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What Makes Budd Run?

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"'I can't do that,' I told them. They said, 'You have to.' It was a strange situation. My father was telling me to abandon the book because I'm going to undermine Hollywood, and the Communists are telling me to abandon the book because it's too individualistic and not proletariat enough. Finally, I just got out, went back East." In the ensuing years, when he worked for the OSS gathering film evidence for the Nuremberg trials (personally serving a subpoena on Hitler's favorite filmmaker, Leni Riefenstahl), Schulberg, noting that every single one of the Soviet writers he'd met in 1934 including Bukharin, Isaac Babel, and Gorky himself had either been killed or disappeared, came to regard his former colleagues as representatives of a murderous system. Calling himself a "premature anti-Stalinist," he says this was the reason he was prompted to testify.

Once, Budd was willing to duke it out in the Lion's Head about his testimony and call nemesis Lillian Hellman a Stalinist "toad" who'd scream about betrayal and then read about Soviet authors "stretched out on the rack at Lubianka Prison and go back on the ferry to Martha's Vineyard." Acknowledging it "would be inhuman not to express doubt" about naming names, especially to "that sleazy committee," he remains unapologetic.

But clearly, the testimony has taken its toll. "It follows you around, it is such a fixation," Budd says. Such was the case in 1999 during the uproar over Kazan's Lifetime Achievement Oscar. "There were a lot of calls; TV shows wanted me to comment. Most of it was stupid, celebrity junk. None of them knew or cared much about what the real issues were. They talked to Rod Steiger, who said he would have never taken the Charley role in Waterfront if he knew I would testify -- when I'd actually testified eighteen months before we ever asked him to be in the picture." In contrast to many of the former forties "radicals" who would turn up as post-sixties neoconservatives, Schulberg remains what he says he's always been, a liberal activist. Indeed, within days of the 1964 Watts riot, he was down in South Central, offering himself as a writing teacher to anyone who wanted to show up. The Watts Writer's Workshop, which Budd founded, and its off-shoot, Harlem's Frederick Douglass Creative Arts Center, continue today.

So it was a tenser moment than you might encounter at a typical book party -- Budd and Navasky meeting in the penthouse of the old McGraw-Hill Building. In his book, Navasky puts forth the often-echoed, hard-to-ignore contention that Schulberg and Kazan used the testimony of Brando's Terry Molloy against Johnny Friendly to justify their own actions. "That just infuriates me," Budd says, still hot about it, pointing out that his original script did not have a testifying scene and it was only after longshoremen appeared before the Waterfront Commission that it was added. But even if the hatchet will never be sufficiently buried, everyone was far too civil to bring it up at a book party. From across the room you could watch Navasky and Schulberg, these two old lions, chat a moment, shake hands, go off to perhaps more felicitous conversations. Later, Budd said it was fine, he'd talked to Victor several times over the years, it had always been cordial -- and besides, they were both boxing fans. Still, he didn't mind getting into the car and driving away.

Over in Red Hook, these old acrimonies quickly faded. In the late fifties, with the rise of ILA local 1814 under the strong-arm/smash-nose thumb of the Anastasia brothers -- Albert, Tough Tony, and Gerry Bang Bang -- the Brooklyn "finger piers" supplanted Manhattan as the power on the New York docks. The majority of city cargo moved through here. These days, however, aside from the Columbia Street container depot and seemingly endless discussion of the federal "home port" designed to return the city to shipping prominence, the Brooklyn waterfront is a desolate stretch of collapsed piers, live-chicken dealers, and FedEx drop-offs. The vibe is still here, however (the Brooklyn U.S. attorney's office filed most of the current indictments), and Budd, who haunted the Red Hook and Sunset Park docks back in the day, wanted to check out what was left.

Pleased to see that his favorite old bar on Conover Street was still open for business, albeit only one night a week, Budd inquired about the barge, freshly painted red, that was moored out at the street's end. Told the barge was actually a waterfront museum, Budd was intrigued. A knock on the giant door brought a little girl, a lovely 11-year-old tomboy type. "Dad," she yelled, "someone's here."

The barge owner, David Sharps, appeared, took one look at Budd's white hair, and asked, "What year were you born, sir?"

"Nineteen fourteen," Budd replied.

"Why, that's the same year this barge was built," said Sharps, with some wonder. "Well, then, you'll have to come aboard."

Sharps, who lives on the barge, in addition to curating the Waterfront Museum, is also a circus juggler. It was during a demonstration of his prowess, while his daughter drove her bike in circles over the plank floor, that Sharps was told his visitor was the author of On the Waterfront. This caused the juggler to drop a pin. "That is my favorite movie," Sharps exclaimed. Once, he had shown a print of the film on the barge. "We opened up the doors, screened it under the harbor stars . . . If you were here, it would have been perfect."

Genuinely touched, Budd said that if Sharps showed the movie again, he'd love to come. A great idea, Sharps said, except that there would be no movies this summer. The barge was showing wear and tear; it was to be floated to dry dock for some patch-up. "Yes," Budd said. At 88, you always needed some patch-up.

"Come look at this," Sharps said, opening the back end of the barge. The full expanse of the harbor was out there, the Staten Island coastline out to the Narrows. "Except for the bridge, it's pretty much the way it must have always looked." Sharps said he often stood at this door and imagined the old waterfront, a thousand boats coming and going, a mecca of commerce, the hub of the world. Budd peered out and said he knew what Sharps meant.

It was pretty late by then, and Budd wanted to catch the Jitney back to Quogue, where he has lived on Aspatuck Creek since the sixties. He loved walking around New York, he said, but the proximity of "all those hearts beating, those lungs breathing," got to him. The country suited him better these days. There was time enough for one more slice of waterfront, so we drove over to the Bayonne docks.

The Jersey piers have always been rough, from the days of the ILA 1235, the Porter local, so-called on account of the large number of Portuguese members, and Carol Gardner's all-black ILA 1233. It is the same today, to judge from the recent arrests of several alleged Genovese-family associates in the ILA 1588, including 66-year-old Sonny Aniello, 70-year-old Nicholas Furina, and 67-year-old Carlo Bilancione, among others. The charges involved "work-for-money schemes straight out of the Marlon Brando classic On the Waterfront," said the Jersey Journal.

"It really is a totally different feeling," Budd marvels as we drive up to the gate at the Global Terminal, where most of the arrested men worked. Looming above were several huge towers hoisting stacks of containers marked CHO YANG, CHINA SHIPPER, and MITSUI. "Now it's just a couple of guys and some computers." We want to get a closer look but we're stopped by the gatekeeper.

"Where you think you going?" the guy asks, bounding out of his booth in his Tino Martinez Yankees T-shirt. Maybe 25, the gatekeeper wears his hair swept back in the old style, and there is a familiar bounce to his swagger. The way he cocks his eyebrows, you could say there is some Terry Molloy in him, at least Molloy without the sweetness that got to Eva Marie Saint. Maybe the guy is imitating Brando, or more likely he is imitating his longshoreman father imitating Brando. Told we want to get inside, he shakes his head. "No, can't happen. Absolutely not."

Has the guy seen On the Waterfront?

"On the what?"

"Waterfront."

"Yeah, maybe, so what?"

"Guy here wrote it."

"No shit?" The dock worker smirks. "Big fucking deal. Get out."

To which Budd says, "See, that's the same -- there's no respect for writers."


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