned, a good con­versationalist and little of it was about early Hollywood or prize-fighting.

He was also a very generous person with his interest in and sharing with newer writers.

(A measure of the man can be found on IMDb where he responded to someone who expressed himself about one of Buddy's works. Rare are the instances of those in the massive IMDb database ap­pearing on-line there.)

One fascinating tidbit I did bring up from time-to-time over the past 23 years, was the project to remake my favorite film of his, "A Face in the Crowd," with Whoopie Goldberg in the Andy Griffith role.

Perhaps the most remarkable part of Buddy's personal history involved his third wife, the actress Geraldine Brooks who was stricken with cancer in the mid-'70s.

When the doctors could do no more for her, she returned to their home on Quiogue.

Buddy would not countenance any of the ol' "sent home to die" business, and by sheer dint of will and his devotion to Gerry, provided his own form of hospice, and by virtually force-feeding her "nutritional milkshakes" of his own devise, brought her back from the abyss to the point that she looked as if she was in recovery.

Swan Watch, 1975

But then in June 1977, a heart attack took her quietly and quickly.

Over those last several years together, photographer Gerry and writer Buddy had produced a wonderful little volume entitled Swan Watch

The meeting, mating and matters penultimate to the matrimony between Buddy and the fourth Mrs. Schulberg, the former Betsy Ann Langman are, out of respect to the man, left unremarked.

Never mind what made Sammy run, my friend... you had a great run yourself!


1. NoLongerEditor said...

Do you have the services schedule, Dean?

Not yet. I'll post it when I know it.

2. Hank Beck said...

I met Budd through his wife Betsy, who was a student of mine at the ICP in New York City in the late '70s. One of our first encounters was at a lunch at their home with Elia Kazan and his then quite ill wife, the lovely actress Barbara Loden. Budd was a gentle man and a gentleman who believed in what he wrote and that we could change the world for the better. I'll miss him. I'll miss him.

He was quite a guy, and I certainly can understand your admiration for his political beliefs. My dream died on the floor of that pantry. His didn't.

3. Hampton West said...

While not the movie buff "Mr. Lydecker" is, I was only vaguely aware Mr. Schulberg lived here. I remember seeing "A Face in the Crowd" sometime in the late 1960s and being wowed by it. And "The Harder They Come" was filmed in part in Stuyvesant Town, which I didn't know until I saw the movie. (Both these movies hold up very well as time has passed. I can watch them over and over.)

He really must have been quite a guy - God Bless him.

You've got your "harders" confused, HW. The one you were thinking of, with a social conscience screenplay by Schulberg, was the 1956 goodie with Bogey (his final screen role) and local boy Rod Steiger, "The Harder They Fall." It was based on actual characters, one of whom, one-time heavyweight champion Max Baer, played himself in the film.

Buddy wasn't much for "sports trivia," with one exception... he'd ask you to name the four former pugilists who appeared in "On The Waterfront," who had fought for the heavyweight title. I could always get Tami Mauriello, Tony Galento and Abe Simon, but never the fourth.

I did find a fourth heavyweight, Lee something (Weaver? It's in my notes somewhere.), who played a bartender in several scenes, but he never fought for any title.

Funny story. Director Elia Kazan liked the work the man had done in his three scenes, and spoke to Schulberg about writing some lines for him in an upcoming scene. When they told the fighter-turned-background actor what they had in mind for him, he thought about it for a monent, then asked if he would be getting a screen credit. The man was assured that, yes, his name would appear in the cast credits.

He never returned from his next meal break, and they later learned he had several ex-wives looking for him for alimony, and that the last thing he wanted was a screen credit to help them track him down!
– Dean

4. Johnny Romo said...

As a fight fan, we would have incredible conversations about the sport. When I realized who he was, I immediately went out and bought "What Makes Sammy Run?" and read it cover-to-cover in two days (not bad for a dopy butcher, huh?). Budd Schulberg is a part of American history. At 36, my peers know nothing of him, but they should. I will miss the Ali-Frazier conversations.

5. Hampton West said...

Whoops -- you are right; got a little confused with a Jimmy Cliff song!

"Face in the Crowd" is one of those movies I can watch over and over (and those are the ones I classify as "classics") - it was an amazing work.

It was on as a late night movie on one of the New York stations and I was maybe 15 or so and it really left an impression with me - and it's held up quite well over time.

Yeah, it was a Jimmy Cliff song from a Jimmy Cliff movie: "The Harder They Come" with a great soundtrack! It was a midnight cult favorite 35 years ago!

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