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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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Waterfront’s Origins

Budd Schulberg, who lived in Westhampton Beach, died in August at the age of 95, with almost every obituary rightfully highlighting that Schulberg was the Academy Award-winning screenwriter of On the Waterfront, which was also named 1954s Best Picture.

Filmed in Hoboken, New Jersey in late 1953, On the Waterfront’s origins are at the heart of Fordham University Professor James T. Fisher’s just-published On the Irish Waterfront: The Crusader, the Movie, and the Soul of the Port of New York (Cornell University Press), and Schulberg’s exploits fill many of its pages.

Fans of the film may want to attend one of Fisher’s two Nassau appearances. The first is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 21 at 5:30 p.m. at Hofstra University’s Student Center Theater, which is situated on Hofstra’s north campus. The second will take place on Tuesday, Dec. 8 at 8 p.m. at the Garden City Public Library.

Schulberg became involved in On the Waterfront when Malcolm Johnson, a New York Sun investigative reporter, sold the film rights to Johnson’s Pulitzer-Prize winning ‘Crime on the Waterfront’ series in June 1949 to Monticello Film Corporation, an independent company created solely for the purpose of turning newspaper articles into movies, Fisher writes. Monticello turned to Schulberg to adapt Johnson’s searing look at the then-prevailing hiring and business practices at the New York and New Jersey ports into a screenplay. An aside: Johnson’s son, Haynes Johnson, would himself go on to win a Pulitzer Prize in 1966 for his coverage of the civil rights protests in Selma, Alabama, and was later a Washington Post columnist.

One of Schulberg’s primary sources while doing research for On the Waterfront was Reverend John M. ‘Pete’ Corridan, a Manhattan-based Jesuit priest who worked mightily to change the region’s waterfront culture and is the ‘crusader’ of the book’s title. A character based on Corridan found its way into the screenplay, as well. Karl Malden played Reverend Peter Barry in On the Waterfront, but the film is better known for the Academy Award-winning performances of Marlon Brando and Eva Marie Saint.

Rev. Corridan, who had provided invaluable assistance to the Sun’s Johnson, too, illustrated to Schulberg how an entrenched few, almost all of whom were corrupt, kept thousands of dock workers in a form of grinding poverty from which they had trouble escaping. To make matters worse, an unwritten code of silence among the piers’ largely Irish-American workforce kept things the way they were.

“Long after I had enough material for a dozen waterfront pictures, I kept going back, drawn by these forgotten men performing a rugged, thankless job in a jungle of vice and violence where law and constitutional safeguards have never existed,” Schulberg wrote, in a 1952 New York Times Magazine article.

Schulberg’s ties to Rev. Corridan continued long after the priest’s death in 1984, most notably when Schulberg returned to Manhattan’s Pier 40, at the foot of West Houston Street, for the 2006 christening of a boat, the Rev. John M. Corridan, S.J. The 27-foot, twin-engine Boston Whaler is owned and operated by the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor.

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Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism.

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: