Budd Schulberg, ‘What Makes Sammy Run?’ and ‘The Solomon Scandals’

Originally posted on Aug. 6, 2009. Moved back to play up basics of The Solomon Scandals. – D.R.

image RIP, Budd Schulberg. I hated to see the Washington Post obit blog remind us you’d outlived your fame. Of course, I was glad you reached 95, but I wish the media and the public hadn’t been so amnesic. My old paperback of What Makes Sammy Run? is AWOL, but years later I can still remember not just Sammy the opportunist but also Al Manheim, the conscience-driven narrator, the rabbi’s son from a small New England town.

Sammy hasn’t the slightest trouble reconciling—in favor of the latter–the frequent conflicts between personal integrity and the American worship of success. Manheim is a persuasive contrast to Sammy.

Manheim in a town full of Glicks

In The Solomon Scandals, itself written in the first person, Jonathan Stone strives to be a Manheim, a mensch in a town full of Glicks. This is Washington, not Hollywood. But the archetypes transcend geography and even gender. Despite all the cliches about public service, D.C., too, is a city of the deal, as shown by characters such as Donna Stackelbaum, a perversely entrepreneurial civil servant, an old girlfriend of Stone who ditches him for a Glickish young lawyer. Washington has Manheims, too. But Glicks abound.

Seymour Solomon himself is Glickish but far, far smoother about it than Donna or the Schulberg character. Albeit a former bricklayer with two missing fingertips, he can be a true gentleman of a crook, especially when talking to Stone about campaign donations. “Decency, Jon,” he tells the Spinoza-quoting reporter, “it’s the first thing I look for in a politician.”

Controversy in the Jewish community?

Like What Makes Sammy Run?, Scandals may well ignite some controversy in the Jewish community. Sy Solomon is Jewish, after all. But then again, like Manheim, so is Stone, who exposes Solomon despite all the ugly canards about Jewish press conspiracies. You write what you know. Had I been imageEpiscopalian, my Solomon—or Smythson or whatever—would most likely have been spouting the related pieties. But then again I can’t envision of Stone himself as not being Jewish. I suspect that Schulberg would have thought the same of Al Manheim, even if Manheim himself hadn’t been a rabbi’s son.

I didn’t agree with Schulberg on everything—especially his testifying before the House Un-American Activities Committee—but on balance he was clearly far more of a Manheim than Glick. We’ll also remember him for the Watts Writers Workshop and for his other notable writings such as his scripts for The Harder They Fall and of course On The Waterfront.  Maybe now that he’s dead, Hollywood will pay him due respect and finally make a movie out of Sammy.

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David Rothman

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