From the Archives: When F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Pal Came to Fort Lee

Tales from Barrymore Award Winner Budd Schulberg as Told to the Fort Lee Film Commission

An odd title for an archive piece to be sure, one I hope that catches your fancy that is if catching fancies is your thing. This story is true and I have not changed any of the names of those involved to protect the innocent. This story comes to us from one who knew – Academy Award winning screenwriter Budd Schulberg.  Budd, who passed way a few years back, became a great friend to us here at the Fort Lee Film Commission. We met Budd a number of times in his beloved Hoboken, the locale for his greatest screenplay, the one in which he won his Oscar for, On the Waterfront.

On the Waterfront, released in 1954, was shot entirely in Hoboken but a few miles from our own riverfront community of Fort Lee. Here Budd and director Elia Kazan made a film that to this day is considered one of the greatest films ever produced anywhere.

Budd’s life in the movies so to speak was a birthright. His dad, famous movie pioneer and onetime chieftain of Paramount Pictures, BP Schulberg, started his career in the movie industry right on the streets of Fort Lee during our days as the first American film town. Budd recounted coming to Fort Lee as a child with his dad to the studios of Fort Lee from their home across the Hudson in New York City. BP eventually headed west and was hired by Paramount’s Adolph Zukor as was BP’s contract starlet the actress who put the roar in the 1920’s Miss Clara Bow.

In 2007 we decided to honor Budd with our Fort Lee Film Commission Barrymore Award, named after that celebrated clan of actors who at one time resided in Fort Lee.  Budd was most gracious and immediately accepted as he recounted his days as a child here with his dad. As we prepared to create a clip reel to honor Budd at our dinner we spoke with Budd and he began to tell us one fantastic story after another, all true and all witnessed by himself as an active participant in history. 

One of the most enduring stories of Budds that has stayed with me is the one circa Word War II when Budd was in the US Navy and worked in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). Following the war he was put in charge of gathering evidence against criminals for the Nuremberg trials in Germany and this assignment included arresting documentary filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl at her chalet in Austria.

There were so many more stories but on the humorous side here is one to end with and leave you smiling. As we were at dinner one night Budd enjoyed his cocktail and smiled as he asked our group “How would you like to hear a great story of how I was fired from a job?” 

Not knowing where this tale would go but based on his great storytelling skills we all shouted 'yes!' Well this involved one of Budd’s first assignments as a young screenwriter. In 1939 Budd collaborated on the  screenplay Winter Carnival  with the great writer F. Scott Fitzgerald. 

This was a light comedy to be set at Budd’s Alma Mater of Dartmouth College. All of us were in awe as we are of the baby boomer generation who as a rite of passage in grade school came to know F. Scott Fitzgerald and life in the 1920s via such required readings as The Great Gatsby

Well as Budd recalled, he was given explicit instructions by the studio to make sure F. Scott stayed away from any form of liquor during their cross country rail trip and during their time at Dartmouth to do research and start writing the screenplay. Budd knew what he had to do so upon meeting F. Scott at the train station they went into their cozy compartment and before you knew it F. Scott was imbibing and Budd was as they say not far behind. 

This cross country lost weekend continued as they partied like fraternity brothers while at Dartmouth, so much so that a studio executive saw fit to travel from Hollywood to Dartmouth to fire them in person. Some 68 years later Budd retold this story with relish and a smile.  

Today, on John Barrymore’s 131st birthday, what better tale to tell then one from the lips of a recipient of an award named after the Great Profile  himself.  

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