April 6, 2005
Back to '59: Sammy Is Running Again
By JOSEPH BERGER
In the cutthroat, double-dealing world
pictured in books about Enron and Disney, Sammy Glick may seem like
a quaint relic of a simpler time. But when he landed on the American
imagination in 1941 in Budd Schulberg's Hollywood novel "What Makes
Sammy Run," Sammy was an original, an archetype for the ruthless
climber who sheds scruples and uses up friends as he slithers his
way to the top.
He steals credits for scripts, drops his girlfriend for the studio
owner's regal daughter and displays an almost acrobatic ability to
feign ardent loyalty to his boss while making a case for dumping him
at the same time.
"With me it's simple," he says. "Whatever is good for Sammy Glick is
right, and whatever is bad for Sammy Glick is immoral, unethical,
unconstitutional. In other words, it stinks."
Despite a character type as iconically American as George Babbitt,
Jay Gatsby and Willy Loman, "What Makes Sammy Run" was never made
into a film. But it did have a powerful performance on television -
two episodes on consecutive Sundays in 1959 on the NBC anthology
"Sunday Showcase" - that starred a corrosive Larry Blyden.
A full kinescope of that TV adaptation has recently been found after
being lost to the public for decades. The Museum of Television and
Radio in Manhattan had possessed a videotape of the first hour
practically since its founding in 1976, but its archivists could
never find the concluding hour until the actress Dina Merrill, a
museum trustee, asked to see her treasured role as Sammy's imperious
A new nationwide search unearthed an eight-reel kinescope of both
segments at the Library of Congress. They had been mislabeled.
Tonight the discovery will be celebrated with a screening at the
museum attended by Mr. Schulberg, co-author of the teleplay with his
brother Stuart, and Ms. Merrill.
"I thought I was writing about Hollywood," said Mr. Schulberg, now
91, living in the Hamptons and working on a boxing screenplay with
Spike Lee. "But people started calling me asking if I knew this
person or that person because they thought he was so like him. Then
I realized in a way that I had touched a national nerve."
In today's world of "capitalism with the brakes off," Mr. Schulberg
said, Sammy's kind of back-stabbing behavior is "taken for granted."
Indeed, he said, he has had readers come up to him and thank him for
advice on advancing their careers.
"I've written a how-to book, which is not exactly what I had in
mind," he said.
Mr. Schulberg knew his Hollywood snakes because he was the son of a
Paramount studio head, B. P. Schulberg, and as a young man wrote a
screenplay with F. Scott Fitzgerald. Mr. Schulberg suggested that
Sammy was a composite of many of the scheming sycophants whom he saw
"kissing up" to his father.
In the television version, filled with the kind of crisp dialogue
not uncommon in an era when television drew writers like Paddy
Chayefsky, Larry Blyden starts off as a newspaper copy boy who
quickly sizes up the economic futility of a life in journalism.
"Don't do me no favors," he tells his mentor, Al Manheim, played by
John Forsythe, when offered a chance at promotion. "A cub reporter
for $30 a week, and then all of a sudden you're a great big reporter
for $50 and $60 a week for the rest of your life? No thanks."
Sammy then curries favor with a senior editor by pointing out an
error in Manheim's column and is rewarded with a column of his own.
Sammy vaults to Hollywood on the strength of a script he has stolen
from a hapless writer, and the idealistic Manheim joins him. He
watches Sammy make a loud fuss over a restaurant table, sell scripts
on glib ad-libbing that, as one character says, "will pass for
genius" in Hollywood, and put down Manheim as "intelligent but not
smart." Finally he sees him snatch the job of the studio production
chief, a man who Sammy had once said was "like a father to me."
The show tries to explain Sammy's hunger for success with glimpses
of a penniless childhood on the Lower East Side where Sammy had to
wear his brother's hand-me-down shoes.
"I didn't have to read no books to find out about Darwin," Sammy
says. "I learned about that on the streets - survival of the
The teleplay, directed by Delbert Mann, who had earlier directed the
acclaimed television and movie versions of "Marty," makes clear that
Sammy's relentless drive is an aphrodisiac. A beautiful
screenwriter, Kit Sargent, played by Barbara Rush, says she has a
"crazed desire to hold all that frenzy and violence." But still she
is scrupulous enough to tell Sammy, "If you were half the success,
you'd be more of a man."
Sammy drops her for the aristocratic Laurette Harrington (Ms.
Merrill), but gets his comeuppance. Still it is clear that Sammy
Glicks are not easily stopped. The real question, Sammy says at the
end, is not what makes Sammy run, but what makes "all the rest of
you run after me."
Jane Klain, the museum's manager of research services, and Allen
Glover, the curator, speculated that despite efforts to get Frank
Sinatra, Mickey Rooney and even Tom Cruise to play Sammy, the novel
had never been filmed because of Hollywood's discomfort with a
close-to-the-bone portrayal of a studio chief by an inside player.
Ms. Klain said it was easier to mount a television production
because "television at the time tackled a lot of things that film
was apprehensive about." An earlier, shorter television adaptation
with Jose Ferrer as Sammy was broadcast in 1949, and the novel was
turned into a Broadway musical in 1964 that starred Steve Lawrence
and ran for more than 500 performances.
The actor Ben Stiller has written a screenplay with Jerry Stahl and,
with backing from Dreamworks, hopes to direct it, but he said, "It's
a hard movie to get made - when people say no you never get the real
reason for what the resistance is."
In the 1959 teleplay Mr. Schulberg had Kit Sargent suggest that the
story did not necessarily have to take place in Hollywood and that
Sammy did not have to be Jewish. "I've known Glicks named Jones,
Goldstein and Orsini," she says. "Where the stakes are high and the
pressure is great, that's where you'll find Sammy. He's a universal
But the Jewish nerve was hard to avoid in depicting a heavily Jewish
industry. Mr. Schulberg recalled that when he wrote two short
stories for Liberty magazine that grew into the novel, Liberty's
editors insisted he give many of the characters names that were less
obviously Jewish. Al Manheim became Al Manners. But for the novel
and 1959 script, characters retained Jewish names to show that the
victims of Sammy's venality were also Jewish.
Ms. Klain described "Sammy" as one of the "legendary lost programs."
The networks routinely threw away kinescopes of old shows and reused
tapes, but NBC had given its kinescopes to the Library of Congress.
Ms. Klain asked the library archives to comb its holdings more
painstakingly, and the eight mislabeled reels were found.
"Jane ran upstairs very excited and said we'd found the second half
of 'What Makes Sammy Run,' " Mr. Glover recalled.
Will the rediscovered teleplay of "Sammy" ever run outside the
museum? "In the perfect universe there would be a television
counterpart of Turner Classic Movies," Mr. Glover said.
Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company