Ron Radosh

He Was a Contender: Budd Schulberg:1914-2009

The great American novelist, non-fiction writer and screenwriter, Budd Schulberg, died this past week at the grand old age of 95.  Working on his memoirs and various scripts almost to the end, Schulberg will most be remembered for his famed Hollywood novel, What Makes Sammy Run? (1941) and his prize-winning screenplay for what is arguably the single greatest American film, On the Waterfront, (1954) directed by Elia Kazan, and starring Marlon Brando and Eva Marie Saint.

But to many in the American literary elite and in Hollywood, Schulberg would never be forgiven for his testimony before The House Committee on Un-American Activities in in 1951, before which he named seventeen people he had known in Hollywood as members of the Communist Party. Like his friend Kazan, Schulberg too would be regarded as a renegade, a stoolie, and a traitor—a man who deserved no plaudits and no accolades.

I will be writing a full evaluation of Schulberg for a future edition of The Weekly Standard, and will save further comments for that venue. At this time, I prefer to keep it short and simple.  Budd was not only a great writer, but a man with a deep social conscience, a devotee of liberty, who stood his ground against all he considered tyrants. He despised McCarthy (and was furious at Ann Coulter when she heralded him a few years ago) and even more, he hated the Communists and fellow-travelers who thought the Soviet Union was a force for peace and justice.

In Budd’s eyes, American Communists were a dangerous group from the 30’s through the late 40’s, when they had influence and power in America’s cultural community. He knew from personal experience how they used their clout to interfere with the freedom of people like himself to write as he pleased, and he never understood how those who thought democratic America was a fascist state, at the same time said nothing about Stalin’s murder of scores of Russian writers, actors and directors whom he had come to know personally.

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.