Budd Schulberg and the Scripting of Social Change

Budd Schulberg and the Scripting of Social Change - posterThe Papers of Budd Schulberg at the Dartmouth College Library (MS-978) contain over 180 linear feet of correspondence, scripts, and drafts documenting Schulberg’s career as an author and screenwriter. This exhibit looks at how Schulberg used his identity as a writer to fight for social change. Whether writing the scripts for On the Waterfront and A Face in the Crowd, or establishing the Watts Writers Workshop, Schulberg strove to stir our social conscience through powerful narratives that dealt with labor reform, racial equality, and progressive politics.

The exhibit was curated by Maria Fernandez and was on display in the Class of 1965 Galleries from November 6, 2014 to January 30, 2015.

You may download a small, 8x10 version of the poster: Schulberg-SocialChange.jpg. You may also download a handlist of the items in this exhibition: Schulberg.

Materials Included in the Exhibition

Case 1. On the Waterfront: A Mission, Not a Movie Assignment

For Budd Schulberg, On the Waterfront was not a conventional movie assignment. It was a mission to make the voices of protesting longshoremen heard by bringing their struggles against organized crime on New York and New Jersey’s docks to the silver screen. Working closely with producer Elia Kazan, Schulberg finished writing the screenplay for On the Waterfront in 1954. The film scored at the box office, won eight Academy Awards, and has been hailed as one of the top ten films of all time.

More important for Schulberg than all the accolades the film received, however, was its role in bringing attention to the injustices plaguing the docks and the dire need for labor reform. Schulberg firmly believed that once the American public witnessed the assault on human dignity and the brutal reality of life on the waterfont, a wave of support for the plight of the longshoremen would ensue.

  1. Budd Schulberg, “Strikingly Inhumane Conditions in Marble Quarries Described,” The Dartmouth, 3 December 1935. Reference LH1.D3 D2
    1. As editor-in-chief of The Dartmouth, Schulberg reported on a marble workers’ strike in Vermont. Schulberg’s exposé of the quarry workers’ plight foreshadows the investigative reporting he would do of waterfront crime over a decade later in New York.
  2. Photo, Father John Corridan, undated. MS-978, Box 96, Folder: 56 (Photographs: Father Corridan, Father Carey and other Jesuit priests at meetings, with clippings, undated)
    1. After reading a series of articles in 1949 about the infiltration of organized crime on the New York City waterfront, Schulberg met with Father John Corridan, a crusading labor priest from the St. Francis Xavier Labor School.
  3. Budd Schulberg, On the Waterfront, First Draft V, 29 August 1953. MS-978, Box 98, Folder: 27 (Screenplay: Untitled, draft V, August 29, 1953)
    1. Father Barry’s fiery sermon in a ship’s cargo hold is virtually a word-for-word transcription of Father John Corridan’s “Christ in the Shape-Up” sermon that Schulberg heard while conducting research for the film.
  4. Budd Schulberg to Father John M. Corridan, Xavier Labor School, 16 July 1954. MS-978, Box 97, Folder: 21 (Correspondence: Letter to Father Corridan, 1954)
    1. “One of the most gratifying results of the picture for me has been the audience response to the words of the priest, ‘Father Barry.’”
  5. Thomas Vermillion, The Purple Pier Pictures, 30 July 1953. MS-978, Box 97, Folder: 26 (Correspondence: Thomas Vermillion with sketches "The Purple Pier Pictures", undated)
  6. Budd Schulberg, Waterfront, Screenplay, 1 October 1953. MS-978, Box 98, Folder: 30 (Screenplay: "On the Waterfront," by Budd Schulberg, including revision, draft VI, October 1, circa 1953)
    1. Schulberg notes that this script of Oct 1, 1953 incorporates “Spiegel-Kazan suggestions for ‘substantial reconstruction of continuity line.’"
  7. Columbia Pictures, Advertising Copy for On the Waterfront, undated.
  8. Elia Kazan to Marlon Brando, circa 1953. MS-978, Box 97, Folder: 16 (Correspondence: Letter from Elia Kazan to Marlon Brando regarding his casting, undated)
    1. “By the common measure which producers and directors use for casting, you are not right for this part.”
  9. Ivan Goff to Budd Schulberg, 10 February 1955.
  10. Advertisement for On the Waterfront, The Hollywood Reporter, Vol. 133, No. 31, 2 March 1955. MS-978, Box 97, Folder: 36 (Magazine: "The Hollywood Reporter," March 2, 1955)
  11. Budd Schulberg, Waterfront, New York: Random House, 1955. Alumni S386wa


Case 2. A Face in the Crowd and the Cult of Personality in America

A Face in the Crowd, starring Andy Griffith, Patricia Neal and Walter Matthau, recounts the story of a back country entertainer named Lonesome Rhodes and his whirlwind rise to fame, fortune, and power on national television. Film producer Elia Kazan worked with Budd Schulberg to create this provocative film that questions the cult of personality fostered by the newly popular medium of television. As Schulberg stated in a letter to Kazan in 1956:

Whether it is Milton Berle, Arthur Godfrey, Jackie Gleason, Bishop Sheen or Disneyland, it is evident that a new personality or show can strike this world with the force and suddenness (and sheer shattering noise) of lightning.

As television became ubiquitous in the United States during the 1950s, entertainment, advertising, and politics became increasingly indistinguishable from one another. The critique offered by A Face in the Crowd remains relevant today as mainstream culture and the cult of personality continue to influence American political and social movements.

  1. Program of the World Premiere of A Face in the Crowd, New York, Globe Theatre, 28 May 1957. MS-978, Box 71, Folder: 32 (“A Face in the Crowd,” Formal World Premiere, program, 1957)
  2. Bill Davidson, “Arthur Godfrey and His Fan Mail,” Collier’s, 2 May 1953. MS-978, Box 71, Folder: 25 (“A Face in the Crowd,” “Arthur Godfrey and His Fan Mail” by Bill Davidson, 1953)
    1. Arthur Godrey was an American radio and television broadcaster and entertainer who rose to astonishing fame in the 1950s. Schulberg’s Lonesome Rhodes character is partially based on Godfrey, who was able to relate on the level of a neighbor and friend to millions of Americans.
  3. Budd Schulberg to Elia Kazan, circa 1956. Possibly MS-978, Box 71, Folder: 54 (“A Face in the Crowd,” correspondence, 1954-1979)
    1. “In Lonesome Rhodes we have hit on a truly representative figure. Naturally our Lonesome must be an individual in his own right, but from our talks, it does seem that he represents the dynamic-mercurial quality of TV success.”
  4. Elia Kazan to Budd Schulberg, 31 July 1955. Possibly MS-978, Box 71, Folder: 54 (“A Face in the Crowd,” correspondence, 1954-1979)
    1. Kazan describes the climactic scene when Marshy symbolically “kills” Lonesome Rhodes.
  5. “Un Homme Dans La Foule,” L’Avant-Scène du Cinéma, No. 40, 1 September 1964: 7-59. MS-978, Box 71, Folder: 50 (“A Face in the Crowd,” “Un Home Dans la Foule,” French program, 1964)
    1. Marshy “kills” Lonesome Rhodes by throwing herself on the switch to prevent the sound engineer from taking Lonesome Rhodes off the air. During these few seconds Lonesome Rhodes tells what he really thinks to his devoted fans, insulting them and unmasking his true persona on national television.
  6. Screenplay, A Face in the Crowd, Newtown Productions, 15 August 1956. MS-978, Box 69, Folder: 2 (“A Face in the Crowd,” script, Newtown Productions, Aug. 15, 1956)
  7. Budd Schulberg and Tom Glazer, “Just Plain Folks,” New York: Remick Music Corp., 1957. MS-978, Box 72, Folder: 11 (“A Face in the Crowd,” Sheet Music for Film: “Just Plain Folks”, 1957)
  8. Flyer advertising A Face in the Crowd, Charlou Productions, Inc., 1970. Possibly MS-978, Box 71, Folder: 34 (“A Face in the Crowd,” flyer for showing of film, undated)
    1. The four men in this flyer are Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew, Ronald Reagan, and Andy Griffith. This image can be interpreted as an intersection between the entertainment industry, the cult of personality, and politics.
  9. Budd Schulberg, A Face in the Crowd: a Play for the Screen, New York: Bantam Books, 1957. Alumni S386f or Alumni S386fa
  10. Budd Schulberg and Stanley Silverman, The Lonesome Rhodes Show: A New Musical, Libretto Draft as of 16 April 1973. MS-978, Box 71, Folder: 17 (“A Face in the Crowd,” “The Lonesome Rhodes Show,” libretto, working copy, 1973)
    1. Several years after the film, Schulberg worked on a Broadway adaptation of A Face in the Crowd.


Case 3. Schulberg and the Voices of Watts

In August 1965, a large-scale riot broke out in Watts, a deeply impoverished African-American neighborhood in South Central Los Angeles. The Watts Riot was both the largest and costliest urban rebellion of the Civil Rights era and was a result of the Watts community’s longstanding grievances with high unemployment rates, substandard housing, and inadequate schools. In the wake of the riot, Schulberg started the Watts Writers Workshop to provide a venue where community members could write and discuss their anger and dissatisfaction. It was Schulberg’s goal to help Watts address the societal issues and profound racial injustices that were exasperated and woefully unresolved by the burst of violence and confusion of the riot.

Contrary to the dominant narrative of white America that painted the Watts Riot as yet another example of black youth squandering their lives in the chaos of a ghetto, Schulberg saw American society at large as the chief culprit for the stagnation, poverty and lack of opportunity for advancement in Watts. Through the Watts Writers Workshop, Schulberg hoped to provide the community a space that not only fostered creativity and notions of self-determination but also questioned the social constructs and strict racial binaries that plagued American society in the 1960s.

  1. Map of the Watts Riot, circa 1965.
    1. The geographical distribution of damage, looting, and crime across Watts during the six days of protest.
  2. Budd Schulberg, “Rebellion of Watts—End or Beginning?” Los Angeles Times, 15 May 1966. MS-978, Box 106, Folder: 20 (“The Rebellion of Watts” by Budd Schulberg, MS and typescript, 1966)
  3. Budd Schulberg, Opening Statement before the Ribicoff Committee, United States Senate, Executive Reorganization Committee on Urbanization, 9 December 1966. MS-978, Box 109, Folder: 24 (Opening Statement to the Senate Sub Committee, speech, 1966)
    1. In 1966, the Ribicoff Committee held hearings about the federal government’s role in urban affairs. Schulberg argued for ending the inequality exacerbated by flawed urban planning and for increasing national investment in the arts, especially in struggling urban communities like Watts.
  4. Photo of Harry Dolan, Budd Schulberg, and Johnie Scott testifying before the Ribicoff Committee, United States Senate, Executive Reorganization Committee on Urbanization, 9 December 1966. Harry Dolan and Johnie Scott were members of the Watts Writers Workshop who testified before the committee with Schulberg. MS-978, Box 108, Folder: 58 (Photos: Budd Schulberg, Harry Dolan, Johnnie Scott testifying before the Ribicoff Committee, U.S. Congress, 1966)
  5. Credits of the members of the Watts Writers Workshop, circa 1970. MS-978, Box 106, Folder: 60 (“Credits of the Members of the Watts Writers Workshop”, undated)
  6. Budd Schulberg to “Frank,” 1 December 1965. Possibly MS-978, Box 107, Folder: 1 (Clippings, 1936-1968)
  7. Photo of Budd Schulberg with members of the Watts Writers Workshop, undated. MS-978, Box 108, Folder: 56 (Photos: Budd Schulberg with members of the Watts Writers Workshop, undated)