What Makes Sammy Run?

Budd Schulberg

What Makes Sammy Run?‘ is a 1941 novel by Budd Schulberg. It is a rags to riches story chronicling the rise and fall of Sammy Glick, a Jewish boy born in New York’s Lower East Side who very early in his life makes up his mind to escape the ghetto and climb the ladder of success.

Reputedly, film mogul Samuel Goldwyn offered Schulberg money to not have the novel published, because Goldwyn felt that the author was perpetuating an anti-Semitic stereotype by making Glick so venal. It was later made into a long-running Broadway musical.

The book is told in first person narrative by Al Manheim, drama critic of ‘The New York Record.’ Glick is an uneducated young man who rises from copy boy to the top of the screenwriting profession in 1930s Hollywood by backstabbing others. The novel describes the Hollywood system as a money machine oppressive to talented writers. The bosses prefer to have carte blanche when dealing with their writers, ranging from having them work on a week-to-week basis to locking them into a long term contract.

In the film industry, Manheim remarks at one point in the novel, it is the rule rather than the exception that ‘convictions are for sale,’ with people double-crossing each other whenever the slightest chance presents itself to them. Hollywood, he notices, regularly and efficiently turns out three products: moving pictures, ambition, and fear. Manheim becomes an eyewitness to the birth of what was to become the Writers Guild, an organization created to protect the interests of the screenwriters.

The recurring theme of the novel, which is also expressed in the title, is Sammy’s running. Sammy Glick is ‘running people down’; he is running ‘with death as the only finish line’; ‘without a single principle to slow him down’; ‘always thinking satisfaction is just around the bend.’ Mannheim realizes that everybody is running, but that Sammy Glick is just running faster than the rest. Sammy’s running is highly symbolic: he runs both literally and metaphorically.

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