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Saving Estero Bay benefit features Hollywood royalty

Saturday's fundraiser features documentary produced by Calusa Waterkeeper executive director, whose family goes back to Hollywood's Golden Age

By Nathan Mayberg - Editor | Nov 13, 2020

In this photo from 1957, Calusa Waterkeeper executive director K.C. Schulberg (circled) is seen on the set of "Wind Across the Everglades," which was filmed in Chokoloskee. On the far left is K.C's uncle Budd (known for writing "On the Waterfront"). Sitting on the far right is his father Stuart, who produced the film and also produced "Nuremberg" about the war crime trials of the Nazis.

In a way, K.C. Schulberg was born to play this part. He calls it “coming full circle.”

The executive director of the Calusa Waterkeeper has roots in the region from his time spent as a child watching his dad and uncle make the 1958 film “Wind Across the Everglades,” which was filmed about an hour and change south of Fort Myers Beach in Chokoloskee. The movie, which is considered one the first to focus on environmental issues, was the first starring film role for actor Christopher Plummer and also featured Peter Falk and Burl Ives.

On Saturday, K.C.’s own background in moviemaking was put on display during the world premier of the documentary he helped create, “Eternal Vigilance: Fighting to Restore the Estero Bay Tributaries,” which was shown as part of the Calusa Waterkeeper’s “Saving Estero Bay” online benefit Saturday to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Estero Bay tributaries being classified as Outstanding Florida Waters.

The 25-minute film showcases the imperiled status of Estero Bay and its nine tributaries, and showcases those working to preserve and restore these vital waters. The documentary was made possible by a grant from the Coastal and Heartland National Estuary Partnership (CHNEP).

Schulberg’s rich background in movies (his grandfather ran production at Paramount Pictures in the 1930’s) is helping the organization tell the story of Estero Bay and the fight to protect its waters during a time of increasing development pressures which have led to the Gulf of Mexico and Estero Bay being fed storm runoff and releases from Lake Okeechobee which threaten water quality and wildlife.

Schulberg has enjoyed some successes of late as his organization was one of three environmental groups who won a recent lawsuit against the Army Corps of Engineers to force a study of the impacts on threatened and endangered species caused by releases from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee River and into the Estero Bay estuaries.

The victory is bringing more attention to the Calusa Waterkeeper and Schulberg – who descends from a prominent Hollywood family going back a century, and has been a part of making films in his own right before his turn into the environmental advocacy field.

His late father Stuart was a Hollywood producer, director and writer, whose earliest films were made as part of the Marshall Plan, including “Nuremberg,” which was a documentary on the Nazi atrocities during World War 2 and captured their trial and how Nazi leaders were brought to justice by the allied forces after World War 2. Schulberg served in the Office of Strategic Services, a predecessor to the Central Intelligence Agency, during World War 2.

Stuart produced the 1958 film “Wind Across the Everglades.” The younger Schulberg had a brief appearance in the movie which focuses on bird poachers.

The movie captures the early days of the Audubon Society when wardens were sent down to Florida to stop the illegal killing of protected and endangered exotic birds for the fashion trade.

Schulberg said Falk once told him a story about his time working on “Wind Across the Everglades.” During a break in shooting after the original director Nicholas Ray (“Rebel Without a Cause,” “Johnny Guitar,” “In a Lonely Place”) was fired, Falk went down to Havana, Cuba and ended up getting arrested on suspicions he was a communist in part due to his thick beard he was growing for “Wind Across the Everglades.” Schulberg said his late father had to call the American Embassy to free him. Schulberg said he is proud of the movie’s portrayal of the Seminole tribe, by casting actual members of the tribe rather than actors to portray them.

“Wind Across the Everglades,” was written by his uncle, the late Budd Schulberg. Budd wrote “On the Waterfront,” starring Marlon Brando and one of the most iconic works in American cinema. Budd also wrote “A Face in the Crowd,” in a tour de force by its lead actor Andy Griffith in a portrayal of a narcissist who rises to fame. Both films were directed by Elia Kazan, a close friend of the Schulberg family. Schulberg said his uncle Budd was “very forward-looking” and cared deeply about social justice issues.

K.C.’s grandfather was B.P. Schulberg, who produced “Wings,” the first movie to win best picture at the inaugural 1929 Oscars. He also is credited with having discovered and signed Clara Bow, one of the most popular actresses of the 1920’s. As head of production at Paramount Pictures, he helped launch the careers of Gary Cooper Cary Grant, Shirley Temple, Marlene Dietrich, Maurice Chevalier and the director Ernst Lubitsch. David O. Selznick, the producer of “Gone With the Wind,” was his assistant.

The younger Schulberg said his grandfather was close to the Marx Brothers and enjoyed playing cards and gambling with them.

K.C. Schulberg’s background in movies includes time with Hallmark Entertainment, where he was senior vice president of marketing and communications, handling dozens of movies, the launching of cable channels around the world as well as television productions.

In 1996, he was with Hallmark during the production of “Gulliver’s Travels,” a four-hour miniseries for television. The series featured Ted Danson, Mary Steenburgen, Geraldine Chaplin, Ned Beatty, John Gielgud, Omar Sharif and Peter O’Toole. He has worked with Woody Allen, Peter Falk, Bette Midler and Christopher Walken.

Schulberg said he was raised to believe “we have an obligation to contribute to the moral fabric” of the community.

Budd’s third wife was Geraldine Brooks, a glamorous actress in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Her credits included “Cry Wolf” with Barbara Stanwyck and “Possessed” with Joan Crawford. Her death at age 52 from cancer was “such a tragedy,” Schulberg said. “They were so happy together,” he said of her marriage to Budd. He called her an “amazing, gracious lady.”

Schulberg lives in Naples these days. He has also spent much of his life living in France, where he was born and where he has spent time later in life. He believes his skills are in marketing and organizing, having learned to oversee production on sets where hundreds of people need to be looked after.

He wants to get the word out that “we should be cautious about development. We need to improve our infrastructure.” Schulberg said leaking sewage pipes and sewage infrastructure need to be upgraded throughout the region. More water treatment centers are needed, he said.

He is working on a new documentary, his third since joining the organization. The documentaries have been focusing on the dangers of algae blooms to the public health and how the estuaries are denigrating. The documentaries feature interviews with water quality experts.

Schulberg is concerned with the level of growth in the region and the impact of stormwater runoff from developments that is “putting too many nutrients in the water,” he said. “Nature is suffering.”

“We’re going in the wrong direction,” Schulberg said. He wants to bring attention to “what the restoration process needs to look like so we don’t have continual denigration of these beautiful waterways.”