By Tim Lorge
Dalton Trumbo poses an interesting dilemma for me.
On the one hand, his politics are polarizing yet some of his work is amazing.
In the 1940’s, Trumbo was one of the top screenwriters in Hollywood, having written films such as Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, widely considered one of the best war films of the World War Two era.
He was also a communist and one of the infamous “Hollywood Ten” who spent eleven months in jail for contempt of Congress and was then blacklisted by the Hollywood studios for 10 years for his refusal to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Incidentally, this is commonly and mistakenly referred to as “The McCarthy Hearings”. However, McCarthy was not a member of this committee and held separate hearings targeting both communists and homosexuals.
Trumbo was a fan of Soviet style communism. Though, I’m not sure why. Through the years, I have had the good fortune to meet many Russians who grew up under that oppression and, from what they tell me, it wasn’t worthy of admiration. I’ve got to take their word for it because they lived it.
Nevertheless, his work was extraordinary, having won two Academy Awards for his work while on the blacklist for “Roman Holiday” and “The Brave One”. He also wrote the classic Stanley Kubrick directed Kirk Douglas starrer “Spartacus” and “Exodus” directed by Otto Preminger and starring Paul Newman. These last two films and with the support Trumbo received from both Douglas and Preminger restored Trumbo to the WGA and effectively ended the blacklist.
I had long forgotten any of the details surrounding the Hollywood blacklist until 2015 when the movie “Trumbo” was released. It stars Bryan Cranston and is an overly-simplified version of what Trumbo and his family experienced while he was blacklisted. Cranston gives an amazing Oscar nominated performance and, IMHO, should have won Best Actor.
What I found fascinating was Trumbo’s work ethic despite being on the blacklist. He wrote thirty B-movie scripts under various pseudonyms. By Trumbo’s own admission, they weren’t very good. However, I submit to you, if you had the federal government on you back AND most of Hollywood against you, how many scripts could you write?
Oh and he had something about writing in a bathtub… I have no idea what that’s about.
To say the least, Dalton Trumbo is a fascinating man and a gifted writer. Both are definitely worth checking out.