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Arnold Schulman, Screenwriter on ‘Goodbye, Columbus’ and ‘Love With the Proper Stranger,’ Dies at 97



Arnold Schulman, who landed Oscar nominations for his screenplays Love With the Proper Stranger and Goodbye, Columbus and found success with several incarnations of his Broadway hit A Hole in the Head, has died. He was 97.

Schulman died Saturday of natural causes at his home in Santa Monica, his son, Peter Schulman, said The News84Media.

In two late-career triumphs, Schulman was recruited by Francis Ford Coppola to write the biopic Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988), and he scored an Emmy nomination and a Humanitas Prize in 1994 for his teleplay for HBO’s And the Band Played Onan adaptation of Randy Shilts’ nonfiction book about the onset of AIDS.

An original member of the Actors Studio, Schulman in the 1950s worked alongside the likes of James Dean and Paul Newman on live television. In 1962, he quit as the original screenwriter on the never-completed Marilyn Monroe movie Something’s Got to Giveprotesting Fox’s harsh treatment of the actress.

After he made his first big splash with the 1957 Broadway comedy A Hole in the HeadFrank Sinatra bought the movie rights and starred in the Frank Capra-directed 1959 film adaptation, with Schulman supplying the screenplay for the picture that introduced the song “High Hopes.”

Schulman also has his name in the credits The Night They Raid Minsky’s (1968), directed by William Friedkin; the sequel Funny Lady (1975), starring Barbra Streisand; Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976); Players (1979), starring Goodbye, Columbus breakout Ali McGraw; and Richard Attenborough’s A Chorus Line (1985), an adaptation of the Broadway sensation.

However, he said he had little to do with the finished product on those films.

For example, “Both Won Ton Ton and Players were totally rewritten from scratch,” he told Pat McGilligan in 1991 in a must-read Q&A. “I had nothing to do with either of them. Nothing. Not a word. They haunt me to this day. Just seeing wonton on a menu in a Chinese restaurant makes me want to throw up.”

Born in Philadelphia on Aug. 11, 1925, Schulman was raised as the only Jewish kid “in a little hillbilly town in North Carolina,” he said.

“I knew you could be a doctor, a lawyer, run a store, be a farmer; but I didn’t know that when you went to the library and saw all these books that somebody wrote each one of them and got paid for it. It was a job!” he said. “I thought, ‘Holy shit,’ and immediately sat down and wrote a little story and sent it to either Open Road for Boys or Boys’ Life, one of those two magazines. They bought it. I thought, ‘This is it!’ and from then on, I’ve never done anything else or thought of doing anything else.”

After attending the University of North Carolina for a short time and serving in the US Navy as an aerial photographer, Schulman came to New York in 1946 and took a class at the American Theater Wing taught by Robert Anderson (Tea and Sympathy, I Never Sang for My Father). The playwright bought and delivered groceries to his starving student and became a mentor.

Anderson also helped him get into The Actors Studio, where Schulman directed and wrote scenes for the likes of Newman, Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift.

“They were all available, eager to do any scene you had,” he said. “We were all working together. Of course, many of them turned out to be the best actors of our generation, but at that time, nobody knew if they’d ever get a job.”

In 1950, Schulman had a small role in the original Broadway production of William Inge’s Come Back, Little Shebastarring Shirley Booth, and he and Rod Steiger were among the extras in an Arthur Miller revival of An Enemy of the People.

Schulman wrote his first play, My Fiddle Has Three Strings, about the owner of a small hotel in Florida, and got Lee Strasberg to direct it at the Westport Country Playhouse in Connecticut. Produced by Anderson’s wife, Phyllis, it was “a big flop” and ridiculed by Noël Coward.

Schulman soldiered on and was hired to write for such TV programs as Danger, You Are There, Suspense, Studio One in Hollywood, Omnibus, GE Theater (“I’m a Fool” in 1954 for Dean and Natalie Wood) and The United States Steel Hour (an adaptation of Bang the Drum Slowly starring Newman in 1956).

Needing something for the NBC anthology Playwrights ’56Schulman reworked My Fiddle Has Three Strings into The Heart’s a Forgotten Hotel, which starred Sylvia Sidney and Edmond O’Brien and was directed by Arthur Penn. The day after it aired, he got a call from Garson Kanin, who asked if Schulman could turn it into a play.

“I said, ‘I have already got it as a play.’ Of course, I had changed it, so it wasn’t a play anymore; but I stayed up all night and rewrote it back into a play and gave it to him,” Schulman told McGilligan. “Gar didn’t like the new title, and by that time, neither did I. Gar came up with it A Hole in the Head, because we were desperate for a new title. It was a Yiddish expression: ‘You need this like a hole in the head.’ I had no idea how it applied to the play and still don’t.”

Directed by Kanin and starring Paul Douglas and Lee Grant, A Hole in the Head bowed in 1957 and ran for nearly 160 performances. (A musical stage version, Golden Rainbowstarring Eydie Gormé and Steve Lawrence, debuted on Broadway in 1968 and lasted 383 shows.)

Schulman’s first credited movie screenplay was for George Cukor’s drama Wild Is the Wind (1957), starring Anthony Quinn, Anna Magnani and Anthony Franciosa. (Dalton Trumbo had done an earlier pass on it.)

And after his screenplay for A Hole in the Headhe adapted Edna Ferber’s novel for Hollywood’s second crack at Cimarronthis one the 1960 Western that starred Glenn Ford and was directed by Anthony Mann.

Schulman said that on Something’s Got to GiveFox “would deliberately say no [to everything Monroe asked for], doing everything to make her quit.” And so she did.

“The whole thing was shocking to me,” Schulman said. “She asked me to come back and write the picture and be on her side. I told her I was on her side, and that is why I got out of it. I told her she had to get out of it. ‘If I go back,’ I told her, ‘I’m powerless.’ I have terrible guilt about that experience, still. Terrible guilt. The lingering feeling, however irrational, is that if I had gone back, I might have made a difference, and she might still be alive today.”

Schulman’s idea for a story about a girl (Wood) who has sex with a random man (Steve McQueen) so she can get pregnant and escape her oppressive family became Paramount’s Love With the Proper Stranger (1963).

Richard Benjamin and Ali McGraw in ‘Goodbye, Columbus’


For Goodbye, Columbus (1969), producer Stanley R. Jaffe, then just 28, convinced Schulman to adapt Philip Roth’s 1959 novella for scale — $25,000 — and accept a percentage of the profits. (The movie was a big hit, so that move paid off handsomely.)

“It was altogether a perfectly wonderful experience from beginning to end,” he said of the project. “We worked together, like a play — me and [director] Larry Peerce and the cast and Stanley. In particular, I remember what I think was one of the most affecting scenes in the film — the scene at the wedding where [MacGraw] was feeling guilty about having slept with a guy at her house, and she and her father [Jack Klugman] go off and have a conversation in the corner, and he tells her he loves her and will buy her a mouton coat. I wrote that during rehearsal.”

He also spoke fondly about working on Tucker: The Man and His Dream. “Suddenly, it was back to the old days, working closely with Francis and being on the set, watching him directly and talking about scenes. Not a line was changed,” he said.

When things didn’t go smoothly for him in Hollywood — which seemed like most of the time — Schulman would escape for months to quieter, far-off places, “preferably a primitive country — the Amazon, living with the cannibals in New Guinea, lots of time in India. I used to go every year for a month to a Zen monastery in Japan.

“I don’t know why, whether I was searching or what. I only know the superficial reasons: The so-called primitive people are very exciting. It is literal time travel. I can step off a jet and a day or two later be in the Stone Age, literally — with people who use stone axes and spears. They are much more civilized than the people in the movie industry, who use loopholes and lies instead of spears.”

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