The great and terrible Sammy Glick embodies everything that is wrong with Hollywood.
Smart and ruthless, savvy and crude, he’ll do anything to claw his way up the ladder of success in Tinseltown.
Glick was the iconic creation of novelist and Oscar-winning writer Budd Schulberg (“On the Waterfront”), who died on Wednesday. Schulberg introduced the world to Glick in his 1941 novel “What Makes Sammy Run?” The controversial bestseller put the young Schulberg on the map. Over the decades, the name Sammy Glick became synonymous with coldblooded ambition -- he’s a Hollywood type with offspring both fictional and real.
The rags-to-riches tale chronicles the rise and fall of Glick, a Jewish boy from the Lower East Side who begins as an uneducated copy boy at a New York newspaper and ends up a conniving, manipulative and callous screenwriter, producer and studio head. Glick takes the American dream of success and twists it into a nightmare.
“Sammy” was first dramatized for live TV in 1949 with Jose Ferrer, and most notably as a two-part “NBC Sunday Showcase” in 1959 with Larry Blyden. A musical version opened on Broadway in 1964 with Steve Lawrence as Glick. But the novel seems to hit a little too close to Hollywood’s bone: It has yet to be turned into a feature film. Back in 2001 DreamWorks bought the rights for a movie version for Ben Stiller, who had Schulberg’s blessing on the project, but eight years later a film has yet to be made.
But that doesn’t mean Sammy Glick has left the scene. You can see aspects of Sammy in any number of film and TV characters, including Jeremy Piven’s foul-mouthed Ari in “Entourage” and Tim Robbins’ coolly calculating Griffin Mill in “The Player.” Here’s a look at some of the movies, TV series and characters that would make Sammy proud.
“A Face in the Crowd”
Schulberg himself wrote the screenplay for this gritty 1957 Elia Kazan-directed drama. While “Sammy” is distinctly Jewish, Schulberg gives this story a Southern twang. Andy Griffith, in a remarkable debut, plays Lonesome Rhodes, a crude, rude and ambitious young man who knows how to weave a tale with charm and humor. Discovered by a small-town radio personality (Patricia Neal), Rhodes is given his own radio show and soon becomes a TV star. Rhodes rides roughshod over everyone, destroying lives. Eventually, Neal’s character decides he has to be stopped and exposes him to his gullible public for what he really is.
Rod Serling wrote the teleplay and John Frankenheimer directed this Emmy Award-winning 1957 “Playhouse 90" starring Mickey Rooney in one of his most layered performances, as a popular TV comic named Sammy Hogarth who is all sweetness and light to his adoring TV fans. Off screen, though, he’s an overbearing monster who spews vitriol to those unlucky enough to be close to him.
George Huang wrote and directed this scathing 1994 dark comedy with Kevin Spacey as the film’s Glick -- Buddy Ackerman, a powerful movie executive who treats his staff like dogs, especially his new secretary, Guy (Frank Whaley), whom he constantly humiliates and insults, though finally Guy gets his revenge.
“Dodgeball” / “Tropic Thunder”
Though Stiller has yet to make a film version of “Sammy,” he certainly has played his share of Glicks, including the 2004 comedy “Dodgeball,” where he plays White Goodman, the sleazy owner of a massively popular gym who wants to crush the competition, even a tiny failing gym across the street. And in last year’s hit “Tropic Thunder,” which Stiller starred in, directed and co-wrote, he created a Glick head of a movie studio. Tom Cruise was almost unrecognizable as Les Grossman, the balding movie titan who’s both scary and smarmy.
In Robert Altman’s acclaimed 1992 Hollywood tale adapted by Michael Tolkin from his own novel, Glick is personified by Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins), a slick studio executive who literally gets away with murder and thwarts the career of an up-and-comer at the studio, Larry Levy (Peter Gallagher), who Mill believes is chomping at his heels.
Hollywood agent Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven) is cut from the same cloth as Glick in this long-running HBO series, but he’s funnier and more lovable than Schulberg’s creation; Gold is sort of Glick’s cousin once removed.
Joel and Ethan Coen’s 1991 drama set in 1941 Hollywood follows a young Broadway writer (John Turturro) who comes to Hollywood where he encounters his Glick -- a studio executive named Jack Lipnick (played by Michael Lerner in his Oscar-nominated performance) whose absolute power is represented by the statue of Atlas in his expansive office.
“Sweet Smell of Success”
Tony Curtis plays a lower-league Glick in this 1957 classic penned by playwright Clifford Odets. Curtis plays New York press agent Sidney Falco, an ambitious young man who will do anything to get a mention of his clients in the column of the potent and controlling J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster). If anything, “Sweet Smell of Success” is even darker than “Sammy,” a rare feat.
“All About Eve”
Yes, women can be Sammy Glicks too. Anne Baxter plays a much more demure version of Glick in the 1950 Oscar-winning best picture written and directed by Joseph Mankiewicz based on Mary Orr’s short story “The Wisdom of Eve.” But make no mistake, Baxter’s Eve Harrington is just as ambitious and duplicitous as she goes from a “sweet” fan of a theatrical diva named Margo Channing (Bette Davis) to a star in her own right. Of course, she steps on everyone up the ladder of success only to find that she has her own “fan” waiting in the wings.