'Waterfront' Screenwriter Budd Schulberg Screenwriter Budd Schulberg, who wrote the screenplay for On the Waterfront, died Aug. 5 at age 95. Fresh Air remembers him with an interview he gave in 1990 — plus excerpts of chats with Elia Kazan and Eva Marie Saint.
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'Waterfront' Screenwriter Budd Schulberg

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'Waterfront' Screenwriter Budd Schulberg

'Waterfront' Screenwriter Budd Schulberg

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This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies sitting in for Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of movie, "On the Waterfront")

Mr. MARLON BRANDON (Actor): (as Terry Malloy) There's more to this than I thought, Charley. I'm telling you there's a lot more.

Mr. ROD STEIGER (Actor): (as Charley Molloy) You don't mean that you're thinking about testifying against some people that we might know?

Mr. BRANDON: (as Terry) I don't know, Charley. I mean, I'm telling you I don't know, Charley. That's what I want to talk to you about.

Mr. STEIGER: (as Charley) Listen, Terry. You know how much those piers are worth that we control through the local?

Mr. BRANDON: (as Terry) I know that.

Mr. STEIGER: (as Charley) Alright, do you think that Johnny's going to jeopardize the whole setup for one rubber-lipped ex-tanker...

Mr. BRANDON: (as Terry) Don't say that.

Mr. STEIGER: (as Charley)...who's walking on his heels? What the...

(Soundbite of car horn)

Mr. BRANDON: (as Terry) I could've been better.

Mr. STEIGER: (as Charley) That's not the point.

Mr. BRANDON: (as Terry) I could've been a lot better, Charley.

Mr. STEIGER: (as Charley) The point is we don't have much time.

Mr. BRANDON: (as Terry) I'm telling you I haven't made up my mind yet.

Mr. STEIGER: (as Charley) Well, make up your mind before we get to 437 River Street.

DAVIES: "On the Waterfront," the classic 1954 film about corruption on the docks, starred Marlon Brando as Terry Malloy, a boxer turned dock worker who risks his life to testify against the mobsters who control the Longshoreman's Union.

Budd Schulberg won an Academy Award for the screenplay. Schulberg died on Wednesday. He was 95.

Today we'll listen back to interviews about "On the Waterfront" with Budd Schulberg and with Eva Marie Saint, who starred in the film opposite Brando.

We'll start with Elia Kazan, who directed the film. Some critics interpreted "On the Waterfront" as a rationalization for informing. Kazan and Schulberg where both members of the Communist Party in the '30s and both named names in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee in the early '50s.

Kazan's other films include "A Streetcar Named Desire," "East of Eden," "Splendor In the Grass," "Baby Doll," and "A Face in the Crowd." He's regarded as one of the best directors in American stage and film and was a founder of the Actors Studio, where the acting technique known as the Method was taught.

Terry spoke with Kazan in 1988, five years before his death in 2003.

GROSS: I want play one of the most famous scenes in movie history.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: And this is the I could've been a contender scene. Now, in your book you're very self-effacing about it. You said that you've been highly praised for the direction of the scene, but the truth is you didn't really direct it. It kind of directed itself. I don't truly believe that, so let's hear the scene and then we'll talk about it.

Mr. ELI KAZAN (Director): I'll say one thing about it before you do.

GROSS: Okay.

Mr. KAZAN: The scene is good for several reasons, but one reason is because it was beautifully written by Budd Schulberg. It's a perfectly written scene and in a kind of a tough language to this, on the poetic in itself. That's all.

GROSS: And the scene is played by Marlon Brando and Rod Steiger.

Mr. KAZAN: Right.

(Soundbite of movie, "On the Waterfront")

Mr. STEIGER: (as Charley) ... and that skunk we got you for a manager, he brought you along too fast.

Mr. BRANDON: (as Terry) It wasn't him, Charley, it was you. Remember that night in the Garden you came down to my dressing room and you said, kid, this ain't your night. We're going for the price on Wilson. You remember that? This ain't your night. My night. I could've taken Wilson apart. So what happens? He gets the title shot outdoors in the ballpark and what do I get? A one-way ticket to Palooka-ville. You was my brother, Charley, you should've looked out for me a little bit. You should've taken care of me just a little bit so I wouldn't have to take them dives for the short-end money.

Mr. STEIGER: (as Charley) I had some bets down for you. You saw some money.

Mr. BRANDON: (as Terry) You don't understand. I could've had class. I could've been a contender. I could've been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let's face it. It was you, Charley.

GROSS: There's a musicality in the way those two actors read their lines that is really something. Did you work with them on that?

Mr. KAZAN: No. I didn't direct that scene much. I didn't direct that scene really. By that time in the shooting schedule, both Rod and Marlon knew what they had. And then the lines themselves are so beautifully written: Instead of a bum, which is what I am. That's the way those people talk. They're perfectly written lines and Marlon naturally took to them.

GROSS: You know, it's great. It's your classic talking head scene. It's two guys in a cab in the back of, in the rearview window, there's Venetian blinds so you can't even see the traffic coming through.

Mr. KAZAN: There isn't any.

GROSS: Yeah, so it's just two guys talking and…

Mr. KAZAN: If we had traffic, Terry, it would've been a distraction, wouldn't it? Don't you think so?

GROSS: Yeah. No, I think you're right, because you're just totally focused on their faces and on what they're saying.

Mr. KAZAN: Right. Right.

GROSS: You have really taken pride in directing actors who are encouraged to ask questions about what they're doing.

Mr. KAZAN: Yes.

GROSS: What kind of questions did Brando ask you about this role? Any questions?

Mr. KAZAN: Very, very little. I think we had an instinctive fraternity. I think we understood each other almost from the word go very well, and we would talk a lot about other things but not a hell of a lot about the role. He - this role is written thoroughly. When he says taking dives, Palooka-ville, all that, it's written very thoroughly and beautifully, and he didn't need much instruction.

I mean I wasn't kidding in the book. I wasn't being falsely modest. I think I'm a damn good director and have been a damn good director, but in this scene, I didn't direct that scene much. I just put them there and so on.

DAVIES: Elia Kazan recorded in 1988.

We're remembering writer Budd Schulberg, who died on Wednesday at the age of 95. Schulberg won an Oscar for his "On the Waterfront" screenplay. He also wrote the screenplays for "The Harder They Fall" and "A Face in the Crowd." He first became known for his 1941 novel, "What Makes Sammy Run," about a movie producer who ruthlessly pushes his way to the top.

Terry spoke with Budd Schulberg in 1990.

GROSS: Now, you came teamed up with Elia Kazan to do "On the Waterfront"...

Mr. BUDD SHULBERG (Writer): Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...after you had both testified to the House Un-American Activities Committee. He said in his memoirs that he felt that there was a bond of understanding between the two of you because you'd both been through that. Did you feel that way?

Mr. SHULBERG: Well, I felt our bond of understanding began when nobody in Hollywood would do "On the Waterfront," when every major studio turned down "On the Waterfront," which I think they should remember, and that Kazan, when I was irritated about it, Kazan said to me, Budd, I want to make this movie. If I have to take a handheld camera and go down on the docks myself, I'm going to make this movie. I think that's where the bond began.

As for the testimony, although it is clear that we were both what they call friendly witnesses before that committee, I really - I reject the theory that the ending of that picture or the fact that Terry Malloy testifies was related that closely.

I spent about a year and a half on the waterfront. I really loved the rebel longshoremen. I saw Father John Corridan go through hell even with his superiors, and he was...

GROSS: This is the priest that the Karl Malden character played...

Mr. SHULBERG: That's right. He was really - Father Barry was really, Father Barry in the movie was patterned directly on this waterfront priest. And I saw Father John or Father Barry in the movie urging these men to get up and testify at the waterfront (unintelligible) hearings, and I attended them every day. They went on for about, I think, five or six weeks.

And I spoke to Kazan about it looking for the ending our film, and I said, guys, I think we have found the ending for our film because these men are saying, my god, if I get up and do that, you know what's going to happen; I'll be in the North River, that what they call the Hudson River. I'll be gone. And that is what - that was the real source of the ending of that picture.

It truly was not, it really was not the fact that we were saying how can we get back at these people. And I've had some disagreement with Kazan about that. He might, he could say, and I'll make this very brief, that maybe that intensified his ability to direct that scene or that it gave him some additional emotion, but I never thought of it in writing it, and I was the writer of it.

GROSS: Have you ever had regrets or second thoughts about testifying?

Mr. SHULBERG: Not really. No. No, I haven't, because I don't see what the - the only alternative for me was to seem to be on the side of the communists. And if you ever saw V.J. Jerome of, a commissar for cultural affairs who tells you that you can't write the book unless it's checked over by this or that or the other, I felt the American people had a right to know that.

GROSS: In spite of the evils perpetrated in the name of communism at the time that you were testifying, did you ever feel that you were participating in what was practically a witch hunt in America that was having a devastating effect on the lives of the people being pursued?

Mr. SHULBERG: I thought two things. I thought it should've been done more carefully. But I thought that the people who were fighting here and calling it a witch hunt should've realized that if they are against a blacklist, that they should also involve themselves in the fight against a death list, and that while writers, maybe better than any of us, were being killed in the Soviet Union, they seemed to have absolutely no interest in that.

GROSS: I want to ask you, I know that you have - you've had a stutter on and off through your life, and I wonder how that's affected how you've dealt with Hollywood, and I mean that in the sense that I know so much of Hollywood is about like pitching the script and making the deal and there's all this fast talk, I assume...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: ...that goes on, and how comfortable you felt with that.

Mr. SHULBERG: I've never been crazy about the story conferences. I remember Bill Faulkner, William Faulkner worked out in Hollywood a good deal more than people realize, and one time they had one of these meetings that you're describing and they're saying, now, the boy and girl have to meet cute and fast, and how can we show right away, instantly, that they are closely related?

And a lot of the fast talkers were adlibbing and made cute ideas. And Faulkner was rather withdrawn, extremely withdrawn, wrote a note and he handed it to a friend of mine and my friend told me about it right after the meeting. And the note said: what if they were brother and sister?

So to answer your question, I guess there are some people who can get up there and pitch and there are others who can get up to bat without saying much and hit a home run.

DAVIES: Budd Schulberg recorded in 1990. He died on Wednesday at the age of 95.

Coming up after this break, a conversation with Eva Marie Saint.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: Eva Marie Saint won an Academy Award for her role as Edie in "On the Waterfront," starring opposite Marlon Brando. She also starred in Alfred Hitchcock's comic thriller "North by Northwest." On TV, Saint played Cybil Shepherd's mother in the series "Moonlighting."

Terry spoke with Saint in 2000 and asked her about auditioning for the part as the young virginal blond in "On the Waterfront."

Ms. EVA MARIE SAINT (Actress): I improvised with Marlon Brando and it was an interesting improvisation because I - to this day I don't what he told Marlon. But he did tell me that I was at home and a young man was coming to visit my sister who was not at home, so my job was to keep him out of that house. Don't let him in the door.

Well, I don't know what happened, but he got, he went in the door. He came in the living room. We were dancing. We were laughing. I was crying. He was taking my skirt and - whew - whipping it around, and the sparks flew and Kazan saw that and suddenly I was in "On the Waterfront."

GROSS: Were you used to improvising?

Ms. SAINT: Oh yes. I was from the Actors Studio. I had been studying there. I was there about seven years and - all total - and I had seen Marlon there but I had never, I never worked with him. I actually worked with Lee Strasberg, and of course Kazan was there too.

GROSS: Had you seen Brando in anything before starring with him?

Ms. SAINT: Oh, yes. I'd seen his movies and - I'm never in awe of another actor because it's all the same business. Some actors are fine actors, some not quite fine actors, good actors. I'm never in awe of anyone in our profession. I'm in awe of musicians or painters, but I was impressed.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SAINT: And he was adorable and he was a prince, and he knew it was my first film. It was very cold in Hoboken.

GROSS: That's where you shot it?

Ms. SAINT: Yeah. Excuse me, on the waterfront. Yeah, in Hoboken, on the waterfront right there. And it was very cold and he was always giving me a jacket to put over my shoulders. And I was skiing at the time, so underneath my virginal, navy blue dress, I had red long johns on. So, when morale was low, I would start - I threw up my dress and started doing the cancan for all the longshoremen.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: That would be very out of character for your…

Ms. SAINT: Yeah, yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: …character in the movie.

Ms. SAINT: Gee, I'm glad - I don't think Kazan saw me because he liked everyone to stay in character.

GROSS: Oh, that's funny.

Ms. SAINT: But that got a few laughs. But, he was very kind, Marlon. We rehearsed constantly, which is what you do on a Kazan film.

GROSS: Right. Now, in the movie, you have this like radiant, pure beauty, but in most of the scenes, you're wearing real schmatas. You're wearing this big drab, woolen coat…

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: …and a kerchief around your head and…

Ms. SAINT: I still have that kerchief.

GROSS: Do you really?

Ms. SAINT: I - I always say one - I should put it on eBay, right? No siree.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SAINT: I usually got one thing from each film. And I have in a little cellophane bag with a photo of me and Marlon, and there I have the kerchief. I'm holding the kerchief.

GROSS: You know, often in movies, you know, the beautiful, young leading lady is quite glamorous and you're so unglamorously dressed in this. Did it affect how you felt in the role, to be wearing this like drab coat and the schmata on your head?

Ms. SAINT: No. When I was making rounds in New York and the things that I played on live television were not very glamorous. I think you're thinking of "North by Northwest." I wasn't really glamorous until Hitch saw me as a sexy spy lady. And I remember saying to my husband, my God, he sees me as a sexy spy lady. And my husband said, well, so do I.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SAINT: So that made two of them. But, I - no. The only thing is it was navy blue and for some reason I never, ever wear navy blue. I think I was tired of that dress by the time it was over. Everything was navy, the dress was navy, the coat was navy. And in those days, we did wear those kerchiefs over our head, on windy days, in cold windy days in New York.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Ms. SAINT: In the '50s, we wore them. They were very practical actually. So, I didn't feel that I wasn't smartly dressed at all. That navy blue with the little collar, that's a pretty cute dress. I just feel embarrassed in the slip, I must say.

GROSS: We'll get to that.

Ms. SAINT: Oh, yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: No, in this scene from "On the Waterfront," you've decided not to see the Brando character any more. But, he's knocking on your door and you're telling him to stay away. Then you lock the door and chain the door. He breaks in to your apartment and finds you in bed wearing this white slip. Let's hear that scene.

(Soundbite of movie, "On the Waterfront")

Mr. BRANDO: (As Terry Malloy) Edie. Edie.

(Soundbite of knocking)

Ms. SAINT: (As Edie Doyle) Stay away from me.

(Soundbite of knocking)

Mr. BRANDO: (As Terry Malloy) Edie. Come on please open the door, please.

Ms. SAINT: (As Edie Doyle) Stop it.

(Soundbite of pounding)

Ms. SAINT: I want you to stay away from me.

Mr. BRANDO: (As Terry Malloy) I know what you want me to do, but I ain't going to do it. So, forget it.

Ms. SAINT: (As Edie Doyle) I don't want you to do anything. You let your conscience tell you what to do.

Mr. BRANDO: (As Terry Malloy) Shut up about that conscience. That's all I've been hearing.

Ms. SAINT: (As Edie Doyle) I never mentioned the word before, you just stay away from me.

Mr. BRANDO: (As Terry Malloy) Edie. Edie, you love me. I want you to…

Ms. SAINT: (As Edie Doyle) I didn't say I didn't love you. I said, stay away from me.

Mr. BRANDO: (As Terry Malloy) I want you to say to me.

Ms. SAINT: (As Edie Doyle) Stay away from me.

(Soundbite of breathing)

GROSS: And that silence and then the little squeaking is them kissing passionately.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: After she's attempted in vain to fight him off and then…

Ms. SAINT: Yeah.

GROSS: …and then gives in. It's really quite a moment in the film. I mean, you look like you're almost about to faint with…

Ms. SAINT: Hmm.

GROSS: …being totally overcome by this physical feeling that's very new to you, being in…

Ms. SAINT: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: …in his arms. Let's talk about that scene. How was that kiss staged?

Ms. SAINT: How was the kiss staged? Well, we were struggling. We were struggling and I was hitting his back and I'm sure it was Kazan who said just drop that arm at that point and…

GROSS: To show that you're giving in that you're succumbing to your feelings.

Ms. SAINT: …yes, that I was sort of giving in. You know, when you just hear it, it's almost like two animals, isn't it? He was very - Marlon - very, very strong in that. And she dropped her conscience, didn't she? He overcame her and yet, she had these strong feelings and he broke through for both of them. And she, you know, she really did love him. I had trouble actually with that scene because I was in a slip and in those days I was very modest. And I felt exposed. I'd never been in a slip on screen and on television. And the kiss and all of that, it was pretty physical. And I remember just having trouble and Kazan came up to me and he just whispered the name of my husband. He just said, Jeffrey. And, you know, it worked. I mean, that was it. I mean another director might have struggled with whatever, but he just - one word and no one heard it. Marlon didn't hear it, no one heard him. And that's how he worked. And somehow I just knew that he knew, I would relax if - because he had met my husband, if I had - if I thought of Jeffrey. And somehow when he whispered that I just relaxed and enjoyed it.

DAVIES: Eva Marie Saint speaking with Terry Gross. We will hear more of their conversation after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: Let's get to our interview with actress Eva Marie Saint. She won an Academy Award starring opposite Marlon Brando in the 1954 film "On The Waterfront."

GROSS: There's a scene in this where - he's been called downstairs by some of the guys who are out to kill him. And you've chased after him calling his name and you find him in this narrow alley. And just as you find him when you're running down this alley to meet up with him, a big truck that's as wide as the alley is coming after him and therefore coming after you too. And there's no way you can be in the street without getting hit by this truck. So he breaks into a building and you both rush in narrowly averting this truck. It's such a beautifully lit scene. You're kind of like in the headlights of the truck, illuminated by it, running for your lives. Were you aware of the lighting, when that shot was being made?

Ms. SAINT: You're never aware of the lighting. But it's interesting because I - when I did see it, it's almost like the hair has a halo…

GROSS: Yeah.

Ms. SAINT: …as I remember. It was a very scary scene because it was wet. I had no idea that truck was going to be as close as it was in the scene. There was a place where we had to get out of the way and Marlon was supposed to open the door. The door wouldn't open. He actually broke that glass and he actually cut his hand a little bit. The designated door was not unlocked or was jammed or something. So Marlon Brando is that kind of actor, he just - he broke the glass and we got inside, just in time.

GROSS: I guess you didn't have to do that scene again?

Ms. SAINT: No.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SAINT: No.

GROSS: You won an Oscar for your role in "On The Waterfront" and I think four days after winning the Oscar you gave birth to a son.

Ms. SAINT: Two days. Three days.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SAINT: Better story right, two days. Yes.

GROSS: So those were the two big changes in your life, happening just about simultaneously…

Ms. SAINT: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: …I think, you know, for most people when they get the Academy Award they want to be at their most glamorous and you were at your absolute most pregnant. I'm not sure if you were even able to go to the awards ceremony?

Ms. SAINT: Oh, yes. I was sitting there with Jeffery and it was in New York, now it's all in California, but at that time the New York contingency and the Hollywood contingency - and there was a little jealousy between Hollywood and New York. So we really didn't think there was much of a chance for "Waterfront," black and white, made in New York but we went. And we were all there and some of the people started winning Oscars. And my dear husband said, now honey if they call your name I want you to sit here and count to 10 and then go up. Well, I heard my name and I felt his hand on my thigh, pressing my thigh and I'm smiling and smiling and I'm really counting to 10, and then I walked up. I didn't rush up, I walked up and accepted the Oscar and said something like, I'm so excited. I may have the baby right here. And of course, I had it two days later.

DAVIES: Eva Marie Saint speaking with Terry Gross in 2000 about her role in "On the Waterfront." Budd Schulberg, who won an Academy Award for his screenplay for the film, died this week at the age of 95. Let's hear one more scene from the film, when Marlon Brando, as Terry, and Eva Marie Saint, as Edie, discover Terry's brother dead in an alley. Charley's been murdered by the mobsters who control the union on the docks.

(Soundbite of movie, "On the Waterfront")

Mr. BRANDO: (As Terry) They got Charley.

Ms. SAINT: (As Edie) Terry, I'm frightened. Let's get out of here, please. First Joey, and then Dugan, and now Charley, and next - please, Terry, some place where we can live in peace.

Mr. BRANDO: (As Terry) I'm going to take it out on their skulls. Charley, I'm going to take it out on their skulls.

Ms. SAINT: (As Edie) Terry, they'll kill you, too.

Mr. BRANDO: (As Terry) Go get the father. Tell him to take care of Charley. And then come on back here and stay with him till he gets here.

Ms. SAINT: (As Edie) Terry, please don't do anything, please. Terry.

Mr. BRANDO: (As Terry) For God's sake, don't leave him alone here long.

Ms. SAINT: (As Edie) Please, Terry.

Mr. BRANDO: (As Terry) Do what I tell you.

Ms. SAINT: (As Edie) Terry.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.

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