Thursday, August 6, 2009

R.I.P. Budd Schulberg

Our thoughts and condolences go out to his family and friends and fellow fans. In memory of the man, we're re-running a 2007 piece we did on Hollywood's continued failure to adapt Schulberg's book, What Makes Sammy Run?

What Makes Sammy Stall?

One of my favorite novels about Hollywood is Budd Schulberg’s What Makes Sammy Run? It's the no-punches-pulled story of an amoral hustler who works his way up the Tinseltown ladder to become the head of a film studio. It's also one of the rare books that I could see having a successful screen adaptation, as Schulberg's acclaimed work as a screenwriter greatly influenced his approach to writing.
Apparently, I'm not the only one who feels this way. Over the years, everyone from Frank Sinatra to Ben Stiller has tried to bring Budd's book to the big screen. So what is it that has kept this project languishing in limbo for so long? Ego mostly, and a little fear. Back in the 40's when Sammy was originally published, the majority of the studio heads took personal offense over the material's damning portrayal of them. In an interview with American Legends, Schulberg says, "Sam Goldwyn didn't read the book, but was very hostile toward it. Louie Mayer tried to run me out of town. He hated the book. Mayer told my father he would ruin him for not stopping me from writing the novel." Decades later, little seems to have changed. In The Jewish Daily Forward, Schulberg blames Steven Spielberg for holding things up due to "the novel's negative presentation of studio moguls." Now, I'm just an East Coast kid, but even I know that talking trash about the world's biggest director may not be the best way to revive a stalled production. As Schulberg's fans are always being reminded, though, Budd's never been one to hold his tongue. In fact, it's this same complicated and controversial combination of personal/artistic fearlessness and social/political ignorance that has kept his work so vital.

To read The Independent's 2/9 interview with Schulberg, click here.