Trumbo: Reminders of Political Persecution in America

Trumbo: Reminders of Political Persecution in America

The Fall of Dalton Trumbo

Trumbo is a new film about the Hollywood blacklisting of screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, opening in theaters this week. The film includes a wealth of documentary footage from the House Un-American Activities Committee years and is, in its own way, a very personalized history of the notorious Hollywood blacklist.

Dalton Trumbo was a prolific Hollywood screenwriter who wrote dozens of movie scripts during the 1930s and ’40s, including Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo and Kitty Foyle. His anti-war novel Johnny Got His Gun won the National Book Award in 1939. But in 1947, Trumbo was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) as part of the Hollywood Ten, who were questioned about their ties to the Communist Party. Trumbo refused to testify and was found in contempt of Congress.

Subsequently, he was kicked out of the screenwriter’s guild, and all of the Hollywood motion picture studios almost immediately blacklisted him. For his refusal to testify in the HUAC hearings, Trumbo eventually served nearly a year in federal prison. Dalton Trumbo’s ruination took him from being one of Hollywood’s highest-paid writers to a Hollywood pariah.

After Trumbo was released from prison, he remained on Hollywood’s blacklist for nearly a decade, but went on to have a prodigious writing career under a list of at least 13 pseudonyms (writing for films that included Roman Holiday, Gun Crazy, The Brave One). Trumbo’s film The Brave One, written under the pseudonym Robert Rich, won an Academy Award in 1957. It is the only unclaimed Oscar in the history of the Academy Awards. Trumbo finally received credit for his work on Exodus and Spartacus in 1960.

In 1970, Dalton Trumbo delivered a speech about the HUAC hunt for good guys and bad, which contained this admonishment: “There was bad faith and good, honesty and dishonesty, courage and cowardice, selflessness and opportunism, wisdom and stupidity, good and bad on both sides; and almost every individual involved, no matter where he stood, combined some or all of these antithetical qualities in his own person, in his own acts.”

Dalton Trumbo’s life story stands as a poignant reminder of a weird, scary time, a paranoid era which, some think, could happen again. Some Hollywood observers maintain that the potential for similar political persecution still exists, perhaps not in the exact form it happened before. However, they claim that there are things going on now in the current political administration that should serve as reminders that it could happen again.

Dalton Trumbo: A Blacklisted Writer in His Own Words:

The Hollywood Ten (Trumbo, 2nd Row, Left)

The Hollywood Ten

A Letter from Prison to My Wife: Read by Actor Josh Lucas

Trumbo: The Official 2008 Movie Trailer

Studs Terkel: A National Literary Icon

Studs Terkel and the HUAC Blacklist

This article has also been written in honor of a friend, 96 years old Studs Terkel. At the time when Senator McCarthy began blacklisting supposed subversives, Studs Terkel hosted Studs’ Place, a network television program on NBC, and wrote a regular column for the Chicago Sun Times. However, immediately after he refused to give names to McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee, NBC pulled his television program and the Sun-Times cancelled his newspaper column. Terkel was unable to work until 1953, when a Chicago radio station hired him, telling Terkel “p*ss on the blacklist.” Subsequently, Terkel has written a number of acclaimed books, won the Pulitzer Prize (1985), two National Book Awards, and received The National Humanities Award (1997) and The George Polk Career Award (1999).

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On This Day in 1954: Senator Joseph McCarthy Began a Witch-Hunt of The U. S. Army




The Secretary of the United States Army ordered two generals, who had been subpoenaed by the crusading anti-Communist Senator Joseph McCarthy, to ignore the summons. The move by Robert T. Stevens came on the first day of the hearings into communist activity in the U. S. Army. Mr. Stevens said he would speak on behalf of the Army, provided that the session was held in public.

His announcement came after a former army major, who had been summoned by Senator McCarthy, head of the Senate’s Permanent Investigations sub-committee, refused to answer questions. Senator McCarthy responded, “Either the Army will give the names of men coddling Communists or we will take it before the Senate.”

However, Mr. Steven’s stand made it seem highly unlikely that such a list would be forthcoming. It was a rare challenge to the controversial Senator who had been virtually unknown before he took up the cause of rooting out Communists, just four years earlier. In a speech in West Virginia during February 1950, Mr. McCarthy had claimed to have the names of 205 “card-carrying Communists” in the State Department. However, he later scaled the list down to 57 persons and was willing to name only four of them. His critics have stated that he was never able to produce any real evidence to back up his claims, accusing him of having conducted wild “witch hunts,” which often destroyed both the careers and public lives of those persons who were accused.

Many have said that an interview conducted by the courageous television commentator Edward R. Murrow on March 9, 1954, was a pivotal influence leading to the demise of Senator McCarthy’s career, in turn helping to end the witch-hunt that had destroyed the careers and public lives of so many people. Some have said that this courageous broadcast provided the public with an essential, intensely felt sense of relief from our increasingly painful general preoccuptions with and fears of unannounced persecution. This kind of social relief is even today at the core of the fabric that both gives birth to and provides support for our public and private freedoms.

That night Murrow, Friendly (at that time, a Vice-President of CBS) and their news team produced a 30-minute See It Now special entitled “A Report on Senator Joseph McCarthy.” Murrow used excerpts from McCarthy’s own speeches and proclamations to criticize the Senator and to point out episodes where he clearly had contradicted himself. Murrow knew full well that he was using the medium of television to attack a single man and expose him to nationwide scrutiny, and he was often quoted as having doubts about the method he used for this news report.

Murrow and his See It Now co-producer, Fred Friendly, paid for their own newspaper advertisement for the program; they were not allowed to use any of CBS’s money for the publicity campaign and were prohibited from using the CBS logo in any way. Nonetheless, this 30-minute TV episode contributed to a nationwide backlash against Senator McCarthy and against the Red Scare in general. It has been viewed by many people as representing one of the most critical turning points in the history of the media.

The broadcast provoked tens of thousands of letters, telegrams and phone calls to CBS headquarters, which ran 15-to-1 in favor of Murrow. It has been reported that truck drivers would pull up to Murrow on the street in subsequent days and shout, “Good show, Ed. Good show, Ed.”

Murrow offered Senator McCarthy a chance to comment on the CBS show, and McCarthy provided his own televised response to Murrow three weeks later on See It Now. The Senator’s rebuttal contributed nearly as much to his own downfall as Murrow or any of McCarthy’s other detractors did. Edward R. Murrow had learned how to use the medium of television, but McCarthy had not.

Murrow’s conclusion to the program was truly magistral:

No one familiar with the history of this country can deny that congressional committees are useful. It is necessary to investigate before legislating, but the line between investigating and persecuting is a very fine one and the junior Senator from Wisconsin has stepped over it repeatedly. His primary achievement has been in confusing the public mind, as between internal and the external threats of Communism. We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men — not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular.

This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy’s methods to keep silent, or for those who approve. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. There is no way for a citizen of a republic to abdicate his responsibilities. As a nation we have come into our full inheritance at a tender age. We proclaim ourselves, as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom, wherever it continues to exist in the world, but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.

The actions of the junior Senator from Wisconsin have caused alarm and dismay amongst our allies abroad, and given considerable comfort to our enemies. And whose fault is that? Not really his. He didn’t create this situation of fear; he merely exploited it — and rather successfully. Cassius was right. “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”
Good night, and good luck.

No Sense Of Decency: A Documentary

This video is 10 minutes in length.  It is extremely well worth your time, and is a vitally important video for everyone who can obtain access to the internet to view in a deeply thoughtful manner. Please spread the word.

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