Ed Driscoll

What Made Schulberg Run

Scott Johnson has a lengthy post that helps to place writer Budd Schulberg into perspective. Here’s an excerpt:

Schulberg pursued his literary and theatrical interests as an undergraduate at Dartmouth College. In 1934 he made a fateful trip to the Soviet Union with his Hollywood friend and fellow Dartmouth student Maurice Rapf. As Ronald and Allis Radosh relate in Red Star Over Hollywood, in Moscow Schulberg met “leading figures in the world of drama, film and literature” and attended the First Congress of Soviet Writers. Among those in attendance were Gide, Malraux and Gorky: “By the time they returned to the United States,” the Radoshes recount, “Schulberg and Rapf were converts whose paths had been set.” Schulberg later recalled that Stalin liquidated every one of the prominent Soviet artists he met on his trip to the Soviet Union.

Back in Hollywood after college, Schulberg became a screenwriter. He drew on his Dartmouth experience for Winter Carnival. When he was told that Scott Fitzgerald had been assigned by the studio to improve the screenplay, “I thought it was just a joke, like saying ‘Leo Tolstoy,'” Schulberg recalled. “And I said, ‘Scott Fitzgerald — isn’t he dead?'”

Fitzgerald wasn’t dead yet, but his work on the script certainly didn’t prolong his life. Traveling with Schulberg to work on the screenplay in New York and Hanover, Fitzgerald went on an alcoholic bender that became a lost weekend. The experience was not lost on Schulberg. He drew on it for his novel The Disenchanted.

Schulberg was an enthusiastic and successful Party recruiter. Once he set to work on What Makes Sammy Run?, however, his Party days were numbered. He quit the Party rather than tailor the book to fit orders. He did not receive Party approval for the book and suffered the Party’s opprobrium after its publication in 1941.

Schulberg drew on his Hollywood experience during his service in World War II. He served with John Ford’s filmmaking unit and gathered evidence for use by the Allied prosecutors at the Nuremberg trials. He was assigned to arrest Leni Riefenstahl to testify at one of the trials.

In 1951 Schulberg testified about his experience with the Communist Party in Hollywood before the House Un-American Activities Committee. A lifelong liberal except for his three years in the Party, Schulberg never repented his testimony or his naming the names of Hollywood Party members. Victor Navasky quotes Schulberg: “These people, if they had it in them, could have written books and plays. There was not a blacklist in publishing. There was not a blacklist in the theater. They could have written about the forces that drove them into the Communist Party….They’re interested in their own problems and in the protection of the Party.”

As Ronald Radosh adds in his own obit of Schulberg, “Helping expose the Communists for the threat he knew them to be was to him an act of honor, and nothing to be ashamed of. His bravery and courage in bucking Hollywood’s strong left-wing community will be remembered for decades to come.”