Tuesday, 19 November 2013

The Disenchanted by Budd Schulberg


To mangle a line from Donnie Brasco:
If Sonny (the) Red says you’re a rat then you’re a rat. (fink, stoolie, snitch)
That’s it with Budd Schulberg and the special pleading from On the Waterfront which he wrote won’t serve. Being a friendly witness for HUAC puts you in line for a liberal OBE (one behind the ear).

What of the novel?(published 1950) It’s good, an insider story that has its evasions and who better to tell it than Schulberg whose father was a bigshot producer who allowed him to attend writer conferences as a kid. As a student at Dartmouth he went with Scott Fitzgerald on a script doctoring escapade and the Manly Halliday and Ann Loeb represent the writer and his lover Sheila Graham. Much is made of her Semitic profile but strangely enough there are no other Jews in Hollywood. Possibly Budd was on the run from Sammy (What makes Sammy run? which was accused of being anti-Semitic. As it happen Sheila Graham was Jewish but here I am getting caught up in the parallels with real life. It’s just a novel and coming from someone who wrote for the screen it has at times a broad storyboard feel to it. Consciousness as a personal viewpoint oscillates between Manly Halliday and Shep Stearns a junior writer whose Love on Ice story is with Victor Milgrim for consideration. This Victor is one of the best things in the book and is probably based on someone that Schulberg knew well. He is a grotesque anglophile snob who is anxious to use Manly to give himself artistic credibility and thereby get in with the Webster/Dartmouth governing body. An honorary degree. Dr. Victor indeed!

When the call to see Milgrim finally comes Shep is introduced to Manly Halliday who has decided that his debts are so large that he must whore just a little @ 2000$ a week for 10 weeks. This is January 29th. 1939 because that very day Barcelona just fell to the Loyalists. (Answer the question Mr.Schulberg) A lot of money even now. The rough diamond of the script will be given the artistic polish by the great but ‘all washed up’ writer whom Shep had written about for a college thesis. Adhering to the ‘no second acts’ trope Shep thought him dead, devoured by bears or rats with pink eyes.

The horror and the hilarity of the disintegration of Manly Halliday started by bubbly on the plane going to New York is described in detail. No sleep, benzedrine, alcohol and the snow and ice of winter Webster coupled with the uncanny cunning of the drunkard hastens the story to a debacle which is well told. Fitzgerald had left much documentary evidence behind him and from it all a credible voice is transcribed by Schulberg’s large talent. Flashbacks to the Manly/Jere//Scott/Zelda deadly dyad cover their frenetic partying including one given to celebrate a screen dog star. Quite funny in a dispiriting sort of way.

Great book, sort of sidelined by the the still fashionable leftism of Hollywood and scribbling intelligentsia. It is credited with playing a part in the Fitzgerald revival.

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