TRUMBO: Dissident with a Swimming Pool — The writer as guardian of the democratic republic, Pt 2.


This is the beginning of an American concentration camp.—Dalton Trumbo to the House Un-American Activities Committee, 1947 (from the HBO movie TRUMBO, 2015)


trumboposterDalton Trumbo’s first name was James. During his exile as a blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter he used many different names so that he could go on working, go on writing, go on putting food on the table. One name would become legendary: Robert Rich.

In 1956, the movie The Brave One, the story of a Mexican boy’s fight to save the life of a young bull from the bullfighting ring, won the Academy Award for Best Story; now Best Original Story as of 1957. The win meant an Oscar for the screenwriter, but the night of the ceremony no one accepted the Oscar and it remained uncollected until the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences re-awarded it in 1975 to Dalton Trumbo.

Trumbo’s mugshot after 1950 arrest for refusing to “name names” to the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947


I just drifted away; I quit going to meetings and never went back.—Dalton Trumbo, 1948 after leaving the Communist Party


There was no way Trumbo could have accepted that Oscar in 1957 because everyone connected with the production, from the director to the caterer, would have been put on the blacklist – those who could not and would not be hired within the film industry because of ties (real or imagined) to the Communist party. It was guilt by association.

There was another Oscar that Trumbo could not acknowledge and that was for the 1953 movie, which marked Audrey Hepburn’s film debut, and co-starred Gregory Peck: Roman Holiday.Trumbo had written Roman Holiday with John Dighton. Trumbo asked his friend and fellow script writer Ian McLellan Hunter, who was not blacklisted at that time, to put his name on the script, in lieu of Trumbo’s, a practice known as “fronting.” After 58 years, when the DVD of Roman Holiday was released, Writer’s Guild West voted to restore Trumbo’s name to the writer’s credit, and to keep McLellan’s name as well. Trumbo has a sole credit for original story.the-brave-one-movie-poster-1956-1020207126


If Trumbo seems to have been punished the most, it’s perhaps because he was one of the most vocal about rights granted the individual by the Constitution of the United States and he had the most to lose. It was really a “don’t bite the hand that feeds you” situation, and Trumbo was biting the hand up to the elbow. But his street cred was constantly being questioned by his fellow screenwriters, true believers, who had rubbed shoulders with him during their days in the Communist Party together; writers such as: Alvah Bessie (“Objective, Burma!”), Lester Cole (“The House of the Seven Gables”), John Howard Lawson (“Cry, the Beloved Country”), Albert Maltz (“The Naked City”) and Samuel Ornitz (“Imitation of Life”).

In the movie, a confrontation between a composite-character of all these writers, concocted for the HBO movie TRUMBO, Arlen Hird, portrayed by comedian Louis C.K., attempts to expose the underbelly of Trumbo’s bellyaching, because most screenwriters in Hollywood at the time did not have it nearly as good as Trumbo did, the insinuation being that he could afford to shoot his mouth off–he had a sprawling ranch, and a swimming pool for Christ sake.


Trumbo and Hird
Louis C.K. as Arlen Hird and Bryan Cranston as Dalton Trumbo, HBO’s TRUMBO (2015)

Hird says to Trumbo: “You talk like a radical, but you live like a rich guy. I don’t think you’re willing to lose all this just to do the right thing.”

Trumbo retorts: “I’m not willing to fight for a lost cause, so you’re right, I’m not willing to lose it all, but I am willing to risk it all. That’s where the radical and the rich guy make a perfect combination.”

This conversation probably never took place, but it could have…it could have.