Sammy Glick? Sure, Sammy and I Go Way Back
Most people, when they hear the word star think beautiful, glamorous, appealing, or at least macho or sexy. Not Budd Schulberg. Star , to him, brings forth visions of whores, whoremasters and all things evil. The word is like the dinner bell to Pavlov’s dog. Budd salivates, gets sick to his stomach and wants to crawl under the table.
Seated at the dinner table as a child, waiting for his father (B. P. Schulberg, production chief, Paramount) to come home, Budd would watch his mother get more and more upset. When his father did arrive, he would curse and rage against those villainous bastards, those g.d. stars who made his life miserable and kept him tied up at the studio. In young Schulberg’s mind, the star became the despicable low life, the lowest-of-the-low, and to this day--70 years later--the word goes directly to the pit of his stomach.
How is it, you may ask, that a boy like Budd Schulberg, with such a distorted view of Hollywood, could write one of the best books about Hollywood? Or, you may ask, was it because of that low-angle, from-the-dinner-table POV that he could, and did, write that classic story of the unremitting Hollywood heel, Sammy Glick, in “What Makes Sammy Run?”
Of course, he had to distance himself from home and Hollywood to do it, but he didn’t waste much time. As an undergraduate at Dartmouth, he started “Sammy,” and not long after (1940) had it published. Now, 50 years, millions of copies, a Broadway musical and a TV miniseries later, it’s still going strong. Random House has just published a 50th-anniversary edition, complete with Author’s Notes, two short stories and an Afterword.
When the book first appeared in the good old Modern Library edition, Budd was back in Hollywood working as a “junior” writer for Sam Goldwyn. The book touched a nerve, and he was fired immediately. “Not a Hollywood nerve or a Jewish nerve,” he says in his Afterword, “but something flawed and dangerous in our national character, an upside-downing of the Golden Rule, ‘Do it to him before he does it to me!’ ”
The book was perceived as a savage indictment of the picture business and the community in which it flourished. L. B. Mayer, from his perch atop the Thalberg Building, called across town to his counterpart, B. P. Schulberg at Paramount, and told him, “Your son should be deported!” B. P. replied, “Where the hell you want me to deport him to, Catalina?”
At this juncture, the wise Schulberg advised his son, “You’ll never work in this town again.” Luckily Budd ignored his father and went on to write “On the Waterfront,” “A Face in the Crowd” and “The Disenchanted,” among other distinguished works.
I was directing live television shows in New York in the 1950s when it came my turn to be called to Hollywood. I was going to direct Milton Berle and Ann Sothern in a comedy by Gore Vidal for NBC, and I thought I’d better read the definitive book on the subject, “What Makes Sammy Run?” (I’d already read “The Day of the Locust,” “Prater Violet” and Ernie Lehman’s “Sweet Smell of Success.”) In those days, the plane ride was on the long side of 12 hours, and I had lots of time to read and think.
What manner of man was this Sammy Glick? Surely not the producers I’d known--Max Leibman, or Fred Coe, or Tony Minor? I wondered, did such people really exist? Did they run free? And did they get away with it? (Such was the naivete of the young Carolina Playmaker-educated director.)
Stepping from the plane at LAX (no covered passageways, then), I was met by my agent’s West Coast representative, who informed me that Jerry Wald, Columbia Pictures chief, had seen my work on the coaxial cable (“Philco Playhouse”) and wanted to meet me. Not only did I discover palm trees in those first moments in the California sunshine, I discovered a town where agents had agents.
NBC show completed weeks later, I was taken to Jerry Wald’s office on Gower Street. (In New York, I realized, if you had an appointment, you went. In Hollywood, you were taken.) I found Jerry Wald to be a welcoming, affable fellow with a round, pink, face (cherubic, actually) and very articulate. He spoke in quick, exuberant bursts, and incessantly. I thought of a line from “What Makes Sammy Run?”: “This man doesn’t know what to do with himself when he isn’t talking.” I dismissed the thought quickly and said to myself, “This is not a man who abuses, lies or cheats his way to the top.” (It had been rumored in New York that he could have been the Sammy Glick character.)
He gave me a script and asked me to return a week later. At the appointed hour, I told him I thought he had two pictures in the one screenplay, and he asked questions, took notes and walked me to the door. Six months later, Columbia released two movies quite similar to the stories I outlined in his office, and I never heard from Jerry Wald again.
My next Hollywood meeting was with Buddy Adler, 20th-Century Fox. (New York directors were “hot” in those Golden Days of Television.) Buddy Adler was imposing , perfect casting for the head of a studio. He was handsome, slightly graying, impeccably dressed, with a warm personality and straight-as-an-arrow. He suggested we take a walk around the studio: “Get some fresh air.” You could, in those days, get fresh air--and see the mountains, too. We walked, his arm around my shoulder, and he extolled the virtues of 20th-Century Fox. Surely, I thought, this man is no Sammy Glick, and the next day I learned he was trying to get my wife (Eva Marie Saint) to star in his next picture, “The Three Faces of Eve.”
Next, Dore Schary of MGM famebeckoned. This time I was not only escorted by my agent’s agent, I was rushed, en route, to a barber shop in an elegant Beverly Hills health club (another first), and my agent’s agent pulled a man from the barber chair (lifted him right out!) and threw me in. He instructed the barber (who was to become my barber and our son’s barber for the next 15 years) to cut my hair in five minutes, saying I had to be in Dore Schary’s office in 10 minutes. Such were the ways of Hollywood, then. The mention of Dore’s name was magic.
On the third floor of the Thalberg Building I entered an outer office, then another office, and another, until I finally arrived at Dore’s antique-filled suite. It was by far the largest office I had ever seen, and another line from “What Makes Sammy Run?” popped into my head: “When he had his office remodeled, it had the intimacy of Madison Square Garden.”
Dore was terrific, gracious, engaging, and he launched into an insightful critique of one of my recent television shows, featuring Paul Newman. (I didn’t know it then, but Stewart Stern, who had written the script, was a cousin of Dore’s. But, no matter. To this day Stewart remains a dear friend and a writer of beautiful scripts.) After our meeting, Dore extended an invitation for me to have lunch in the star-filled MGM commissary. He buzzed an assistant to escort me, and as I left his office, I thought, “You never get to do anything by yourself in Hollywood.”
In the commissary, we stopped at a table and I was introduced to Norman Corwin, Bronislaw Kaper and Andre Previn--all the stars I needed. I was invited to sit down, and the next day I instructed my agent to make a deal with Dore Schary.
Two years and one picture later (“The Vintage”), when I tried to see him to get the cut of my picture, he was always in conference or New York, and I never got to see Dore again. And I never did get the cut of my picture.
Jerry Wald? Buddy Adler? Dore Schary? Budd Schulberg says Sammy was a composite of many. On my good days, I can’t believe such a person existed. On my bad days, I see him all around me: TV producers, studio executives, agents, Ivan Boesky, Mike Milken, Donald Trump, Frank Lorenzo--the list is endless.
Budd Schulberg wrote a book about a despicable character, an anti-hero, and 50 years later that character is emulated by the young and ambitious. Sammy has become a hero and the “me, me, me!” generation has claimed him. Perspectives shift; it’s a new ball game. Presidents are applauded for invading tropical islands, and mergers, acquisitions and deregulation are running rampant.
This dramatic change in our perception of Sammy Glick as a schlemiel of the ‘40s to the Ollie North-hero of the ‘80s must give us pause to wonder. Where are we going? How fast are we getting there?
In re-reading Budd’s wonderful book, I discovered that the name of one of his leading characters--Laurette--was the name we had chosen for our daughter years after the first reading. After all this time; thank you, Budd, for the wonderful book, and that beautiful name!
Budd Schulberg, from the introduction to the anniversary edition of “What Makes Sammy Run?:
“Sammy was composed in the manner of all fictional characters, out of the writer’s recognition of similar and overlapping traits in various individuals who have passed within his circle of observtion. Believing frontispiece disclaimers to be empty gestures, I omitted the old wheeze that ‘any resemblance is purely coincidental.’ If you wanted to think that Sammy Glick was your boss or your nemesis or yourself, that was for you. As Somerset Maugham had written, in behalf of all the writers accused of literary assault and battery, ‘No author can create a character out of nothing. He must have a model to give him a starting point.’ I had no lack of models when I first began sketching Sammy for a series of short stories in 1937. Fresh from college, and inclined to talk too much for a writer anyway, I happened to give a quasi-friend and quasi-screen writer a literal answer to his casual cocktail-party question ‘What’re you working on?’ In my innocence I described a little film story I was blocking out. A few days later I had the good fortune to read in a movie column of the sale of my little idea, credited to the fast-moving passerby who had seemed to be listening so sympathetically. I say good fortune, for this mishap launched me both on a hobby and a career. When I complained of my misadventure to fellow scenarists, they shrugged it off with the observation that my wound was a mere scratch compared to any number they had suffered. I began to wonder if every scrupulous screen writer didn’t have a Sammy in his life.
“I put down everything I heard about the credit hounds, the shoplifters who had learned how to loiter around the idea counter. Notes on at least two dozen quicksters went into my workbook. That’s why I can never honestly affirm or deny when I’m asked, ‘Wasn’t it really Willie Blank?’ It was and it wasn’t. What I had, when I read through my notebook, was not a single person but a pattern of behavior. The job was--as the job of writing always is--to recognize that pattern, to humanize it and then to try and understand it.”