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.
Like 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.
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.
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.