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.