Dalton Trumbo on the Big Screen


Dalton Trumbo wrote, what I believe to be, the greatest anti-war novel of all time, Johnny Got His Gun. When I was teaching high school literature, this was on my required reading list for both stylistic and intellectual reasons.

Trumbo was also an acclaimed screenwriter with such impressive titles as Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944), Roman Holiday (1953), Exodus (1959), Papillon (1973). He also wrote the Golden Globe nominated movie The Fixer (1968), and an Oscar winning script for The Brave One (1956). However, Trumbo’s most famous and most far reaching movie credit is the epic Spartacus with the great Kirk Douglas.

If you’ve seen and enjoyed any of these films, you are a fan of Dalton Trumbo…

…a card carrying member of the communist party.

Ironically, Trumbo’s name didn’t appear on many of the titles above. The Oscar for The Brave One was given to Robert Rich. In the late 1940’s and early 50’s, culture in the United States was pressed under the thumb of anti-communist paranoia. Radicals like Trumbo, or even those who maybe, could be, in some way construed as or associated with radicals, were blacklisted unless they would submit to giving testimony against other radicals before the House Un-American Activities Committee.

At this time, big screen heroes like Gary Cooper, Robert Taylor and Ronald Reagan either folded under the illegitimate pressure of the House Committee, or were willing participants in its witch hunt. Trumbo and nine other writers, known as the Hollywood Ten, refused to participate in the House Committee’s un-American activities. Instead, they called the hearings for what they were, a violation of their human and Constitutional rights. Well, standing up for basic human rights and American principles would not go unpunished. For their bravery, the Hollywood Ten were imprisoned for a year (one member, Edward Dmytryk, did ultimately give testimony). After that year, the nine remaining members were blacklisted. In order to work, they had to hid under pseudonyms like Robert Rich.

I bring this up as a contrast to today’s blathering and bloviating about Political Correctness on the part of some of our presidential candidates. Trumbo and the Hollywood Ten were willing to go to prison and to sacrifice their livelihoods for the sake of protecting their freedom of thought, speech and assembly. Their’s was the exemplar battle against political correctness. Trumbo and his friends fought to keep a real, open discourse, a free market for all ideas, and paid a high price for their courage. Compare this to Trump and Carson who fall into hysterics whenever they are criticized for their bigotry. The contrast is rather telling.

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