Budd Schulberg, Vintage Books, 1990 (originally published 1941)
The story of obnoxious, hyper-competitive, and ambitious Sammy Glick(stein)’s rise from child of the tenements to the head of a major Hollywood studio is a familiar one. Glick embodies the entitled, egotism that we see everywhere, the ends-justify-the-means machinations, and the casual disregard for everyone unless they can be used for advancement.
The tale of Glick’s rise is interwoven the explosive growth of the studio system, along with the early development of the Screenwriter’s Guild. It’s a quick, engaging novel, filled with betrayals, triumphs, and backstabbery. The characters are familiar too, we’ve all dealt with Glicks and their victims, whether on campus or in a corporation.
The copy I read (thanks Karl!) contains not only the novel of What Makes Sammy Run?, but the two short stories from which the novel evolved, as well as an afterword written by Schulberg in 1989. The short stories are interesting views into how the novel was developed, but the afterword is even more revealing. Schulberg writes of the surprise of the book’s success, how it was simultaneously attacked as being Communist and being counter-revolutionary, and how it led him to a fist-fight with John Wayne on the beaches of Puerto Vallerta. He talks about his alienation from the Communist party, and offers a defense for his role as a friendly witness for the House Committee on Unamerican Activity.
Most poignantly, he writes of Sammy Glick’s evolution from a repugnant character to a role model in the forty some odd years since publication (or rather, how our American attitudes have shifted). He cites various late Reagan-era examples of how America has become a nation of entitled, self-important Glicks and Glickettes. He ends with the dire warning that the Sammy of the 21st century may end up making the Sammy of the 20th look like an eagle scout.