His father was one of the pioneer production chiefs at Paramount, his mother is still a crack literary agent, and Budd Schulberg was himself to become an Oscar-winning screenwriter (On the Waterfront) and best-selling novelist (What Makes Sammy Run?). But back in the 1930s one of Budd’s trades was babysitting, and one of his clients was the owner of the Brooks Costume Co., a leading outfitter of the Broadway stage—or more specifically, his 5-year-old daughter Geraldine. “I’d say, ‘All right, it’s time for bed,’ ” Schulberg remembers, “and she’d jump up on a barstool with a black silk top hat and start doing Marlene Dietrich.” In mock German yet.
During the next 25 or so years, Budd Schulberg never saw Geraldine Brooks, but he did read about her: she debuted on Broadway at 18 in Follow the Girls, made a promising start in pictures playing Joan Crawford’s stepdaughter in Possessed, wound up as one of the actresses of distinction in TV’s putative Golden Age. Then decades later came a Schulberg-Brooks reunion—staged by their mothers, naturally—at a Jewish Passover seder. Budd by then had been through two busted marriages, Gerri one, and both were alienated from Hollywood.
“It was like we never left each other,” says Gerri of that night. “We were finishing each other’s sentences.” The couple married a year later in 1964, in a garden high above Beverly Hills where oranges floated in the pool and a Mexican mariachi band played under trees dripping with piñatas. One of the gifts of the marriage was a pastoral sort of rebirth for both Brooks and her seemingly ungreened husband. Perhaps Budd’s most important contributions since have been his workshops in Watts and Harlem for black writers. Recently the Schulbergs collaborated on a book—the photographs are hers, the text his—tentatively titled The Swans on Our Lawn—about the birds they tamed at their creekside home in the Long Island Hamptons.
Their present peace—Budd at 60, Gerri at 48—surpasseth expectations. He has had a lifelong stammer, and a contentious quasi-radical past in Hollywood. Louis B. Mayer angrily suggested to Budd’s father, B. P. Schulberg, that his son should be “deported” for the sacrilege of creating the Hollywood hustler, Sammy Glick—a novel that the industry barred as a film property. About ten years later Budd was castigated as a fink by the town’s younger Turks for his partial cooperation with the House Un-American Activities Committee during the era of Sen. Joe McCarthy and the “blacklist.”
In his early career Schulberg cranked out scripts for studio chiefs like his father. In 1939, for example, he worked with F. Scott Fitzgerald on the screenplay for Winter Carnival—about Budd’s alma mater, Dartmouth College. During the weeks he spent with Fitzgerald, Budd unwittingly gave him scenes Fitzgerald later used in his last book, The Last Tycoon. And Fitzgerald, in turn, furnished the young writer with much of the material that went into the tragic character Manley Halliday in Budd’s 1950 best-seller, The Disenchanted. Defenders of both writers quibble over who exploited whom.
At about that time, actress Gerri Brooks reached the point where she thought she needed vocational guidance. She had been shunted off to film projects like Embraceable You with Dane Clark. “I was like a frightened Alice in Wonderland,” she realizes now in retrospect. “I was driving home one day after shooting and I said to myself, ‘What am I doing?’ ”
Currently and perhaps for the first time, both Gerri and Budd seem to know what they are doing. “Women’s lib happened to me through Budd,” says Gerri. “I know I can have a career and marriage.” She has just made her own peace with filmmaking, shooting her first picture in eight years, Ricco, costarring Dean Martin, and thus she out-earned Schulberg last year.
They have a pied-à-terre in Manhattan, a place in Mexico where they fish and make archeological digs. Never again will either be indentured to Hollywood. Explains Geraldine of their emancipation: “I guess we saw the underside of the glitter.”