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November 14, 2001

Director, screenwriter and actor Spike Lee and Academy Award-winning screenwriter Budd Schulberg spoke in the Chapel on their respective careers and their collaboration on a film about American boxer Joe Louis and his two championship bouts with German boxer Max Schmeling in 1936 and 1938. Widely credited for creating the modern prototype of the young schemer who schemes, lies and cheats his way to success in the character of Sammy Glick in What Makes Sammy Run (1941), Schulberg won Academy Awards for best story and best screenplay for On the Waterfront (1954). Over 40 years younger than his collaborator, Lee was first acclaimed for his film She’s Gotta Have It (1986) and was nominated for a screenwriting Oscar for Do the Right Thing (1989). His film 4 Little Girls was nominated for Best Documentary Feature in 1997.

“Spike is a fanatic for accuracy,” Schulberg told his Vassar audience. “He’s not the easiest director I’ve ever worked with, but he really respects the writer in a way I didn’t always find in Hollywood…. I can’t just sit down and write entertainment. That’s one thing that drew Spike and me together.” “To me,” Lee said, “it’s been an honor, and more than an honor, a great learning experience, learning from one of the great screenwriters of all time.”

“The young director and the elderly screenwriter,” wrote Claudia Rowe in The New York Times, “made a tender pair onstage. Mr. Lee took notes as Mr. Schulberg spoke. He fussed with the older man’s microphone, refilled the writer’s water glass before his own, and gently helped him from the stage when their talk was over.”

The project—tentatively called “The War to Come” and later named “Save Us Joe Louis”—was suspended at the time of Schulberg’s death, at the age of 95, on August 5, 2009.

The Years