Exhibition, symposium honor Budd Schulberg '36

by Owen Shepcaro | 11/4/14 4:58pm

“You don’t understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let’s face it.”

So says Marlon Brando in his infamous lines from “On the Waterfront” (1954). Playing a former boxer, Brando tells his brother how his life could have been different if his brother hadn’t pressured him to fix a fight.

Budd Schulberg ’36 penned the lines to this screenplay as well as many other award-winning scripts. Scholars from across the nation will convene Friday in the Loew Auditorium to discuss the life and work of Schulberg, also a renowned novelist and ardent social activist, on the 100th anniversary of his birth.

Film and media studies department chair Mary Desjardins, who organized the Budd Schulberg Centennial Celebration with film and media studies professor Mark Williams, said many scholars in the field had expressed interest in such an event.

“There is a long-standing interest among the scholarly community in Schulberg’s work, and we thought that it was a good moment to bring scholars together to reassess his contributions to culture and politics,” Desjardins said.

The symposium will run all day Friday and include film screenings and lectures about Schulberg’s life and work, including a screening of an in-progress documentary by Schulberg’s son. Lectures will range from discussing Schulberg’s love for boxing to his working partnerships throughout his career.

During his life, Schulberg helped assemble film evidence to corroborate Nazi crimes for the Nuremberg trials, testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee and helped rebuild the Watts community in Los Angeles after the famous riots of 1965.

His most famous novels include “What Makes Sammy Run?” which exposed dark aspects of 1930s Hollywood and “The Disenchanted,” assumed to be about the final days of F. Scott Fitzgerald. His most lauded screenplays are “On the Waterfront,” which depicted corruption among union bosses, and “A Face in the Crowd” (1957), about television’s impact on American culture.

Film professor Bill Phillips ’71 said Schulberg’s skill as a screenwriter is evident in the continued fame of “On the Waterfront.” Though it still requires proper execution, Phillips described a film’s script as extremely important to its success.

“The Writers Guild will tell you no film can succeed without a good script, and they’re right,” Phillips said. “‘On the Waterfront’ stands far above most. When we get something this good, we should pay attention to it.”

Along with the symposium, Rauner Library will host an exhibit of Schulberg’s papers. Dartmouth purchased this collection from Schulberg in 2006, just three years before his death.

Edward Connery Lathem ’51 special collections intern Maria Fernandez ’14 curated the exhibit, which will open on Thursday.

Fernandez said the exhibit focuses on Schulberg’s work writing “On the Waterfront” and “A Face in the Crowd,” as well as efforts to create writers workshops in Los Angeles.

“We decided to focus this exhibit on the aspect of Schulberg’s life that encompasses his career as a fervent fighter for social change through the use of the written word,” she said.