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Tribute: Budd Schulberg

posted by Nell Minow

Hollywood legend and Oscar-winning screenwriter Budd Schulberg died this week at age 95. His best work documented the anguish and corruption he observed growing up as the son of one of the top executives of MGM at the height of the studio era. The Washington Post’s Adam Bernstein wrote:

Mr. Schulberg was the son of a legendary Hollywood producer whose fortunes rose and fell dramatically. As a result, he once said he was intrigued by “how suddenly [people] go up, and how quickly they go down.”

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He used his insider knowledge of Hollywood politics to write his first novel, “What Makes Sammy Run?” in 1941. A grotesque account of vice being rewarded, the book was widely praised (though not in Hollywood) and made him a star author at 27.

Vivid, crackling dialogue was his hallmark in about 10 other books and a handful of riveting films. He wrote the memorable speech that included the line “I coulda been a contender,” spoken by actor Marlon Brando in “On the Waterfront” (1954)…

Mr. Schulberg’s next project, “A Face in the Crowd” (1957), skewered the television industry and became a lasting favorite of critics and moviemakers. The film, again directed by Kazan, featured Andy Griffith in what many regard as his best role. Griffith played “Lonesome” Rhodes, a cracker-barrel prophet who self-destructs after he lands a national television show. “Face” was an underrated gem, a perceptive look at the future of television and politics.

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This scene from “On the Waterfront” is one of the best-remembered in the history of film:

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