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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