Budd Schulberg (1914–2009) was a screenwriter, novelist, and journalist who is best remembered for the classic novels What Makes Sammy Run?, The Harder They Fall,and the story On the Waterfront, which he adapted as a novel, play, and an Academy Award–winning film script. Born in New York City, Schulberg grew up in Hollywood, where his father, B. P. Schulberg, was head of production at Paramount, among other studios. Throughout his career, Schulberg worked as a journalist and essayist, often writing about boxing, a lifelong passion. Many of his writings on the sport are collected in Sparring with Hemingway (1995). Other highlights from Schulberg’s nonfiction career include Moving Pictures (1981), an account of his upbringing in Hollywood, and Writers in America (1973), a glimpse of some of the famous novelists he met early in his career. He died in 2009.
Some Faces in the Crowd: Short Storiesby Budd Schulberg
Twenty dazzling stories by the writer behind On the Waterfront and A Face in the Crowd
Despite growing up among Hollywood’s most powerful producers and movie stars in the 1920s and ’30s, Budd Schulberg was always a populist at heart. In this collection of his best short fiction, Schulberg takes readers from the halls of privilege in/b>/i>/i>… See more details below
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Twenty dazzling stories by the writer behind On the Waterfront and A Face in the Crowd
Despite growing up among Hollywood’s most powerful producers and movie stars in the 1920s and ’30s, Budd Schulberg was always a populist at heart. In this collection of his best short fiction, Schulberg takes readers from the halls of privilege in Los Angeles to smoky dives and dockyard slums in New York. His eye for detail and nose for trouble render characters as vividly as a Weegee photograph. These stories also represent the great clash of people and ideas in mid-century America. The collection includes “The Arkansas Traveler,” the story Schulberg adapted into the influential, prescient film A Face in the Crowd starring Andy Griffith. This ebook features an illustrated biography of Budd Schulberg including rare images and never-before-seen documents from the author’s estate.
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Some Faces in the Crowd
By Budd Schulberg
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1953 Budd Schulberg
All rights reserved.
YOUR ARKANSAS TRAVELER
That was a nice little summer job on KFOX until he came along. I'd spin the platters and dead-pan the commercials, I'd read the news off the AP wire—I was a kind of transmission belt between Fox, Wyoming, and the outside world. For seventy-five a week. Just making enough to keep me in nylons and pay my way at the local beauty parlor. And doing enough to satisfy a nagging conscience.
But this isn't getting us to Lonesome Rhodes. The time is one quiet weekday morning when I have the shop pretty much to myself. There's just me and Farrell who sits there with all the little knobs and gets us on the air, hangover and all. The boss is off somewhere taking his ease. Joe Aarons, our staff-of-lifer, is out telling tradesmen their businesses will cave in if they don't hurry up advertise on KFOX. OK? Ready? Blow the trumpets. Sound the cymbals. Enter Mister Rhodes.
He's big and he's Western, but he isn't stringbean like Gary. He's kind of big all over, like a husky fullback three years after he broke training. He's got a ruddy, laughing face, the haw-haw kind. He must be well into his thirties, but he's boyish. He stands there in an un-pressed brown suit and cowboy boots, shifting from one foot to another, shy-like, though something tells me deep down he is about as shy as a bulldozer. I spin one—one of my old faves, Berrigan's "Can't Get Started" and I duck to find out what brings to our wireless castle this happy big one I see through the glass.
"Ma'am," he says, "my name is Rhodes, Larry Rhodes. They call me Lonesome."
"Who calls you lonesome?" I say.
He grinned a nice warm grin. Too nice. Too warm.
"Lonesome, that's my professional name, ma'am."
"Oh, a professional. What are you a professional at?"
"Singin', ma'am. Folk singin'."
Now I know that these days you are supposed to love folk singin'. If you don't drool over "Barbara Allen," if you don't swoon to the "Blue-Tail Fly" or "The E-ri-e Canal" you are considered un-hep, unwholesome and perhaps a trifle unpatriotic. Well, I plead guilty.
I look at the big clock in the broadcasting room and I see the impatient second hand sweeping on to my next cue. So I run in to tell the waiting world of Fox, Wyoming, and environs that if they want the finest dinner they ever had for one dollar thirty-five what are they waiting for, hurry their lassies down to the Little Bluebird Grill. Then I spin Fats on his own "Ain't Misbehavin'" and I come out for another peek at Western man on the hoof.
He beams on me. "You must be a mighty smart little gal to be handlin' this here raddio station all by yourself."
"My good man," I said, "I am able to read without laughing out loud any commercial that is placed before me. I am able to pick out a group of records and point to the guy in the control room each time I want him to play one. And that is how you run a rural radio station."
"Haw," observed Lonesome Rhodes.
"I might add," I said, "that we are not in the market for live entertainment. Assuming that is what you represent. Except for the news, and once in a while an interview with a celebrity who wanders into our corral, we live on wax. We spin for our suppers."
He chuckled. Yes, warmly and nicely. He shook all over when he chuckled. He looked like Santa Claus rolled back to his middle thirties.
"You're a real five-gaited talkin' gal," he said. "Now you jest set yerself down an' try to keep still and give old Lonesome five minutes of yer invaluable time."
The way he said it and the size of him grinning down at me were not unpersuasive. What he offered was limitless confidence in his own charm. Now that you've seen him thousands of times you know what I mean.
"I brought along my git-tar," he said. "How can you send away from your door a fella who goes to all that trouble jest to entertain you?" As a matter of fact we were hooked into a national soap opera called "John's Office Wife," so I was on my own for the next half-hour. "All right," I said, "entertain me."
He opened the guitar case and a Racing Form fell out.
"How did you do yesterday?" I said.
He shook his head and shrugged and then he grinned. "I had a tough break. Shy Lady was ready to make her move, but she couldn't find racing room."
"All right, sing," I said. "Let's have 'Home on the Range.'"
The guitar case was a large one and it also held a change of clothes and his toilet articles. "I made this myself with an old cigar box, a piece of piano wire I found in a junkyard and a little spit," he said, caressing the instrument. "Back in my home town, Riddle, Arkansas, they call me the Stradivarius of the cigar-box git-tar. Them folks got a heap o' culture in Riddle." He put his ear down to that god-awful-looking thing and began to tune it elaborately.
"This isn't Carnegie Hall," I said, "and I only have twenty minutes."
I hate guitars. I used to hate banjos, but I think I hate guitars more. Except for Segovia or Vincente Gomez.
"I will first sing that old folk song 'We'll Have Tea for Two if You'll Bring the Tea.'"
A Western clown, I thought to myself.
He poised his fingers over the strings and announced, "I should say at this point that I do not know how to play the git-tar. I sent for a home-study course, but not having a home the lessons never seem to catch up to me. A folk singer without a git-tar is like soft-boiled eggs without a spoon, kind of embarrassin', so I carry the git-tar along t' keep up appearances."
I made a fairly good job of not laughing. But he had something. To look at his big hearty puss and the way he enjoyed himself, it made you want to smile.
He started to sing one of my favorite hates, "Little Red Wing." It was only slightly awful, but it was rapidly getting worse. He broke off after a few bars and said, "If you think this is good I wish you could hear my Cousin Abernathy sing it. He does it through his nose and on a nice damp day he gets an effect that's darn near as good as playin' a comb through toilet paper."
He talked that way all through the number. He kept reminding himself of funny stories from that outrageous home town, Riddle, Arkansas. He said the riddle was how it could call itself a town when it had so few people in it. He said there was only one family in the town, his own kin, the Rhodeses. Population 372 and one half. He said the extra half was for his Great Uncle Bloomer who had two heads. "But he only had two hands and one mouth so we figured he was only entitled to one vote and one jug of corn a day. But believe me that fella's got two good heads on his shoulders. It took two of 'em to get the last word with my Aunt Lucybelle." He said there was so much intermarriage in Riddle, Arkansas, that he figured out one time his mother-in-law's kid brother was actually his step-daddy. How he, Lonesome, ever came out so normal and intelligent he would never know, he said. He said in Riddle they called him The Perfessor because he was the only fella in town who ever got through the third grade. "And I was only fourteen at the time," he said. "The only other member of my family to be associated with an educational institution was my Great Great Uncle Wilbraham. He's been at Harvard for years. My daddy says he occupies one of the most important bottles in the medical lab, but I wouldn't swear to it because Daddy is always boasting about his kin."
And all this time in bits and snatches he's singing "Little Red Wing."
I didn't know whether it was wonderful or ghastly but I'll admit I didn't dial out. He finished with a great throbbing chord. "That is the lost chord," he said. "I picked it up in a saloon in Jackson Hole one night and I never have been able to find anybody who would own up to it.... Haw haw haw," he chuckled from deep in his belly. "You bring the money, Mama, I'll bring the fun."
Well, I don't know. He was outrageous. He was boisterous and effective and he had a certain animal charm that made me feel uneasy.
He was just winding up when our boss came in. He's a rich man who owns a chain of rural newspapers and affects cowboy boots and a white ten-gallon hat like Gene Autry. He is just as crazy about folk singin' as I loathe, despise and abominate it. He takes one good look at Lonesome and what he sees appeals to his Amuricanism.
Now I happen to feel strongly about America, from General George to General Ike, but our boss, Jay Macdonald, loves America as if it were his own private potato patch. In his mind, he and America are practically interchangeable. You know the type. Well, he wants to know if Lonesome can sing "Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie." Mr. Macdonald says he can always tell when it is sung right because the last line trailing off into the mournful silence invariably makes him reach for his handkerchief. Well, Lonesome gives it to him, with all the stops out. Right down to the last phrase of gooey self-pity on the Lo-an Prayreeee.... Old Macdonald reaches for his hanky. I see this Lonesome Rhodes is no fool. He has played it very straight. Macdonald stifles a sob and says, "Dammy, I love that old song. A real true-blue Amurican song." Lonesome whips out a coarse red handkerchief and sheds a tear or two of his own.
"A-course I don' know too much about this here raddio busyness," Lonesome concedes, in what has now become a household phrase, "but it seems to me a raddio station in a hunert-per cent Amurican community like Fox could do with a bit of its own old-fashioned Amurican singin' an' talkin'."
With eyes still damp with patriotic emotion, Macdonald allowed as to how that was so. And next thing you knew, he was allowing as to how a half-hour spot must be made in the daytime schedule for my new fellow-staffer Lonesome Rhodes.
Well, I can't build any fake suspense about a name that has become as world famous as Lonesome Rhodes'. Most of you have read Life and that Time cover story and a dozen other articles on how it all happened. Lonesome got on there for half an hour singing "Little Mohee"—just that one song for the whole program because he kept interrupting himself with funny stories, family anecdotes, homilies, recipes for pineapple upside-down cake the way his Maw made it in Riddle, Arkansas, and anything else that popped into his cagey, folksy, screwball mind.
The next day I have a new job. I am answering Lonesome Rhodes' fan mail. Seems as if half the population of Fox, Wyoming, is in his pocket. More letters in one day, says our boss, than we had been getting in three months. And I had to answer them in Lonesome's lingo. "I sure am tickled yer out there alistenin'."
The boss ups him to three times a day for an hour. Lonesome just gets on there and drools. Anything that comes into his head, that's what the people want to hear. He's got the popular touch. A man of the people. The way he wraps himself around that mike you'd think it was his best girl or his favorite horse. He says, "Top o' the mornin' to ya, Ma—mmmm, that coffee smells good!—wish I had time to come over an' give ya a hand with them dishes," and at least three dozen housewives plunk themselves right down at their kitchen tables and write him letters about how well he understands them. Sometimes he kids the commercials and sometimes he reads them as if he were on his knees proposing. Rarely the same way twice. He's smart. That's what's wrong about him. I'm seeing quite a lot of him on the air and off, and he isn't at all the simple, fun-loving oaf he pretends. He drinks too much, and he's indiscriminate with women. I see the way he eyes all the girls when we go out together. He's not a wolf, he's King Kong. He has to prove what a helluva fella he is every five minutes. And he seems madly in love with Lonesome Rhodes. The little success he's had in Fox doesn't surprise him at all. "It's my natural magnetism," he explained, "my God-given magnetism."
"That magnetism wasn't even keeping you in beans a few weeks ago," I reminded him.
"That's because I didn't have you, Marshy," he said.
"You haven't got me now."
Not that he hadn't tried.
"But you're what's keeping me here," he said. "I was always a wanderer. My feet get itchy after a few weeks. With the singin' an' the talkin' I'm always good for a few bucks wherever I go. I play the fair grounds and the barrelhouses. All I need to kill the people is to stay in one place. I never knew a woman good enough to stand still for. Until I found you, Marshy."
So it seems I had the love of Lonesome Rhodes. I was also responsible, in an indirect way, for elevating him from folk singer to political sage. It happened at the bar of El Rancho Gusto. The local sheriff, who was running for reelection, had had a snootful and in the dim light of the lounge he mistook me for Yvonne de Garbo or somebody. A pass took place. Lonesome Rhodes rose to defend my honor. Lonesome had had not one drink but one bottle too many and his aim was inaccurate. I sometimes wonder if his fist had ever connected with the jaw of the candidate, would he have gone on to his fabulous career. Missing the would-be sheriff left him with a king-sized frustration.
Next morning he worked it out of his system on the air. He said this fella who wanted to keep on being sheriff of a great, thriving, forward-looking community like Fox, Wyoming, didn't even deserve to be sheriff of Lonesome's home town, Riddle, Arkansas. Or maybe, he said, that's exactly what he did deserve. In Riddle, he said, the way they picked their sheriffs was they figured out which fella could best be spared from useful labor. In some places, he said, the village halfwit has to be put on town relief. But in Riddle, as an economy measure, they made a sheriff out of him. He said that is pretty much what Fox would be doing if they re-elected this poor fella of theirs.
The following day I had to answer fifty letters from listeners suggesting that Lonesome himself run for sheriff.
He answered some of them on the air. He said he would have to decline the honor as he had never gotten around to learning how to read and write and he had heard that this sort of erudition came in handy if you were going to be a sheriff. He said the only difference between him and the other fella was that he, Lonesome, admitted he didn't know nuthin'.
He kept this up day after day all in good clean fun until he had that poor man crazy. And the people loved it. In fact he could just stand there picking his teeth over the microphone and the fans ate it up. For instance, one day he said into the live mike—and he wasn't kidding either: "Marshy, I'm tired today, didn't get my beauty sleep last night, hold the mike while I caulk off for a minute or two." And he handed me the mike and closed his eyes. I could have killed him. I got out a couple of letters I was answering and read them to take up the slack. But when I was half through, he mumbled, "Shhhh, Marshy, yer disturbin' my sleep, le's keep it absolutely quiet." So thirty seconds of dead time went out over KFOX. Anybody else would have been fired. But when Lonesome Rhodes did it he got fan mail.
On election night the sheriff, whose margin last time had been 362 to 7, found himself licked for the first time in sixteen years. The fellow who won, an undertaker named Gorlick, got more votes this time than he had in the last four campaigns combined. (His seven votes in the last election had come from members of his family.) Lonesome introduced the new sheriff on his program next day by saying that Gorlick obviously was an unselfish public servant, for the better sheriff he was the less business he'd have for his undertakin' parlor.
That and some more of the same was how Lonesome got his first break in Time.I could hardly believe it when a local photographer phoned the station to tell us Time had called him to come up and get a picture of us. I say us because Lonesome was making a kind of assistant celebrity out of me. If he couldn't find something—in a playful mood he might pretend he had mislaid the commercial—he would call into the mike: "Marshy, Marshy—where is that forgetful girl? Neighbors, if there's anything you don't like on this here program I want you to remember it is Marshy's fault, so send your letters of complaint to her." I was always the patsy, the fall girl. So Time said they wanted me in the act too. The still man came up to the studio on time, but Lonesome wasn't around. That had become one of my headaches. Getting Lonesome to the studio on time. He was just a small-town star, but he was developing a talent for big-time ways. Twenty minutes before the morning show I'd find him in his room. The only way I could wake him was with a cold wet washrag right over the big, lovable, exasperating face. Lonesome Rhodes. My life work.
The Time piece had it pretty accurate. They called Lonesome Rhodes a younger, fatter, coarser Will Rogers in the American grain of tobacco-chewing, cracker-barrel, comic philosophers, a caricature of the folk hero who has always been able to make Americans nod their heads and grin and say, "Yep, that fella ain't so dumb as he looks!" It was hard to tell whether Time was putting the laurel wreath or the knock on him. You know the style. But it didn't matter. Lonesome was in. The next day I got a call from Chicago. It was the J & W Agency and they wanted Lonesome. Right away. Five hundred a week. There was nothing like him on big-time radio, the man said. A simple, lovable, plain-talking, down-to-earth American. I said Mr. Simple-Lovable would call them back.
Excerpted from Some Faces in the Crowd by Budd Schulberg. Copyright © 1953 Budd Schulberg. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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