"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice
Tag: on the waterfront

Hit the Bricks, Pal

Over at the Paris Review, dig this interview with the late Budd Schulberg. Here he is talking about his debut novel, “What Makes Sammy Run?”:

INTERVIEWER: I didn’t grow up in Hollywood. I grew up in Indianapolis. But when you wrote this book, I said, “This guy’s got to be crazy. Putting himself in such terrible danger.” Didn’t you realize it was a dangerous thing to do?

SCHULBERG: Well, yes I did. Of course, with the warnings that my father gave me, I realized it was dangerous, but I couldn’t help it. I wrote it, and I wanted to write it. I was doing what Sidney had told me to do—to write what you feel, what you want, what you know. I had to do it. I should also add that before I saw Goldwyn, just after I got back, I went into Chasen’s Restaurant, which was the place, the in place, where all the big shots hung out. I knew so many of them, so many familiar faces, and they literally turned away from me. They turned away so they wouldn’t have to look at me and say hello.

I heard that at a meeting of the producers’ association presided over by Louis B. Mayer and the head of MGM, Mayer had looked down the long table at my father and said, “B.P., I blame you for this. Why didn’t you stop him? You should have stopped him!” My father said, “Well, as a matter of fact, Louie, I did write to him—” Mayer said, “Well, you know what I think we should do with him? I think we should deport him.” He really meant it. In Mayer’s mind he was the king of a country. Hollywood was like Liechtenstein or Luxembourg. The district attorney was on the studio payroll; you could and did commit murder, and it wouldn’t be in the paper. That was the kind of power that he wielded. My father—who was much more intelligent than Louie, but not nearly as street smart or studio smart, whatever—said, “Louie, he’s one of ours, for God’s sake. He may be the only novelist who came from Hollywood instead of to Hollywood!” Then he said, “Well, where do you think his St. Helena should be? Maybe Catalina Island?” My father reported that rather proudly because he was sort of proud of the joke. He was proud of the jokes that often got him in a lot of trouble.

That’s the kind of thing that he got on their shit list for. Because Mayer wasn’t kidding. Anyway, it was at that point I quit. I didn’t want to stay there any longer and, of course, if I had wanted to, I couldn’t, and that was it.

Schulberg led a fascinating life. Hollywood, boxing, novels. This is a solid interview, I only wish it were longer. This bit is good, though:

Scott Fitzgerald often wished that after Gatsby he had never done anything but just stuck to his last. Sometimes at night I feel that way. I have a little bit of that feeling, that I probably would be more respected as a novelist if I had just stayed on that track. Instead, I have this sort of fatal problem of versatility. Because I was raised in such a writing atmosphere, it got so I could write anything. I could write a movie; I could write a novel; I could write a play, I could even write lyrics, which I did for A Face in the Crowd. Always there were these different strings, so many different ones. I was sort of cursed with versatility. My problem is that I’m just not going to live long enough to do all the different things I want to do.

Dead Calm

Daphne Merkin had a long piece on Iron Mike Tyson in the Times Magazine over the weekend.

In preparation for my visit to Las Vegas at the beginning of March, I communicated through e-mail with Kiki, who manages Tyson’s affairs, and the plan was kept loose: we were to meet at his house for several days of conversation, with no definite times fixed. I called the film director James Toback, who made an acclaimed 2009 documentary about Tyson and has known him since they met on the set of Toback’s “Pick-Up Artist” in 1986, to find out what I could about a man who came across in the film as both very present and elusive, weepy one minute and matter-of-fact the next, capable of self-insight but also hidden to himself. Toback told me that Tyson was unpredictable, given to sudden psychological disconnections that Toback referred to as “click-outs.” It was entirely possible, Toback said, that Tyson would back out of the interviews altogether. “Everything is contingent on the state of mind he’s in at the moment,” the director observed. According to Toback, he and Tyson shared experiences of temporary insanity — of “losing the I” — and “people who don’t understand madness can’t understand him. He’s quicker, smarter, sharper than almost anyone he’s talking to.”

…As befits someone who has been alternately idolized and demonized by the press, Tyson is leery of the public’s continuing interest in his saga. He says he believes that celebrity made him “delusional” and that it has taken nothing less than a “paradigm shift” for him to come down to earth: “We have to stick to what we are. I always stay in my slot. I know my place.” He asked me outright, “Why do you want to know about me as a person?” and at one point, anxious that he might be boring me, he got up to show me photographs from the glory days in which he is posing with other boxers (Ali, Rocky Graziano, Jake LaMotta) and with big names like Frank Sinatra, Tom Cruise and Barbra Streisand. Underneath his deliberate calmness and considerable charm, there is something bewildered and lost-seeming about Tyson. Indeed, he refers to himself as a “little boy” who “never had a chance to develop,” and it is in part this conception of himself as missing out on a crucial period of maturation that fuels his present focus. “This is what the deal is,” he said. “People just wait for you to grow up and do the right thing. They’re just waiting for you to participate in the improvement of your life as a human being. When are you going to do it?”

Dark Harbor

The new production of Arthur Miller’s “A View from the Bridge” was enthusiastically reviewed by Ben Brantley in the New York Times earlier this week:

Even more than with “Death of a Salesman,” Miller used “Bridge” to sell his theory that true tragic heroes may well emerge from the common run of contemporary lives. So eager was he to make the point that he even included a one-man Greek chorus, an Italian-born lawyer named Alfieri (here played by Michael Cristofer), who speaks loftily about the grandeur of the story’s “bloody course” of incestuous longings and fatal consequences.

Perhaps Miller felt that plays, like classical heroes, required tragic flaws, and thus provided one for “Bridge” in the form of the long-winded Alfieri. This drama needs no annotator or apologist if it’s acted with the naturalistic refinement — and accumulation of revelatory detail — found in this interpretation.

I had wondered if “Bridge” really needed another revival. New York saw a first-rate production only a dozen years ago, directed by Michael Mayer, with Anthony LaPaglia, Allison Janney and the young Brittany Murphy (who died at 32 last year). But this latest incarnation makes the case that certain plays, like certain operas, are rich enough to be revisited as often and as long as there are performers with strong, original voices and fresh insights.

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Nathan Ward, whose book, “Dark Harbor: The War for the New York Waterfront,” will be published later this year, has an interesting column about the play’s orgins:

About a year after Miller’s death in February 2005, and a few months before Longhi passed away, I happened to interview the lawyer about the old waterfront. Unlike his “portly” stage likeness Alfieri, Longhi was, at 90, a tall, trim and elegant man. Sitting in his Manhattan law office on lower Broadway, he recalled how his friend Miller, who lived in picturesque Brooklyn Heights in the late ’40s, “often thought about that mysterious world of the Brooklyn Italian waterfront. . . . But he being an intellectual, who’s gonna talk to him? Nobody.” In his autobiography, “Timebends,” Miller remembered wondering, on his daily walks, about “the sinister waterfront world of gangster-ridden unions, assassinations, beatings, bodies thrown into the lovely bay at night.” But, he was forced to admit, “I could never penetrate the permanent reign of quiet terror on the waterfront hardly three blocks from my peaceful apartment.”

…Miller first heard the story that became “A View From the Bridge” while on a trip with Longhi to Sicily in 1948. “Longhi mentioned a story . . . of a longshoreman who had ratted to the Immigration Bureau on two brothers,” Miller wrote, “his own relatives, illegal immigrants who were living in his very home, in order to break an engagement between one of them and his niece.” Longhi told me, “it happened to my client . . . who turned to me and said, ‘I’m going to kill so-and-so,’ and then it turned out that I figured he must be in love with the kid. And I told this story to Miller and he said, ‘What an opera!'”

No one would mistake Red Hook or Columbia Street today for the place whose tough waterfront culture so shocked Miller in the late ’40s. But the last time I was down there, I saw a throwback to Eddie’s world, an aspect of New York dock life that never completely dies: Up on the Waterfront Commission building there was a new banner advertising a special crime-tips number that read: “HAD ENOUGH? Theft, corruption, and organized crime cost the port millions of dollars and thousands of jobs.” One side of the street may sell New Zealand meat pies and feature a French backyard bistro, but the ragged side of his old neighborhood Eddie Carbone would know at a glance.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver