Budd Schulberg passed away a year ago last evening (August 5, 2009). Budd wrote the early drafts of scripts for On the Waterfront in a small office of the Xavier Labor School—between Sixth and Seventh Avenues along Manhattan’s W. 16th Street—then composed the final autumn 1953 version at his farmhouse in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. He went on to live for decades on Long Island’s South Shore amid the kind of nature-graced setting that many aspiring writers would surely embrace as their creative ideal. Budd wrote in a spacious barn-studio; visitors were immediately greeted by a framed photograph of Pete Corridan, S.J. at the head of the entry stairwell.
I drove Budd and Betsy from their home to special events in Hoboken on several occasions. As one who thinks much more clearly while in motion, these longish sojourns (it always felt disorienting to this New Jerseyan for Hoboken to stand so far west of anyplace) made for wonderful opportunities to explore themes in greater depth than afforded by standard interview formats.
Budd’s stature as beloved adopted citizen of the Mile Square City was never more in evidence than on a lovely late spring afternoon in 2003, when Hoboken’s official historian Lenny Luizzi led the screenwriter and a spirited gathering of fans and friends on a walking tour highlighting the film’s indelible shooting locations. That historic event was both organized and recorded on videotape by my friend Jim Garamone, who has patiently compiled over the years a cache of invaluable, detailed footage documenting the waterfront film project, from inception to reception. Jim’s camera had also been rolling of an evening the previous summer, at the inaugural screening of Waterfront under the stars on Hoboken’s newly opened Pier A park, a short walk from the city’s (and state’s) landmark Erie Lackawanna Terminal.
It was an astounding event: while images of Mickey Rubino and other real-life Hoboken longshoremen glowed from the screen, Mickey himself held court at the edge of the vast audience, proudly sharing memories of the epic winter 1953-54 film shoot. Rubino was promptly joined by a host of others bearing stories of their own: a quick scan of Irish Waterfront’s footnotes confirms how much I learned that night of July 31, 2002; how fortuitously—and most vividly—eyewitnesses recalled Edie and Terry’s stroll across Elysian Park, site of the dropped glove and that “graced moment”–as Pete Corridan anointed it in unusually (for him) explicit spiritual language—when onlookers were collectively struck by an intuition that a unique spirit was indeed moving the filmmakers and performing artists.
On the Waterfront will again be unfurled on Pier A Park on Friday evening, August 20; we’ve been honored by an invitation to join a panel discussion at 6 p.m., location TBA, with show time to follow on the pier at 8.