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Sunday, March 23, 2014

Mark Steyn on On The Waterfront screenwriter Budd Schulberg

...A few years back, I was at Paramount taking part in some panel discussion, and at one point the subject of "artistic persecution" arose. "When," I scoffed, "was the last time anyone in Hollywood was persecuted?" "The 1950s," snapped the otherwise delightful Lynda Obst, the producer of Sleepless In Seattle, who was sitting next to me. I forbore to suggest to Lynda that the Hollywood blacklist was not what most societies would recognize as "persecution"—or, indeed, that the guys doing the persecuting were not the government but the studio suits at Warner Brothers, Universal, et al. No matter. Executives can be forgiven: it's strictly business, right? For the Sean Penn/George Clooney generation, what Schulberg and his director Elia Kazan did was an affront to their sense of their own artistic heroism. As The Boston Globe's Thomas Oliphant put it a half-century later, Kazan was "a pathetically prototypical rat-fink of the anti-Communist hysteria."

In an ideal world—or if you were making the umpteenth movie on the subject—it would be helpful if the blacklist's "victims" had been a little more accomplished. By contrast, Schulberg, as a writer, and Kazan, as a director, are too talented to be written off as mere snitches and toadies to state power. For one thing, their experience as "rat-finks" produced a true cinematic masterpiece, and a better film than anything on their detractors' resumés, post- or pre-blacklist. Schulberg's script for On The Waterfront (1954) reads like transcripts from the Congressional hearings:

"I just want to ask you some questions about some people you may know..."

h/t Five Feet

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