Think Your Screenplay Has Troubles? Not like Dalton Trumbo's

Samuel Goldwyn Films/Courtesy of Everett Vollection

During Hollywood's Red Scare, the screenwriter of 'Roman Holiday' and 'Spartacus' took the heat.

No screenwriter suffered, survived and ultimately triumphed over the blacklist quite the way Dalton Trumbo did. His troubles began when, as a former member of the Communist Party, he refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947. That led to 11 months in federal prison for contempt of Congress and his becoming the most famous of the McCarthy-era blacklisted screenwriters known as the Hollywood 10.  (During this era, The Hollywood Reporter did its part to fuel the Red Scare with editorials calling for the studio heads to “get rid of the commies within our midst.”) After his release and a two-year residency in Mexico City, Trumbo returned to Los Angeles, where he cranked out about 30 scripts. He wrote all of them under pseudonyms, including the 1957 B-movie The Green-Eyed Blonde (“The Story of a Teen-Age Fire-Bomb”), which was credited to one Sally Stubblefield. Kirk Douglas, who hired Trumbo to pen 1960’s Spartacus, says in his autobiography The Ragman’s Son: “He worked at night, often in the bathtub, the typewriter in front of him on a tray, a cigarette in his mouth. On his shoulder perched a parrot I had given him.” While blacklisted, Trumbo penned two Academy Award-winning scripts: 1953’s Roman Holiday and 1956’s The Brave One. Both were presented to fronts. Decades later, the Academy set the record straight. Looking back at the blacklist era in 1970, Trumbo said is was “a time of evil, and no one on either side who survived it came through untouched by evil.”          

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