Over his distinguished six-decade-plus career, Arnold Schulman, 86, a Broadway playwright and two time Oscar-nominated screenwriter, has studied with or written for a few accomplished notables. Among others, the list includes: Marlon Brando, James Dean, Paul Newman, Natalie Wood, Steve McQueen, Jeff Bridges, Martin Landau, Edward G. Robinson, Ingrid Bergman, Anthony Quinn, Barbra Streisand and Frank Sinatra. (Whew.)
But as they say in the late-night infomercials — wait, there’s more! Arnold worked with novelist Philip Roth, directors Elia Kazan, Frank Capra, Francis Coppola, Richard Attenborough, Lee Strasberg and Herb Ross, to name but a few. But here’s the point worth noting. Arnold says the folks who run the Santa Monica Playhouse (Evelyn Rudie and Chris DeCarlo) and the actors who labor there, are among the most talented and congenial that he’s ever been associated with. Now that’s what I call a testimonial.
For someone interested in the golden days of Broadway and Hollywood (me!) Arnold is like the best history book ever, only better because he’s funny, generous with his time and humble. (A trait so rare these days that it’s almost disarming.)
While Arnold has lived in Santa Monica for a decade, he was born in Philadelphia and, speaking of history, it was four years before the Great Depression. After serving in the Navy during WWII, he came to New York in 1946 where he studied playwriting with Robert Anderson (“Tea and Sympathy”). Using a baseball analogy, that would be akin to studying hitting with Babe Ruth.
As a member of the first Actor’s Studio class in New York, Arnold was witness to the arrival of Brando and “the method,” which one could say changed acting forever. Arnold jokes that Brando was the first in a series of “jean and T-shirt wearing actors who slouched,” including Montgomery Clift, Newman and, later, McQueen.
Directed by the legendary George Cukor, Arnold’s first screenwriting assignment was “Wild is the Wind” in 1957, which starred Quinn and the tempestuous Anna Magnani (with both receiving Oscar nominations).
But his real transition to Hollywood came when he adapted his Broadway play “A Hole in the Head” into a movie. It starred Sinatra and Edward G. Robinson and was directed by the famed Capra whose movie, “A Wonderful Life,” among others, had made him a legend.
Arnold recalls going to a meeting at Capra’s home and anticipating that the iconic director would reside in a Beverly Hills mansion. Instead, it was a modest ranch house in Fallbrook, Calif. (inland from Oceanside, Calif.) where Capra raised olives and had rows of avocado trees. He also recalls that the two ate dinner with Capra’s housekeeper and cook, and marveled how, just like his movies, Capra was a man of the people.
Among Arnold’s other screen credits are: “Love with the Proper Stranger” (Wood and McQueen), “The Night They Raided Minsky’s,” “Goodbye Columbus” (Ali McGraw), “Funny Lady” (Streisand), “A Chorus Line,” “Tucker” (Jeff Bridges) and the emotionally powerful “The Band Played On,” which Arnold adapted for TV from the best-selling non-fiction book set in 1981 on the burgeoning AIDS crisis.
But there was one movie where Arnold actually tried to get his name taken off, but to no avail. The tennis-based “Players” starred McGraw and was produced by Robert Evans, who reportedly was hoping that he would be able to lure back McGraw from McQueen. The production was such a fiasco that not only did the movie flop, but Evans struck out with Ali, too.
Arnold’s latest play, “Sleeping Ugly,” has its world premier this Sunday at the Santa Monica Playhouse. Intriguingly, it’s described as a “humorous, intensely romantic adult fairy tale.” Arnold loves the charming and intimate Santa Monica Playhouse (for decades one of our city’s treasures) and raves about the actors’ talent in bringing his play to life.
Having seemingly seen and done it all on Broadway and in Hollywood, Arnold Schulman has truly had a wonderful life. And given his spirit and energy (he continues to write every day), I have a feeling there’s plenty more to come.
Sleeping Ugly runs weekends at the Santa Monica Playhouse at 1211 Fourth St. through June 17. For tickets, call (310) 394-9779, ext. 1, or go to www.santamonicaplayhouse.com. Jack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.