WGA Restores Dalton Trumbo's Screenwriting Credit on 'Roman Holiday'

The Guild says it wants to "make amends" for injustices of 1950s McCarthyism by telling the truth about who really wrote the 1953 classic film. The new screenwriting credit also pays "tribute to the friendship of two fathers and then two sons."
Courtesy Everett Collection

The Writers Guild of America, West has announced that it has restored Dalton Trumbo’s screenplay credit for the 1953 classic film Roman Holiday, the result of an inspiring tale of friendship between two sons of blacklisted writers who wished to do something to redress a Communist witch-hunt in Hollywood in the 1950s.

Trumbo was one of the screenwriters known as the "Hollywood 10," blacklisted in the industry on suspicions of communism. He served 11 months in federal prison for contempt after he refused to testify before the Joseph McCarthy-lead House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947.

Afterwards, Trumbo lived for two years in Mexico City before returning to Los Angeles. But he had to be careful. The Red Scare was in full bloom, with an editorial in The Hollywood Reporter advising studios to “get rid of the commies within our midst.”

Nevertheless, Trumbo kept active, turning out more than 30 scripts. Among them were ones that won Academy Awards, including 1953’s Roman Holiday and 1956’s The Brave One. Trumbo couldn't directly take credit, however. He turned to his friend, Ian McLellan Hunter, who volunteered to act as Dalton’s “front” writer. Hunter accepted studio payment, and passed it onto Trumbo, who died in 1976.

Many years later, the sons of Trumbo and Hunter became writers themselves.

Last year, Christopher Trumbo became increasingly ill, and before his own death, turned to his childhood friend,  Tim Hunter, to appeal to the WGAW to change the screenplay credit on Roman Holiday,  which was Audrey Hepburn's first major film and also starred Gregory Peck.

After an investigation, the WGAW decided to make the change. The new screenplay credit reads:

Screenplay by Dalton Trumbo and Ian McLellan Hunter and John Dighton
Story by Dalton Trumbo

WGAW President Chris Keyser has put out a statement about the rare move.

"It is not in our power to erase the mistakes or the suffering of the past,” he said. "But we can make amends, we can pledge not to fall prey again to the dangerous power of fear or to the impulse to censor, even if that pledge is really only a hope. And, in the end, we can give credit where credit is due."

Keyser continued, saying, "The WGA has not undone the hurt, but it has, at last and at least, told the truth. That fact is a tribute to the friendship of two fathers and then two sons and to a thing we can hold on to, which is that the friendship was stronger than and outlived the hate.”

The full story of the 58-year journey to restore Dalton Trumbo's screen credit is recounted in the January issue of the Guild's Written By magazine.

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