Returning: Shulberg’s “The Waterfront Revisited”

Ssmith asked, “have you experienced an altered or ‘constructed’ memory of a place that surprised you upon return after a long absence?” during last week’s discussion of David Thelen.  Budd Shulberg is a storyteller; in the film, On The Waterfront, he tells the tale of longshoremen.  Years later, he returns to the waterfront to see what’s changed and what hasn’t.  He has no preconceived notions; no restructuring of truth.  He goes to see what’s happened since he told the story.

The reality of the longshoremen here is not as romantic as discussed in The Box. Levinson didn’t try to romanticize it at all, but Shulberg, probably because he’s a visual artist, gives a more specific, detailed story of the hardships of dockworkers.  He reveals the stories of:

Father John Corridan–The Waterfront priest

Tommy Monahan–and Irish longshoreman’s son and dockworker himself forced to handle the bananas (what the lowest ethnic group usually handles)

Anthony “Tough Tony” Anastasio–leader of the Camarda locals and ruler of Brooklyn who, fortunately for dockworkers, found a “Tender Tony” within after his brother was executed and overhauled his local to give dockworkers what they needed

The Gallo Brothers–tough guys with power who wanted to control the dockside

Paul Haul–ran a clean union but boasted the “best muscle”

Jimmy Hoffa–sided with Curran and the unrestructured corrupt, Mafia-associated ILA against Tony Scotto who wanted reform–Hoffa wanted one huge transportation union

Frank James “Machine Gun” Campbell and Tony “Cheese” Marchitto, two of many tough guys involved in organized crime.

Pretty much, the docks, even years later, were a place of corruption and organized crime.  The bistate Waterfront Commission eliminated shape-ups and established hiring halls, but the ILA ignored seniority and found loopholes to hire ex-cons and corrupt men already banned from certain positions.  Pilfering stil happened. 

However, Shulberg found that even though all this was happening, the hiring system was working better and the pilfering was under closer scrutiny.

Shulberg’s venture back to the waterfront did not show any grand changes.  It showed reality.  His piece is raw.  His piece is truthful.  His piece is a personal experience, much like that of the vets of war.  And so, this article changes the views of the docks, using private, personal memory to bring the grit to a public story.  His movie does it the first time around; his article does it again.

Shulberg, Budd. “The Waterfront Revisited.” On The Waterfront. Malcolm Johnson. NY: Penguin, 2005. 266-302. Originally appeared in The Saturday Evening Post, September 7, 1963.

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About Christina M. Rau

Poet, blogger, writer, editor, professor
This entry was posted in Brooklyn Industrial Waterfront, Docks and Shipping, Red Hook and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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