Enjoying A Max Shulman Revival

Back in the day, Westporter Max Shulman was a bestselling author. He also achieved success on Broadway — writing the book for the Tony-nominated “How Now, Dow Jones” — and in Hollywood, with many screenplays.

Max Shulman - How Now Dow JonesLike many authors who achieved fame more than a half century ago, Shulman’s books went out of print. Then, last month, Open Road Media made his works available once again, as e-books.  

In addition, the complete run of the hit TV show “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis” — based on Shulman’s short stories — is now available on DVD.

“06880” contributor Fred Cantor recently reached asked Max’s son Dan — a Staples High School 1962 grad, now a prominent antitrust attorney in Minneapolis — for his recollections about growing up in Westport in the 1950s as the son of a celebrated writer. Here is Fred’s report:

Max Shulman moved his family to Westport in 1948, when Dan was 4. Max, the son of Russian immigrants, had grown up poor in St. Paul, Minnesota. He came east because the publishing industry was based in New York. Dan says Max considered this “a dream come true…a nice house in the country.” In 1950, Westport’s population was just 12,000.

Shulman was soon immersed in a community of fellow writers, and others who made their living in the arts.

Max Shulman at work.

Max Shulman at work.

Among his Westport friends were actor David Wayne and writers Jerome Weidman (the 1960 Pulitzer Prize co-winner for drama), Jean Stafford (a Pulitzer winner for fiction), Rod Serling and Peter De Vries.

Fairfielder Robert Penn Warren came over to the house too.

Dan was not star-struck seeing such famous people hanging out with his dad. He viewed them as “just family friends.”

But Dan recalls that it was “a big deal” when, at 10, he traveled with his family to Boston for the pre-Broadway run of a play his dad co-authored, “The Tender Trap.” Dan was thrilled to have dinner with the play’s co-star, Robert Preston. A year after the play reached Broadway, it was made into a movie starring Frank Sinatra and Debbie Reynolds.

While a number of Westport dads commuted to New York in the 1950s, Max Shulman had a much shorter commute: to a 2nd-floor office in the Sherwood Building on State Street (the Post Road), next to the Westport Bank & Trust building (now Patagonia). The office door had frosted glass, with “Max Shulman” painted on it.  It looked just like Sam Spade’s door in ‘The Maltese Falcon.”

Shulman used an Underwood typewriter, and was “a very meticulous writer. If he wrote 5 pages, that would have been a very good day.” He spent considerable time editing and rewriting.

Rally Round the Flag - 2

As part of that process in creating “Rally Round the Flag, Boys!” — the book set in Westport that led to the movie that led to Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward moving here — there was even a role for Dan. He read chapters aloud, so his father could hear how it sounded.

At age 13, he excitedly watched the book rise on The New York Times bestseller list.

Max Shulman’s writing was not done solely for publishers. In the 1950s, the Y held an annual father-son banquet. Each year Max wrote a comedy routine for Dan and his brother Bud to perform and sing. Here’s a sample:

A child should be polite.
His manners should be sweet.
A child should help old ladies
When they try to cross the street.
Especially a lady whose leg is in a cast,
‘Cause when you snatch her purse away,
She cannot run so fast.

You can’t keep a good humorist down.

14 responses to “Enjoying A Max Shulman Revival

  1. My first fishing column was published in the Westport Town Crier back in the early 1960s. One of my early sports editors was a young Dan Shulman who was probably just out of college then and contemplating a career in journalism. I remember him as a really nice guy who was very helpful to a fledgling writer. – Dick Alleydck

  2. Dan,
    Another fascinating article . What I love about 06880 is the variety and depth of its fascinating subjects.
    I just thought of an interesting topic -The Playhouse before renovation . What it was like to be an usher in the pre air condition era . I think there are enough of us retired ushers around to make an interesting story ! Let me know and thanks again for the Shulman story !

  3. Roger Kaufman

    hi Dan

    Nice story on Max Schulman… you’ll be interested to know:

    Max, (“Danny” and Bud) lived in Weston in the 50’s on Goodhill rd..acoss the street from us. At that time there were only a handful of Jewish families there..so we knew them.

    At they went to SHS as weston had no High School… where Jim played soccer w them under Albie in ’61-62

    I know you like to be factual..so I thought Id give you the “local skinny”

    Best regards

    Roger

    ps I must share with you the Smithsonian Project Im doing. The curators asked us to to assist in the selection,collection,accessioning,archiving and preservation of ( the significance) Memphis Soul music…in American History.

    I am doing this with Steve Cropper, legendary guitarist and other Stax alumnae… its a great honor and privilege….see pic… Let me know if we can have coffee.

    Its a thrilling and humbling experience for my love of the music we grew up with… Paul Gabaccini’s faveorite since 9th grade! ….Soul .

    Roger Kaufman rzktroger@aol.com

  4. Roger: Dan Shulman said that his family lived on River Lane in Westport throughout his childhood. He does, of course, remember your brother as being a top soccer player for Staples–Dan also played for Albie Loeffler and was a co-captain in 1961. (I remember your brother too from summer soccer and from the soccer camp he helped run. Please send him my regards.)

  5. Thanks for the article and the look back….. I knew the sons from YMCA swim team and met Mr Shulman numerous times thru mutual friends the Morins… he was a fun kind man

  6. Sally Palmer

    Speaking of Playhouse usher stories, If you really want to go back, I was an usher in the summer of 1954 (I think). We had to rush outside during intermissions to sell cold soft drinks out of a cart. Also, my Mom Vira (Olson- Richards- Parker), who was a bit of a character herself, worked at the Town Crier and then the Westporter Herald from 1950 through the 60’s so knew most of the people we recall from that era.

  7. Helen Garten

    Max Shulman’s Rally Round the Flag, Boys! was loosely based on Westport’s reaction to the siting of a Nike missile facility on North Avenue and Bayberry Lane sixty years ago. The North Avenue site, where the missile batteries were located, is gone but the Bayberry site, which housed the Integrated Fire Control unit–missile tracking radar, barracks and computer building–is remarkably intact and is in the process of being considered for local historic landmark designation. So we will have a chance to celebrate this fascinating slice of Westport’s history and Max Shulman’s Westport’s novel.

  8. Hi Dan – Great piece about Max Shulman. It was Dan who wrote me a Christmas card in 1970 suggesting that I apply to his law firm in Minnesota and that made all the difference in my life.

    But it was Bud who was friend from Kindergarten through law school. He lived on West 76th street in New York and went to Columbia law while I lived on West 75th street and went to NYU law. We would see each other often, especially on Sunday’s during the football season.

    During the summer of 1969 we spent a lot of time together playing in a croquet league on the beautiful lawn of Richard Rogers. Friends of Max and Mr. Rogers would come to Westport on the weekend and the games were on. Max as you might guess was very funny and very entertaining. I enjoyed hanging around with so many Broadway folk especially David Wayne.

    Thanks for reviving so many memories, David. Sent from my iPhone

    >

  9. Sheila Reardon

    I remember The Shulmans well- Danny used to play baseball at our house with my brother, Mike Reardon. Many years later when I was i college I attended a college newspaper convention in Chicago and the guest speaker was Max Shulman! My classmates were so impressed when I approached him and re-introduced myself as one of the Reardons of Westport.
    I hope all is well in your life, Dan.
    Best, Sheila Reardon

  10. Alan Bravin

    Really enjoyed reading the article, the pictures and everyone’s comments. We really did grow up in a very special place!!!!

  11. I loved his silliness, as in the Marlboro column ads in the Minnesota Daily (and other college papers) in the late 1950s and early1960s. He liked to use and reuse certain great old Minnesota names, like Sigafoos and Pillsbury. One column described how travel was made much easier in 1910 when the direction north was discovered. By Sir Alfred J. North or some such personage. Prior to that, when there were only three directions, considerable time, effort and expense went into tacking.