Moving Pictures: Memories of a Hollywood Princeby Budd Schulberg
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Raised in the Hollywood of the 1920s as the privileged son of a pioneer studio mogul, Budd Schulberg went on to win fame as a distinguished novelist, short story writer, playwright, Oscar-winning screenwriter, and boxing historian. Moving Pictures is his fascinating remembrance of growing up amidst the glamour, swank, courage, triumphs, defeats, cabals, and double-crosses of an industry in the making. His utterly candid account includes unsparing portraits of outsized characters in all their power, venality, charm, pettiness, and vindictiveness. As a book on the early days of the movies in Hollywood, this one is hard to beat. Abundantly illustrated with black-and-white photographs.
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- 6.56(w) x 8.92(h) x 1.36(d)
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Memories of a Hollywood Prince
By Budd Schulberg
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1981 Budd Schulberg
All rights reserved.
Between me and my childhood is a wall. I struggle with some half-remembered incident, and it is like a loose stone in the wall. The loose stone may be a chance word or a dimly remembered face, the faintest fragment of a memory. I work at that fragment with the fingers of my mind, until I am able to pull it out and hold it in my hands. Now it is a little easier to loosen another stone, and another, until I have made a hole large enough to crawl through. On one side of the wall is a man in his sixties who has seen almost everything—marvelous days when life cries out Yes Yes Yes! with Molly Bloom, and days so dark that I begin to question Faulkner's Nobel confidence that man will endure. On the other side of the wall is the infant who has seen almost nothing except fingers and toes and the dim boundaries of an airless room.
To tell my story from the point of view of the infant who becomes the child, the youth, and the adult is to employ a familiar literary device but one that has never seemed altogether scrupulous to me. But to write it from the hindsight, the so-called wisdom which is really that of the navigator making corrections for errors, is equally unsatisfactory. The one-year-old lives on in the man of sixty-odd and the sixty-odd was there in the frightened one-year-old who didn't know where he was or why he was; the mind is the same one, merely battered, challenged, and improved. This is not the complete story, the accurate replay, this is only what the one-year-old, and all the progressive years that inhabited the body identified as budd schulberg, have been able to piece together. I am my own team of archeologists digging down in time, and the memories are scattered shards, a haphazard collection until they are assembled. If sometimes the four-year-old thinks or talks like a man of sixty, or the sexagenarian sounds more like a child of four, you may charge that to the inevitable failures in the methods of personal archeology. Or to the failure of this sort of dichotomous collaboration.
So I invite you to follow me through the wall. Peer into the door of the splendid New York apartment house on 120th Street, facing Mt. Morris Park, where I opened my eyes for the first time. I was in a small, Victorian-cluttered bedroom of a three-room apartment off Fifth Avenue in a comfortable middle-class section of upper Manhattan called Harlem. The young Jewish doctor who lived in the building handed me to my mother, Adeline. Barely out of her teens, weighing only ninety pounds, she was frail, sensitive, and pretty in that wistful Mary Pickford-Lillian Gish way that was the style before the flappers displaced them in the Twenties. Young Adeline had been carried across the ocean in her mother's arms, the Jaffe family on the run from the Cossacks who terrorized their native Dvinsk, the lowly village-sister of Minsk and Pinsk that was in Poland or Sweden or Germany or Russia as the tides of history changed the flags but not the bottom-dog status of the Jews in the ghetto near the river Dvina. Practically all Adeline could recall from that brief period was a trip to St. Petersburg with her mother Hannah, escorted by her uncle, a diamond-cutter to the Czar, one of the few Jews allowed to enter that hallowed Russian Orthodox capital. There Grandmother Hannah woke in terror. In a nightmare she had seen a plague settle over Dvinsk, killing her children. When she took the next train back she found that her dream had been a subconscious flash of reality. An epidemic had swept through the ghetto and the three children next in age to baby Adeline were dead. Hannah's best friend who lived in the adjoining cottage had lost all her children and had drowned herself in the well.
The tragedy triggered Hannah's decision to join her husband in America. Grandpa Max had gone on ahead to try and plant a few seeds of security on which the Jaffe family could depend if they were able to reach that mysterious new world. Now Hannah's Brother-the-Diamond-cutter used his money to bribe the border guards. An underground railroad said to be financed by the Rothschilds moved the Jaffe family, Hannah, the two older sons Joseph and David, and the infant Adeline, into Germany, Amsterdam, Liverpool ... where somehow they found their way into one of those overcrowded steerage holds where they rocked and pitched, threw up and prayed, wondered and wearily waited in pursuit of a dream they had not yet learned to call American, a dream that took them to the cluttered narrow streets and the dark and crowded tenements of the Lower East Side.
Adeline's father, Max, was one of the tens of thousands of lost souls transplanted from Russian ghettos to their American equivalent. At least on Madison Street there were no Cossacks to come charging into their village and burn their huts. And no pogroms. Only a harsh and hostile metropolis that dared them to struggle to survive. Grandpa Max ran a humble luggage store, the poor selling to the poor, and lived in a dream world of pious poverty. He was one of the nondescript army of Jews without money, who lived for their Sabbath ceremonies and the protective socializing of the synagogue.
My paternal grandfather, Simon, had only one thing in common with Grandpa Max: poverty. For some mysterious reason, Grandpa Simon emigrated to Bridgeport, Connecticut (where my father was born), then found his way to Manhattan's Lower East Side. While Max spent every moment he could spare from his home or the luggage shop davening in the synagogue, Simon never went to shul. Instead, to the horror of my paternal grandmother, Sarah, he took to drink. He would spend his days and nights in the riverfront saloons with the Irish bums, loafers, sailors, and petty hoodlums.
This singular grandfather, it seemed, had also adopted the splendid belligerence of the Irish. Because he had a round, ruddy face and refused to wear a beard, the barflies did not hesitate to speak their minds on the subject of "the dirty Jews" infesting the neighborhood. This was just what Grandpa Simon was waiting for. "I'm a Jew meself!" he'd announce with an ethnic pride the Irishers considered their own special province. Then he'd challenge them to come outside. Adeline remembers Grandpa Simon returning home, staggering from booze and punches, but proud of the walloping he had given "them anti-Semits."
As I grew a little older I always knew what Grandpa Max was doing because I could see him doing it, languishing sadly in his rundown luggage store, or presiding proudly in the synagogue. But Grandpa Simon's life was a mystery. For years, as I became interested in our little stump of a family tree, the more I asked "What did my grandfather do?", the less satisfactory was the answer. "Oh he ... he was a ... he did all sorts of things, he ..."
"But what did my grandfather do?" I would beg of my mother, my father, and other relatives. One day, years later, Father finally broke down and told me: "Buddy, your grandfather—well, I suppose you'd have to call him a bum. He never held a regular job. He'd pick up a dollar a day as a sandwich man—a fellow who walks the street with a sandwichboard slung around his neck—'Eat at Joe's'—a human billboard. That's all I can tell you." Apparently Grandpa's life-style was to take that hard-earned buck, slap it down on the bar of the corner saloon, and nurse his five-cent beer while waiting for the next anti-Semitic remark.
Between Grandpa Simon bending his elbow in the saloon and Grandpa Max rocking back and forth in his beloved synagogue, there was very little money coming in to either the Schulberg or the Jaffe family. But, as with so many second-generation ghetto children, there seemed to be some special spark burning in Ben Schulberg and Adeline, who became childhood sweethearts. Ben enjoyed school and was soon bewitched by the sound of the English language. The brightest boy in his class, he was singled out to go to Townsend Harris, then the model high school in Manhattan. There he won a prize for the best short story by a schoolboy in the city of New York. Adeline also loved books and dreamed of becoming a librarian. Ben went on to City College, and began reading through the English classics. But with Grandpa Simon unable to provide anything but his daily beers, help was needed to put food on the table and Ben had to go to work. Luck brought him a job as a copyboy for Franklin Pierce Adams, the eminent "F.P.A.," conductor of "The Conning Tower" column in The New York Mail, which was to be read even more widely when Adams moved on to The World.
Bitten by the newspaper bug, Ben was promoted to cub reporter on the Mail. One of his jobs, "the lowest on the paper," he said, was to review the one-reel movies that were mushrooming in the nickelodeons of the Bowery and along 14th Street. His reviews led to a job as associate editor of one of the earliest trade journals, Film Reports, where he was paid a then-comfortable salary of twenty-five dollars a week and a percentage of the ads he could bring in. This meant open sesame to all the film production then flourishing in New York.
Movies were called "flicks" in those days because they really flickered. The Edison Company that controlled the patent and hence the industry was convinced that a one-reel, ten-minute show was the ultimate for the medium. Still, the motion picture was such a novelty that tens of thousands of nickels flowed into the makeshift "movie houses" every week. Young Schulberg, already signing himself "B. P. Schulberg" to make his byline belie his age, found himself on the ground floor of the infant industry.
The slender, pink-faced 22-year-old who stared down at the infant me looked neither old enough to be a father nor mature enough to be a veteran writer of the photoplay, as it was then called. But already he had cranked out hundreds of one-reel photoplays, at the rate of two a week, and as a sign of his veteran's status, had been invited to write the preface to A. W. Thomas's How to Write a Photoplay.
Thomas's byline on the title page is followed by five lines of identification:
President Photoplaywright Association of America, Editor Photoplay Magazine, Editor Photoplay Scenario, Author of Photoplay Helps and Hints and the Photoplay "Punch"; Member of the Photoplay Authors' League, Screen and Ed-Au Club.
Perhaps this long-forgotten photoplaywright felt a need to write this advertisement for himself because, from 1905 onward, the screenwriter has always been low-man on the cinematic totem pole. The most ardent movie buff will remember the entire cast of a given picture, and tick off the names of the director and the producer. Ask him the name of the scribe who conceived the plot, the characters, the theme, and who wrote the words his favorites speak with such conviction, and a vague cloud floats across his eyes. Books on Hollywood and the history of motion pictures spawn like minnows in the spring, but the genesis and development of the photoplaywright (now simplified to screenwriter) remain virtually unrecorded. Even the writers themselves have not regarded their profession with sufficient seriousness to trace its history. Still, my boyish-faced papa was one of the originals, and so I came into the world hearing not the strains of "Rock-a-bye, Baby" or "Just a Song at Twilight," but the clicking of typewriter keys.
The films that were being cranked out in the year of my birth held enough promise for Vachel Lindsay, the populist poet, to write a book titled The Art of the Moving Pictures, in which he trumpeted the movies as the most revolutionary civilizing force since the invention of the printing press. My father prized that book because he was as much in love with words as he was with the play without words that had become his passion and his livelihood. The catchy tom-tom rhythms of Vachel Lindsay, sounding social warnings, contributed to the background music of my early years, along with the clicking of that old Underwood and the cranking of the now-obsolete boxlike movie camera.
For, by the time I appeared in 1914, my father was working for one of the first film tycoons, the diminutive, untiring immigrant fur worker, Adolph Zukor, whose Famous Players Company was still a fledgling. For writing scenarios and publicity, B.P. had now achieved the lordly salary of fifty dollars a week. And he was moonlighting: writing a series of four one-reel documentaries on Sylvia Pankhurst, the English suffragist leader, who had come to America to promote the cause, and who had been dragged off to jail from the meeting my mother had attended. It was through Adeline's connections with the movement that B.P. had gotten the assignment, at fifty dollars per reel. So my birth had been financed in true collaboration: my father's screenwriting skills married to my mother's interest in the feminist pioneers. This was a first for all three of us: my first moments on earth, my father's first documentary film, and my mother's first efforts as a writer's agent.
My delivery, my baby clothes, and all the luxuries that would be lavished on my infancy were supplied by the latest and liveliest of the arts. My first carriage was presented to me by the Adolph Zukors, and from their farm outside the city they sent fresh milk and eggs to help little Buddy, as I was called, grow strong. The Zukors' son-in-law, Al Kaufman, an executive in the young company and a crony of B.P.'s, presented me with a sailor suit. Mary Pickford, at twenty-one the most famous of the Famous Players, sent Buddy a woolly blanket. B.P. had just written one of her current movies (and long one of her favorites), Tess of the Storm Country, and had coined the phrase that practically became part of her name, "America's Sweetheart." The business that people had scoffed at as an overnight fad when my father first drifted into it was going through its first great transition. Mary Pickford (née Gladys Smith), who had earned five dollars a day as an anonymous extra in 1909, was earning an astronomical four thousand dollars a week in 1914. The American public, tired of stale vaudeville jokes and third-rate touring companies, had discovered its favorite form of entertainment. Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin and Theda Bara, the Keystone Kops and the Bathing Beauties were the angels flying round my crib. But Hollywood was still a primitive barn in open western country where a failed theater director named Cecil B. DeMille was making his first movie, The Squaw Man, for an odd couple of film pioneers, Jesse Lasky, a congenial trumpet-player-vaudevillian, and his single-minded, irascible, ex-glove salesman brother-in-law, Sam Goldfish.
Back in Harlem, I was overdressed and pampered by a young mother so ambitious for my intellectual progress that while she was carrying me she had spent as much time as she could in libraries, taking poetry courses at Columbia and reading Tennyson, Milton, and Shelley, determined that I should become, at the very least, Stephen Crane and John Galsworthy combined.
Maybe it was the lack of a family tree. We sprang like Minervas from the ghetto brow, barely knowing our grandparents, our great-grandparents lost in the great Russian miasma. Like African slaves in America, our births, marriages, and deaths in Czarist Russia had gone unrecorded. Who were my great-grandfathers, my great-grandmothers? Did they earn a living, did they love each other, were they killed in pogroms? No one has ever been able to tell me. I read Nabokov and I marvel at the rich tapestry: What a parade of predecessors! There is Grandfather the Minister of Justice. There is Grandmother the Baroness. There is the great-great-grandfather the General, in command of "The Nabokov Regiment." "Eppis," my mother would have said.
Over the centuries Nabokov ranges, like an elegant but greedy unicorn, until the history of the Nabokovs becomes the history of Mother Russia herself, complete with loyal Ministers of State who are intimates of the Czar and rebellious Decembrists on their way to the scaffold. What a proliferation of Nabokovs, all the way back—Nabokov points out modestly—to a Russianized Tatar Prince Nabok Murza, in 1380. Six hundred years of Nabokovism! I want to cry out, "Vladimir, we came from your country, too, but while you were living on great estates and making history, we were huddled in our little synagogues, and in our village huts, hiding from history. Even the serfs looked down on us. We held no titles, never raced in luxurious sleighs through the forests of our dachas, we had no French, English, and German tutors, our ancestors did not distinguish themselves in celebrated duels and affairs of state. We were just poor Russian or Latvian Jews who lived out our unrecorded existences."
Excerpted from Moving Pictures by Budd Schulberg. Copyright © 1981 Budd Schulberg. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Budd Schulberg is also the author of What Makes Sammy Run?, The Harder They Fall, The Disenchanted, Sparring with Hemingway, and On the Waterfront (play and screenplay). He lives in Westhampton Beach, New York.
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