Wednesday, August 05, 2009

budd schulberg (1914 - 2009)

In memory of Budd Schulberg, thoughts from my dissertation on his classic Hollywood novel What Makes Sammy Run?

Budd Schulberg, son of former Paramount chief B.P. Schulberg, was almost blacklisted in Hollywood upon the 1941 publication of his novel, What Makes Sammy Run? The novel satirizes the studio system, and while many welcomed the subject matter, many readers were appalled. “They attacked it not only as a slander on Hollywood, but on the human race, and I found myself denounced as a sensationalist, a falsifier, and even…a Fascist!” writes Schulberg in the introduction to the 1952 Modern Library Edition. However, even Schulberg is not impervious to the depiction of studio head as possessing mysterious powers. Sammy Glick may be an unscrupulous bully, but he remains an object of fascination and disagreeable esteem for Al, the narrator, with the question “What makes Sammy run?” reverberating endlessly in his mind. Sammy’s powers are not those of virtue, but darkness, a Lucifer to Monroe Stahr’s Christ in Fitzgerald's The Last Tycoon. Sammy is, in Al’s view, the personification of a diabolical historical force:

Now Sammy’s career meteored through my mind in all its destructive brilliance, his blitzkrieg against his fellow men. My mind skipped from conquest to conquest, like the scrapbook on his exploits I had been keeping ever since that memorable birthday party at the Algonquin. It was a terrifying and wonderful document, the record of where Sammy ran, and if you looked behind the picture and between the lines you might even discover what made him run. And some day I would like to see it published, as a blueprint of a way of life that was paying dividends in America in the first half of the twentieth century (276).
In his scrapbook, Al has essentially assembled the gospel according to Sammy Glick, representing the universality of a distinctly American form of exaltation, that of revenue and ambition.

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