James Dalton Trumbo (December 9, 1905 – September 10, 1976) was an American screenwriter and novelist who scripted many award-winning films including Roman Holiday, Exodus, Spartacus, and Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo. One of the Hollywood Ten, he refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1947 during the committee's investigation of Communist influences in the motion picture industry. He, along with the other members of the Hollywood Ten and hundreds of other industry professionals, was subsequently blacklisted by that industry.
His talents as one of the top screenwriters allowed him to continue working clandestinely, producing work under other authors' names or pseudonyms. His uncredited work won two Academy Awards: for Roman Holiday (1953), which was given to a front writer, and for The Brave One (1956) which was awarded to a pseudonym of Trumbo's. When he was given public screen credit for both Exodus and Spartacus in 1960, this marked the beginning of the end of the Hollywood Blacklist for Trumbo and other screenwriters. He finally was given full credit by the Writers' Guild for all his achievements, the work of which encompassed six decades of screenwriting.
Trumbo at House Un-American Activities Committee hearings, 1947
|Born||James Dalton Trumbo|
December 9, 1905
Montrose, Colorado, U.S.
|Died||September 10, 1976 (aged 70)|
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Spouse||Cleo Beth Fincher |
(1938–1976; his death)
Trumbo was born in Montrose, Colorado, the son of Maud (née Tillery) and Orus Bonham Trumbo. His family moved to Grand Junction in 1908. He was proud of his paternal immigrant ancestor, a Protestant Swiss man named Jacob Trumbo, who settled in the colony of Virginia in 1736. Trumbo graduated from Grand Junction High School. While still in high school, he worked for Walter Walker as a cub reporter for the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, covering courts, the high school, the mortuary and civic organizations. He attended the University of Colorado at Boulder for two years, working as a reporter for the Boulder Daily Camera and contributing to the campus humor magazine, the yearbook, and the campus newspaper. He was a member of Delta Tau Delta International Fraternity.
For nine years after his father died, Trumbo worked the night shift wrapping bread at a Los Angeles bakery, and attended the University of Southern California. At the same time, he wrote movie reviews, 88 short stories, and six novels, all of which were rejected for publication.
Trumbo began his professional writing career in the early 1930s, when several of his articles and stories were published in mainstream magazines, including the Saturday Evening Post, McCall's Magazine, Vanity Fair, and the Hollywood Spectator. In 1934 Trumbo was hired as managing editor of the Hollywood Spectator. Later he left the magazine to become a reader in the story department at Warner Bros. studio.
His first published novel was Eclipse (1935), released during the Great Depression. Writing in the social realist style, Trumbo drew on his years in Grand Junction to portray a town and its people. The book was controversial in his home town, where many people took issue with his fictional portrayal. But years after his death, Trumbo was honored by installation of a statue of him in front of the Avalon Theater on Main Street, where he was depicted writing a screenplay in a bathtub. Trumbo started working in movies in 1937 but continued writing prose. His anti-war novel Johnny Got His Gun won one of the early National Book Awards: the Most Original Book of 1939. It was inspired by an article Trumbo had read several years earlier, an account of a hospital visit by the Prince of Wales to a Canadian soldier who had lost all his limbs in World War I.
During the late 1930s and early 1940s, Trumbo became one of Hollywood's highest-paid screenwriters, at about $4000 per week while on assignment, and earning as much as $80,000 in one year. He worked on such films as Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944), Our Vines Have Tender Grapes (1945), and Kitty Foyle (1940), for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Trumbo aligned with the Communist Party in the United States before the 1940s, although he did not join the party until 1943. He was an isolationist. His novel The Remarkable Andrew featured the ghost of President Andrew Jackson appearing to caution the United States against getting involved in World War II. In a review of the book, Time Magazine wise-cracked, "General Jackson's opinions need surprise no one who has observed George Washington and Abraham Lincoln zealously following the Communist Party Line in recent years."
Shortly after the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, Trumbo and his publisher decided to suspend reprinting Johnny Got His Gun until the end of the war. During the war, Trumbo received letters from individuals "denouncing Jews" and using Johnny to support their arguments for "an immediate negotiated peace" with Nazi Germany; Trumbo reported these correspondents to the FBI. Trumbo regretted this decision, which he called "foolish." After two FBI agents showed up at his home, he understood that "their interest lay not in the letters but in me."
In a 1946 article titled "The Russian Menace" published in Rob Wagner's Script Magazine, Trumbo wrote from the perspective of a post-World War II Russian citizen. He argued that Russians were likely fearful of the mass of U.S. military power that surrounded them, at a time when any sympathetic view toward Communist countries was viewed with suspicion. He ended the article by stating, "If I were a Russian ... I would be alarmed, and I would petition my government to take measures at once against what would seem an almost certain blow aimed at my existence. This is how it must appear in Russia today." He argued that the U.S. was a "menace" to Russia, rather than the more popular American view of Russia as the "red menace". According to anti-Communist author Kenneth Billingsley in 2000, Trumbo had written in The Daily Worker that Communist influence in Hollywood had prevented films from being made from anti-Communist books, such as Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon and The Yogi and the Commissar.
On July 29, 1946, William R. Wilkerson, publisher and founder of The Hollywood Reporter, published a "TradeView" column entitled "A Vote For Joe Stalin". It named Trumbo and several others as Communist sympathizers, the first persons identified on what became known as "Billy's Blacklist". In October 1947, drawing upon these names, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) summoned Trumbo and nine others to testify for their investigation as to whether Communist agents and sympathizers had surreptitiously planted propaganda in U.S. films. The writers refused to give information about their own or any other person's involvement and were convicted for contempt of Congress. They appealed the conviction to the Supreme Court on First Amendment grounds and lost. In 1950, Trumbo served eleven months in the federal penitentiary in Ashland, Kentucky. In the 1976 documentary Hollywood On Trial, Trumbo said "As far as I was concerned, it was a completely just verdict. I had contempt for that Congress and have had contempt for several since. And on the basis of guilt or innocence, I could never really complain very much. That this was a crime or misdemeanor was the complaint, my complaint."
Meanwhile, the MPAA had issued a statement that Trumbo and his compatriots would not be permitted to work in the industry, unless they disavowed Communism under oath. After completing his sentence, Trumbo sold his ranch and moved with his family to Mexico City with Hugo Butler and his wife Jean Rouverol, who had also been blacklisted. In Mexico Trumbo wrote 30 scripts under pseudonyms, for B-movie studios such as King Brothers Productions. In the case of Gun Crazy (1950), adapted from a short story by MacKinlay Kantor, Kantor agreed to be the front for Trumbo's screenplay. Trumbo's role in the screenplay was not revealed until 1992.
During this blacklist period, Trumbo also wrote The Brave One (1956) for the King Brothers. Like Roman Holiday, it received an Academy Award for Best Story he couldn't claim. The script was credited to Robert Rich, a name borrowed from a nephew of the producers. Trumbo recalled earning an average fee of $1,750 per film for 18 screenplays written in two years and said, "None was very good".
In 1956 he published The Devil in the Book, an analysis of the conviction of 14 California Smith Act defendants. The statute set criminal penalties for advocating the overthrow of the U.S. government and required all non-citizen adult residents to register with the government.
Gradually the blacklist weakened. With the support of director Otto Preminger, Trumbo was credited for the screenplay of the 1960 film Exodus, adapted from the novel of the same name by Leon Uris. Shortly thereafter, actor Kirk Douglas announced Trumbo had written the screenplay for Stanley Kubrick's film Spartacus, adapted from the novel by Howard Fast. With these actions, Preminger and Douglas helped end the power of the blacklist. Trumbo was reinstated into the Writers Guild of America, West and was credited on all subsequent scripts. Eventually in 2011, the Guild gave him full credit for the script of Roman Holiday. In 1971, Trumbo directed the film adaptation of his novel Johnny Got His Gun, which starred Timothy Bottoms, Diane Varsi, Jason Robards and Donald Sutherland. One of the last films Trumbo wrote, Executive Action (1973), was based on the Kennedy assassination. In 1975, the Academy officially recognized Trumbo as the winner of the Oscar for The Brave One and presented him with a statuette.
In 1938, Trumbo married Cleo Fincher. She was born in Fresno on July 17, 1916, and moved with her divorced mother and her brother and sister to Los Angeles. Cleo Trumbo died of natural causes at the age of 93 on October 9, 2009, in Los Altos. At the time she was living with her younger daughter Mitzi. The Trumbos had three children: the filmmaker and screenwriter Christopher Trumbo, who became an expert on the Hollywood blacklist; Melissa, known as Mitzi, a photographer; and Nikola Trumbo, a psychotherapist. His daughter Mitzi dated comedian Steve Martin when they were both in their early 20s, which is recounted in Martin's 2007 book Born Standing Up. Martin wrote of her, "Mitzi became my official photographer, and she snapped dozens of rolls of film, all to find the perfect publicity photo."
In 1993, Trumbo was posthumously awarded the Academy Award for writing Roman Holiday (1953). The screen credit and award were previously given to Ian McLellan Hunter, who had been a front for Trumbo. A new statue was made for this award because Hunter's son refused to hand over the one his father had received.
In 2003, Christopher Trumbo mounted an Off-Broadway play based on his father's letters called Trumbo: Red, White and Blacklisted, in which a wide variety of actors played his father during the run, including Nathan Lane, Tim Robbins, Brian Dennehy, Ed Harris, Chris Cooper and Gore Vidal. He adapted it as the film Trumbo (2007), which added documentary footage and new interviews.
A dramatization of Trumbo's life, also called Trumbo, was released in November 2015. It starred Bryan Cranston as the screenwriter and was directed by Jay Roach. For his portrayal of Trumbo, Cranston was nominated for Best Actor at the 88th Academy Awards.
The moving image collection of Trumbo is held at the Academy Film Archive and consists primarily of extensive 35mm production materials relating to the 1971 anti-war film Johnny Got His Gun.
Dalton Trumbo, the Hollywood screen writer who was perhaps the most famous member of the blacklisted film industry authors called 'the Hollywood Ten,' died of a heart attack early today at his home here. He was 70 years old. He donated his body to science. ... it was Otto Preminger, the director, who broke the blacklist months later by publicly announcing that he had hired Mr. Trumbo to do the screenplay ...
A Man to Remember is a 1938 American drama film directed by Garson Kanin, his first film credit as a director. The picture was based on the short story Failure, written by Katharine Haviland-Taylor, and the screenplay was penned by Dalton Trumbo. The story tells of a saintly small town doctor working under difficult circumstances somewhere in the United States after World War I. The movie is a remake of One Man's Journey (1933) starring Lionel Barrymore.Cowboy (1958 film)
Cowboy is a 1958 Technicolor western film directed by Delmer Daves and starring Glenn Ford and Jack Lemmon. This film is an adaptation of the Frank Harris semi-autobiographical novel My Reminiscences as a Cowboy. Lemmon's character is based on Harris. The opening animated title sequence was created by Saul Bass. Screenwriters Edmund H. North and Dalton Trumbo, who received no screen credit at the time because he had been blacklisted as one of the Hollywood Ten.Exodus (1960 film)
Exodus is a 1960 American epic film on the founding of the modern State of Israel. It was made by Alpha and Carlyle Productions and distributed by United Artists. Produced and directed by Otto Preminger, the film was based on the 1958 novel Exodus by Leon Uris. The screenplay was written by Dalton Trumbo. The film features an ensemble cast, and its celebrated soundtrack music was written by Ernest Gold.
Often characterized as a "Zionist epic", the film has been identified by many commentators as having been enormously influential in stimulating Zionism and support for Israel in the United States. While Preminger's film softened the anti-British and anti-Arab sentiment of the novel, the film remains contentious for its depiction of the Arab–Israeli conflict. Preminger openly hired screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, who had been on the Hollywood blacklist for over a decade for being a communist and forced to work under assumed names. Together with Spartacus, also written by Trumbo, Exodus is credited with ending the practice of Blacklisting in the motion picture industry.Fugitives for a Night
Fugitives for a Night is a 1938 American Mystery film directed by Leslie Goodwins and written by Dalton Trumbo. The film stars Frank Albertson, Eleanor Lynn, Allan Lane, Bradley Page and Adrienne Ames. The film was released on September 23, 1938, by RKO Pictures.Johnny Got His Gun (film)
Johnny Got His Gun is a 1971 American drama anti-war film written and directed by Dalton Trumbo based on his novel of the same name, and starring Timothy Bottoms, Kathy Fields, Marsha Hunt, Jason Robards, Donald Sutherland and Diane Varsi. It was based on the novel of the same title by Trumbo, and features an uncredited writing collaboration by Luis Buñuel. The film was released on DVD in the U.S on April 28, 2009 via Shout! Factory, with special features.
Although Johnny Got His Gun was a minor success at the time of its release, it was largely forgotten soon after by mass audiences. The film became far better known when it was incorporated in the video of Metallica's song "One", whose popularity subsequently turned Johnny Got His Gun into a cult film. Eventually, the members of Metallica bought the rights to the film in order to keep showing the music video without having to pay additional royalty fees.Our Vines Have Tender Grapes
Our Vines Have Tender Grapes is a 1945 American drama film directed by Roy Rowland, and starring Edward G. Robinson and Margaret O'Brien.Papillon (1973 film)
Papillon is a 1973 historical period drama prison film directed by Franklin J. Schaffner. The screenplay by Dalton Trumbo and Lorenzo Semple Jr. was based on the 1969 autobiography by the French convict Henri Charrière. The film stars Steve McQueen as Henri Charrière ("Papillon") and Dustin Hoffman as Louis Dega. Because it was filmed at remote locations, the film was quite expensive for the time ($12 million), but it earned more than twice that in its first year of release. The film's title is French for "Butterfly," referring to Charrière's tattoo and nickname.Road Gang
Road Gang is a 1936 film directed by Louis King, written by Dalton Trumbo, produced by Bryan Foy, and starring Donald Woods and Kay Linaker. The film shows economic and social injustice due to political corruption.Roman Holiday
Roman Holiday is a 1953 American romantic comedy film directed and produced by William Wyler. It stars Gregory Peck as a reporter and Audrey Hepburn as a royal princess out to see Rome on her own. Hepburn won an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance; the screenplay and costume design also won.
It was written by John Dighton and Dalton Trumbo, though with Trumbo on the Hollywood blacklist, he did not receive a credit; instead, Ian McLellan Hunter fronted for him. Trumbo's credit was reinstated when the film was released on DVD in 2003. On December 19, 2011, full credit for Trumbo's work was restored. Blacklisted director Bernard Vorhaus worked on the film as an assistant director under a pseudonym.It was shot at the Cinecittà studios and on location around Rome during the "Hollywood on the Tiber" era. The film was screened in the 14th Venice film festival within the official program.
In 1999, Roman Holiday was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".Sorority House (film)
Sorority House is a 1939 American drama film starring Anne Shirley and James Ellison. The film was directed by John Farrow and based upon the Mary Coyle Chase play named Chi House.Tender Comrade
Tender Comrade is a 1943 black-and-white film released by RKO Radio Pictures, showing women on the home front living communally while their husbands are away at war. The film stars Ginger Rogers, Robert Ryan, Ruth Hussey, and Kim Hunter and was directed by Edward Dmytryk. The film was later used by the HUAC as evidence of Dalton Trumbo spreading communist propaganda. Trumbo was subsequently blacklisted. The film's title comes from a line in Robert Louis Stevenson's poem "My Wife" first published in Songs of Travel and Other Verses (1896).The Brave One (1956 film)
The Brave One is a 1956 Mexican-American Technicolor drama film directed by Irving Rapper and starring Michel Ray, Rodolfo Hoyos Jr., and Elsa Cárdenas. It tells the story of a Mexican boy who tries to save his beloved bull Gitano from a deadly duel against a champion matador.
The Brave One was the last film to win the Academy Award for Best Story before the award was discontinued, and was nominated for two other Academy Awards: Best Film Editing and Best Sound Recording, but was not a box office and critical success.
The story credit was originally given to Robert Rich, a pseudonym used by Dalton Trumbo, who had been blacklisted as one of the Hollywood Ten in 1947 after he refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. It was actually the name of the nephew of the film's producer Frank King, and Robert Rich claimed authorship of the screenplay when initially asked about it, though his uncles denied this claim. The Academy Award was reissued in Trumbo's name in 1975.The Fixer (1968 film)
The Fixer is a 1968 British drama film based on the 1966 semi-biographical novel of the same name, written by Bernard Malamud. It was directed by John Frankenheimer and stars Alan Bates.The Horsemen (1971 film)
The Horsemen is a 1971 Eastmancolor in a Panavision film starring Omar Sharif, directed by John Frankenheimer; screenplay by Dalton Trumbo. Based on a novel by French writer Joseph Kessel, Les Cavaliers (The Horsemen) shows Afghanistan and its people the way they were before the wars that wracked the country, particularly their love for the sport of buzkashi. The film was filmed in Afghanistan and Spain.The Last Sunset (film)
The Last Sunset is a 1961 American Western film directed by Robert Aldrich and starring Rock Hudson, Kirk Douglas, and Dorothy Malone.
The film was released by Universal Studios and shot in Eastman color in Mexico. The screenplay by Dalton Trumbo was adapted from Howard Rigsby's 1957 novel Sundown at Crazy Horse.
The supporting cast features Joseph Cotten, Carol Lynley, Neville Brand and Jack Elam.The Prowler (1951 film)
The Prowler is a 1951 thriller film noir directed by Joseph Losey that stars Van Heflin and Evelyn Keyes. The film was produced by Sam Spiegel (as S.P. Eagle) and was written by Dalton Trumbo. Because Trumbo was blacklisted at the time, the screenplay was credited to his friend, screenwriter Hugo Butler, as a front.The Remarkable Andrew
The Remarkable Andrew is a 1942 film directed by Stuart Heisler and written by Dalton Trumbo, based on his 1941 novel of the same name. It stars Brian Donlevy and William Holden.Trumbo (2015 film)
Trumbo is a 2015 American biographical drama film directed by Jay Roach and written by John McNamara. The film stars Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, Helen Mirren, Louis C.K., Elle Fanning, John Goodman, and Michael Stuhlbarg. The film follows the life of Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, and is based on the biography Dalton Trumbo by Bruce Alexander Cook.The film was shown in the Special Presentations section of the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival on September 12, 2015, and was released on November 6, 2015, by Bleecker Street. The film received generally positive reviews, with Bryan Cranston being nominated for several awards, including the Academy Award for Best Actor, although the film itself was criticized for historical inaccuracies and misportrayals of people and events.We Who Are Young
We Who Are Young is a 1940 American drama film directed by Harold S. Bucquet, written by Dalton Trumbo, and starring Lana Turner, John Shelton, and Gene Lockhart.