…Then I’d rival Dr. Chew for constancy. Daily, often day/nightly rides with Charlie, that is, like that from which we’ve just now returned in good order (during which that lead sentence materialized: we’ll turn daily blogger the moment voice-activated laptops for the hyperactive set are installed on two-wheelers…)
The very first post for this blog wrote itself, within minutes of our being awakened by K. with the news that Budd Schulberg had died. That was August 6, 2009, three weeks shy of one year as we write. Three days later I opened a shipping carton to find my author’s copies of On the Irish Waterfront. We did our first reading on Labor Day in Soho: if I did not tell the story that night I’ve told it dozens of times since, of uncovering Budd’s initial waterfront screenplay, hidden in plain sight, really, where else, in the Budd Schulberg papers at Firestone Library, Princeton University.
This was so long ago I actually ran out of the reading room and ducked into a phone booth, like reporters in old-time movies, to call Budd out on Long Island. After I excitedly spilled the news he asked in his haltering fashion: Do you think they’ll let me have a copy? For you, Budd, I assured him, for you. The date stamped on the title page of “Crime on the Waterfront”—April 15, 1951—instantly dissolved fifty years’ worth of received wisdom concerning the origins of On the Waterfront. See, Budd completed the original screenplay a month-plus prior to his ‘friendly’ testimony before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (the notorious HUAC: Budd was identified as an erstwhile communist in late-April testimony by his old Beverley Hills High pal, screenwriter Richard Collins; subpoena soon followed). If Budd wrote the script and only later testified, as Irish Waterfront shows, he surely could not be said to have written the movie to justify testimony he did not know he’d be compelled to provide.
Irish Waterfront closed the case with a suggestion that if Budd’s HUAC testimony reads like a conversion narrative, so too does the April 1951 screenplay composed under the influence of his Jesuit mentor/creative partner Pete Corridan, who had for years exhorted longshoremen to reclaim their God-given human dignity by bearing public witness of their oppression. Budd was himself intrigued by our
interpretive angle, with its hint that he may have sought the waterfront priest’s counsel prior to testifying, but was unable to confirm it via memory. He was most heartened that manuscript evidence finally vindicated his half-century of protestation-in-vain that the script came first, then the HUAC testimony.
The moral and political issues pursuant to Budd’s testimony remain open: all we did was blowup the allegorical reading of the movie which, being a grudging realist, we suspect will endure in film studies lecture halls on campuses across the land. But it’s been a joy to share this and other stories at readings; we’ve made some wonderful friends en route. In recent months we’ve been contacted by several relatives of Pete Corridan, quite unbeknownst to the others and hailing from as distant as his native Kerry and as nearby as the borough of Queens. We’ve shared conversation on the family’s history; lately the talk has increasingly focused on the present moment in Ireland and in the U.S. I find myself speaking often of Charlie, just as I’ve been writing of him here albeit sporadically. Call it a transitional challenge, one of many themes we two seem to share amid the differences. Hope to bring this next book in under a decade! In the meantime we’ll continue ardently Irish waterfront-ing—and Charlie bike-riding—in and through the great Port.