Imagine having the opportunity to use your talent to bring to justice those who have committed horrifying crimes against humanity. Writer Budd Schulberg was presented with and seized such an opportunity when he served with the Field Photographic Branch of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) — the forerunner of today’s CIA — during World War II. Schulberg helped gather evidence of the atrocities committed in Nazi concentration camps to present during the Nuremberg trials.
A Hollywood Prince
Schulberg was born Seymour Wilson Schulberg on March 27, 1914 in New York City. He was the son of B.P. Schulberg, head of Paramount Pictures. Schulberg spent most of his childhood in Hollywood, surrounded by movie stars.
During his adolescence, Schulberg returned to the East Coast to attend school at Deerfield Academy and Dartmouth College. During his college years, Schulberg was actively involved with The Dartmouth — the college newspaper — and The Jack-O-Lantern humor magazine. Schulberg graduated in 1936.
Three years later, he returned to Dartmouth to work with author F. Scott Fitzgerald on a screenplay set during Dartmouth’s Winter Carnival. Schulberg later wrote about this experience in his novel, “The Disenchanted,” which was published in 1951.
Schulberg’s first novel and most famous work, “What Makes Sammy Run?” was published in 1941. The novel tells the story of Sammy Glick’s rise from copy boy at a newspaper to production chief at a major Hollywood studio. Glick’s ambitions lead him to betray and backstab his way to success. The book won high praise from critics, but was loathed by Hollywood. As a result, Schulberg was shunned by the film industry.
Capturing the War on Film
With the start of World War II, Schulberg joined the Navy. He was assigned to the OSS, where he worked with Hollywood director John Ford’s documentary unit. Film had not been used extensively during a war before, but with the beginning of World War II, it became apparent that it could serve a number of purposes:
- Boost propaganda and morale,
- Train the troops,
- Provide intelligence, and
- Record historical events.
During his time serving with the Field Photographic Branch in Europe, Schulberg helped document U.S. combat operations from D-Day to the liberation of the concentration camps.
Following the surrender of Nazi Germany, Schulberg was among the first American servicemen to enter the concentration camps. During the summer and fall of 1945, he worked with the Office of the Military Government – United States (OMGUS) to confiscate film footage. OMGUS had an office whose primary responsibility was to gather films and books from archives and libraries as part of denazification.
The confiscated film footage served as evidence for the Nuremberg trials of the horrendous war crimes that were committed in the concentration camps. Schulberg and his colleagues in the Strategic Services Unit — what remained of the OSS after it was disbanded in September 1945 — worked through 10 million feet of film to gather and coordinate the necessary material. The end result was a four-hour documentary created using only original Nazi films. Schulberg was instrumental in producing the film, which was used as evidence during the Nuremberg trials.
Building a Legacy in Hollywood
After the war, Schulberg returned to Hollywood. In 1947, Schulberg published his novel, “The Harder They Fall,” which exposed corruption in the sport of boxing. The novel was made into movie starring Humphrey Bogart in 1955.
In 1951, Schulberg testified as a “friendly witness” before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Schulberg identified other Hollywood figures as members of the Communist Party USA. Schulberg joined the Communist Party in 1934 at the age of 20 and broke his ties with the party when Stalin agreed to a pact with Hitler in 1939.
In the early 1950s, Schulberg teamed up with director Elia Kazan to create “On the Waterfront,” which told exposed violence and corruption among longshoremen. The film was released in 1954 and won eight Academy Awards, including Best Screenplay.
In 1957, Schulberg worked with Kazan again to produce the film “A Face in the Crowd.” The film was adapted from one of Schulberg’s short stories about an aimless country singer’s rise and fall. In 2008, “A Face in the Crowd” was selected by the United States National Film Registry to be preserved as a “historically significant” film.
Throughout his life, Schulberg continued to write. In fact, he became the chief boxing correspondent for Sports Illustrated. Schulberg became such a well-known boxing authority that he was inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame in 2003.
Schulberg passed away on August 5, 2009 at his home in Westhampton Beach, New York. He was 95 years old.