Dalton TRUMBO – Fighting for the Right to Write in Hollywood

Dalton TRUMBO – Fighting for the Right to Write in Hollywood
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Bryan Cranston as Dalton Trumbo, in Bleecker Street’s TRUMBO

Cultural exchanges between nations are vitally important in the complex and conflicted world we live in today and our perception of ‘democracy virtually means people can say what they want to’; … all the people.

All the people is what America’s, and indeed any Bill of Rights from King Cyrus the Great (600 or 576-530 BC) onward was meant to be about; a symbol of tolerance, offering respect for different peoples, different cultures and different faiths.

One of the men who reminded people of the contemporary age of its importance was author, anti war activist and Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (1905-1970) during the mid 20th century.

Dalton Trumbo became one of the infamous Hollywood 10; a group of screenwriters who defied the House Un-American Activities Committee when it was witch hunting for communists.

He said ‘…democracy isn’t a gift it’s a responsibility’.

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Trumbo and his girls, Bryan Cranston as Dalton Trumbo, Elle Fanning as Niki and Meghan Wolfe as Mitzi in Bleecker Street’s TRUMBO

TRUMBO, the extraordinary story about a family man having the courage of his convictions, has been brought to the silver screen with Bryan Cranston as Dalton Trumbo.

Bryan Cranston has been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor in TRUMBO, giving what is a simply splendid blustering and insightful performance.

This was a tale far too threatening for Hollywood studios to tell for the past fifty+ years.

The movie is set during the golden decade of successful worldwide entertainment movies coming out of Hollywood.

Full of glamour, suspense, passion, and humour this was the decade when TRUMBO was endeavouring to break the unreality of fear about communism and cultural differences.

American politician and US Republican senator Joseph Raymond “Joe” McCarthy was championing unsubstantiated accusations and unproven charges of subversion in high government and Hollywood circles

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Helen Mirren as gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, well known for her outrageous hats, in Bleecker Street’s TRUMBO

In a climate of the prevailing fear expanded by a battle for white supremacy, McCarthy’s prejudicial ideas achieved far higher prominence than anyone would have previously believed possible.

Especially when the fire was fuelled and fanned by famous media personnel, including influential Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren), who named those suspected.

Ensuring McCarthy’s so-called blacklist became irrelevant became Dalton Trumbo’s mission in life 1947-1957. He had such advanced or radical ideas as people receiving equal pay for equal work.

He observed ‘the chief internal enemies of any state are those public officials who betray the trust imposed upon them by the people’.

McCarthy’s supporters hailed him as a dedicated patriot and guardian of American values. Those who opposed his views, like TRUMBO, believed McCarthy was undermining the country’s proud tradition of preserving civil liberty for all.

They fought for their right to retain their liberty under the law by condemning McCarthy and his campaign as an irresponsible act performed by a self serving witch hunter, one who ruled by fear.

His fellow writers including Ring Lardner Jr , Alvah Bessie, Lester Cole, Samuel Ornitz, Adrian Scott, Herbert Biberman, Albert Maltz, Edward Dmytryk and John Howard Lawson also went to jail, as did Dalton Trumbo for defying HUAC’s famous question:

“Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?”

Its certainly not a question that would have been asked of those belonging to the Republic or Democrat parties.

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Bryan Cranston as Dalton Trumbo and Diane Lane as Cleo Trumbo in Bleecker Street’s TRUMBO

It is after WW II when we first meet TRUMBO, living quietly with his adoring wife Cleo (Diane Lane) and his three children on a ranch just outside Los Angeles.

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Louis C.K. as Arlen Hird and Michael Stuhlbarg as Edward G Robinson in Bleecker Street’s TRUMBO

His world is full of movie moguls, high profile actors such as Edward G Robinson (Michael Stuhlbarg), the ‘Duke’ John Wayne (David James Elliott), Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren) as well as other writers including his friend Arlen Hird (Louis C.K.)

The Duke

David James Elliott as John Wayne in Bleecker Street’s TRUMBO

All the supporting actors give strong performances, especially Diane Lane as Trumbo’s main supporter his wife and Elle Fanning as his daughter Niki.

Helen Mirren as Hedda Hopper is convincingly bitchy, those hats were very affecting.

John Goodman certainly acted like a King, while David James Elliot had ‘The Duke’ John Wayne’s swagger down pat. Louis CK as Arlen Hird with Michael Stuhlbarg as Edward G, were both truly excellent .

Dalton Trumbo was called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947, refusing to supply the names of colleagues presumed to have communist sympathies.

He was imprisoned for eleven months.

Blacklisted when he was finally released from unlawful incarceration, despite leaving the Communist party, Dalton Trumbo found he could no longer work under his own name.

TRUMBO had been a renowned and massively successful Hollywood scriptwriter prior to WW II, earning over $70,000 per script.

After his incarceration he defiantly produced scripts for what were regarded as B grade movies, which would remain uncredited for those in the industry still willing to hire him.

The support his family gave him to survive and make his point was crucial.

He organised them all into a company with major parts to play in ensuring the scripts reached Frank King (John Goodman) of King Bros studios on schedule.

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Writing in the bath, Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) in Bleecker Street’s TRUMBO

He often had to write sitting in the bath to soothe his aching back, with scotch, cigarettes and pills also fuelling his flow.

Award winning scripts included two of the era’s most popular movies. Roman Holiday, featuring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck (1953) and The Brave One (1956), a family movie both credited to other writers, helped net his studio supporters a fortune and Academy Awards he could not claim.

However word started to get around that Dalton Trumbo was behind some of the screen’s best moneymaking movies of the day.

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Bryan Cranston as Dalton Trumbo and Dean O’Gorman as Kirk Douglas in Trumbo (2015)

Actor Kirk Douglas (Dean O’Gorman) admired his colleagues stand and called to invite him to re-write the script for a movie he was making, a historical drama about a Roman slave, Spartacus.

Stanley Kubrick the Director threatened to walk out but Douglas stood his ground, insisting Trumbo remained involved, despite him having to use a pseudonym.

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Christian Berkel as Otto Preminger in Bleecker Street’s TRUMBO

During the filming of Spartacus word started to get around and one day the famous international director Otto Preminger (Christian Berkel) knocked on Trumbo’s front door.

He was wanting him to write another biblical story for him called Exodus.

However he promised to credit him by his real name. (Loved that Berkel had a continual twinkle in his eye!)

The tide was turning and by the time both movies were finished and a new President John Kennedy was arriving in the White House, Dalton Trumbo’s name was back on movie credits as screenwriter.

Dear Kirk,

Here, for what it is and for what I hope I still am, is the only existing copy of this book that’s signed with the name to which I was born — and that other name you’ve enabled me to acquire under circumstances that blessedly permit me to respect and cherish both the new name and the new friend who made it possible.

Affectionately, Sam Jackson-Dalton Trumbo.

TRUMBO gave a famous speech in 1970 to the Writer’s Guild of America, accepting a lifetime achievement award. He said “… it, would do no good when people looked back on the blacklist years, to search for heroes or villains. There weren’t any; there were only victims” he said.


Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2016

Trumbo 5TRUMBO

Director: Jay Roach

Actors: Bryan Cranston, Helen Mirren, Diane Lane, Louis C.K., Elle Fanning, John Goodman, Michael Stuhlbarg, Christian Berkel

Watch the Trailer



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