Thursday, August 6, 2009

He was a contendah…

It wasn’t my intention to start this out with something facetious (like the above comic strip panel) but I included it because there’s more than just a kernel of truth involved—more and more I find myself learning of those individuals who’ve left this mortal coil through Facebook posts. However, it is reassuring to know that some things do not change—the person who wrote the post was none other than the Walter Winchell of deceased celebrity news, Bill “Yes, it is a grenade launcher—now stay the hell of my lawn” Crider.

Novelist-screenwriter Budd Schulberg has died at the age of 95, and he’s left two fine pieces of work as his legacy—the Oscar-winning story and screenplay for 1954’s Best Picture winner, On the Waterfront, and a warts-and-all novel—1939’s What Makes Sammy Run?—that so innerved the poo-bahs of Hollywood Schulberg was famously told he’d “never work in this town again.”

But he did work again, and again, and again…included among his notable screenplays and novels were gems like A Face in the Crowd (1957), which starred future television sitcom sheriff Andy Griffith as a hillbilly demagogue loosely based on Arthur Godfrey; and The Harder They Fall (1956), the last feature film to star cinematic icon Humphrey Bogart. (Schulberg wrote the novel; Philip Yordan is credited with the screenplay.) I’ve always been a big fan of Harder—probably more so than Waterfront—because it’s one of the few “message” films that doesn’t soft-pedal what it’s trying to say (the only other one that comes to mind is 1968’s Targets); at the end of both the novel and the movie the main character is so repulsed by "the sweet science" that he proposes Congress pass legislation to ban the sport.

As much as I like Waterfront, I still have some trouble reconciling with the film sometimes because it wants to manipulate me to into swallowing its “Commies-were-the-equivalence-of-gangsters” agitprop, presented so Schulberg and director Elia Kazan could sleep a little easier at night knowing they finked on their former friends before HUAC. But I’ve come to terms with that, particularly after novelist-screenwriter Barry Gifford once remarked that you can learn more about the fight game from Waterfront than any other boxing film…and damn if he isn’t right about this.

R.I.P, Mr. Schulberg. You will be missed.


Toby O'B said...

never heard about the connection between "A Face In The Crowd" and Arthur Godfrey, but I can see it having now seen a few episodes of Godfrey's old show.

What's the timeline on this? Did the movie come along after Godfrey fired LaRosa on the air?

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

Godfrey fired LaRosa in 1953, and Schulberg published the short story ("Your Arkansas Traveler") in the book Some Faces in the Crowd that same year, so that will you give you some idea of the time line (the movie came out in 1957). For the record, Schulberg maintained the inspiration for the "Lonesome" Rhodes character was Will Rogers--and that's certainly an argument that can be made--but to me the character seems a lot more Godfrey-ish. Others have also speculated a connection to the "Ol' Pea-Picker," Tennessee Ernie Ford.

Bill Crider said...

Okay, Godfrey I can accept. But the old Pea-Picker? Never.

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

I agree with you, Mr. C.