Screenwriter and novelist Budd Schulberg was born in New York and grew up in Hollywood, but his screenplay for “On The Waterfront” put Hoboken on the map of American cinematic history and made its boxer hero Terry Malloy, played by Marlon Brando, a rugged symbol of the city’s working class heritage.
Schulberg died August 5th, 2009 at the age of 95 after being rushed to the hospital from his Westhampton, N.Y. home.
Over the years the writer often made trips to Hoboken, according to Gerri Fallo, director of the city’s Division of Cultural Affairs, and several productions and staged readings of “On The Waterfront” have been performed, many of which Schulberg attended.
“Budd called me out of the blue about ten years ago,” she said, “and said he wanted to come here and asked me if I could give him a tour.” Subsequent to the tour a staged reading of the film was presented, sponsored by the cultural affairs division.
Five years ago, Schulberg’s 90th birthday was celebrated with a 50th anniversary screening of “On The Waterfront” at Burchard Auditorium, followed by a party at the Stevens Library that was attended by his friend, the actress Patricia Neal, who starred in another of Schulberg’s films, “A Face In The Crowd.”
“He was dear to me,” Fallo said, “and I was honored to know him. We became friends.”
Perhaps fittingly, his last public appearance was in Hoboken one week before his death, when he attended a staged reading of “On The Waterfront” performed by actors from the TV series “The Sopranos.” The story of Malloy’s struggle with corrupt and criminal forces on the city’s docks – which won Brando a Best Actor Oscar – had for some observers an ironic resonance coming one week after the city’s mayor was arrested in an FBI corruption sting.
Schulberg judged the staged reading “excellent,” according to published reports.
He was the son B.P. Schulberg, the head of Paramount Pictures, and attended Deerfield Academy and Dartmouth College. During World War II he served in the Office of Strategic Services, forerunner to the CIA, and was among the first American service personnel to liberate the Nazi death camps.
His career as a film writer and novelist included “What Makes Sammy Run?” a classic novel of the Hollywood social climber Sammy Glick.
During the House Un-American Activities Committee investigation into Communist infiltration in Hollywood, Schulberg, like “Waterfront” director Elia Kazan, admitted to a prior membership in the U.S. Communist Party but said he quit after they tried to dictate to him how to write. Like Kazan, he went on to name other Party members and was reviled for it, but still went on to a successful career.
“On The Waterfront,” rejected by every Hollywood studio and eventually financed by legendary producer Sam Spiegel, was filmed over 36 wintry days in Hoboken in the cargo holds of ships, workers’ slum dwellings, bars, littered alleys, and on rooftops, including one famous scene in Court Alley in which Brando and co-star Eva Marie Saint are nearly run down by a pursuing truck.
Several local residents were cast in small roles, and some of the labor goons in the film were real-life, former professional heavyweight boxers. When released in 1954, the film won eight Academy Awards, including a Best Story and Screenplay Oscar for Schulberg.
In 1989, “On The Waterfront” was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.
The Hudson Reporter, August 9, 2009