Ed Driscoll

History Repeats Itself, First As Tragedy, Second As Tragedy

Mark Steyn pens a brilliant obit of legendary screenwriter Budd Schulberg for Maclean’s, bringing his career, which began 70 years ago, right up to our current summer of discontent. Read the whole thing, not just this brief excerpt:

As a 20-year-old Dartmouth student, Schulberg visited the Soviet Union and was shown its artistic glories. He fell in love with the theatre of Vsevolod Meyerhold, Stanislavski’s wayward disciple. Meyerhold loved the older stylized dramatic forms—commedia dell’arte, pantomime—and refused to confine himself to Socialist Realism. So in 1939 Stalin had him arrested, tortured and his wife murdered. He was shot by firing squad in February 1940.

How about that? Executed over a difference of opinion about a directing style. As “persecution” goes, isn’t that a little more thorough than, say, being denied a writing credit on Hellcats of the Navy, as happened to Bernard Gordon? More to the point, if it’s all about “personal loyalty,” then what about the loyalty owed to Meyerhold by all those young American artistic lefties he befriended and inspired? Or is the “personal loyalty” owed not to persons but to the noble cause, in service of which any individual is dispensable? Even today, we continue to draw a distinction between Nazism and Communism—between the bad evil and the good evil, the evil that’s philosophically sound, admirably progressive and just ran into one or two problems on the ground, like a great movie idea that went off course in development.

Flash-forward nearly 60 years past the soundstage with Eliza Kazan, Brando and Rod Steiger. Just off present-day Manhattan’s waterfront, a New York Times book reviewer gushes, Karl Marx is “Back in Vogue.”

In more ways than one, Steyn concludes:

A few days after Schulberg died, a man called Kenneth Gladney went to congressman Russ Carnahan’s “town hall meeting” in St. Louis to protest plans for health-care “reform.” He was set upon by Democratic enforcers from the Service Employees International Union and so badly beaten that, at the time of writing, he’s in a wheelchair. He happens to be black, and the SEIU goons taunted him with racial epithets. But it doesn’t matter. He committed the same sin as Terry Malloy or Budd Schulberg. He broke with “his” gang, and must pay the price.

Budd Schulberg was a lifelong liberal, but, unlike most of his comrades, he understood the artist’s obligation to live in truth—and he found a terrific way to tell the story. If it’s any consolation to his detractors, the studio bosses who enforced the blacklist didn’t get it either. Kazan and Schulberg took On The Waterfront to Darryl Zanuck, head honcho at 20th Century Fox. Zanuck turned them down. “Who,” he said, “gives a s*** about longshoremen?”

Who, indeed?

(For a video retrospective of Schulberg’s career by two fellow screenwriters, check out this recent edition of Roger Simon and Lionel Chetywind’s Poliwood on PJTV.)