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||Dalton Trumbo (1905-1976)|
American screenwriter and novelist, who began his career in Hollywood in the 1930s, and was blacklisted in the 1950s. Trumbo was one of the so-called Hollywood Ten, prominent scriptwriters and directors, who were arrested for contempt of Congress during the McCarthyist crusade against Communists.
"He worked at night, often in the bathtub, the typewriter in front of him on a tray, a cigarette in his mouth (he smoked six packs a day). On his shoulder perched a parrot I had given him, pecking Dalton's ear while Dalton pecked at the keys." (Kirk Douglas in The Ragman's Son, 1988)
Dalton Trumbo was born in Montrose, Colorado, but the family moved soon to Grand Junction, about 65 miles from Montrose. Later Trumbo referred to his hometown as Shale City in Eclipse (1935) and Johnny Got His Gun (1939). Trumbo's father, Orus Bonham Trumbo, tried different occupations, such as shoe retailer and beekeeper, but without much success.
While still at high school, Trumbo started to contribute to
the local newspaper, the Daily Sentinel.
He studied at the University of Colorado from 1924 to 1925. When his
father died in 1925, Trumbo moved to Los Angeles to support his mother
and two little sisters. He worked for nine years on the night shift at
the Davis Perfection Bakery. (Quote: "I never considered the working
class anything other than something to get out of.")
During this time, he also studied at the University of
California and at the University of Southern California and completed a
463-page typescript dedicated to his father. The story had grown out of
his experiences in the bakery, where there is "an endless certainty
about getting out the bread twenty-four hours a day, so that time does
not leap ahead by the week or month, but slips past like a swift calm
river." His first stories and essays Trumbo published in Vanity Fair.
In 1932, he began contributing to the Hollywood Spectator,
and left the bakery when he was offered the post of managing editor of
the magazine. Financially, the magazine was not succesful, and Trumbo
never received his full salary. Trumbo quit his job in 1934.
As a novelist Trumbo made his debut with Eclipse, a
satire in the spirit of Sinclair Lewis's Babbitt (1922) about
a self-made businessman, John Abbott, in confrontation with provincial
thinly veiled real-life persons from Grand Junction. In the same year,
he entered the film industry as a reader and a screenwriter at Warner
Bros. Trumbo wrote twenty-one screenplays in the next six years, many
of them low-budget remakes for the B-picture units at Warner's,
Columbia, and RKO. One of the exceptions was adaptation of Christopher
Morley's novel Kitty Foyle.
This story, about a white-collar girl and her troubled love life, won
an Oscar nomination. Fugitives for
set in the world of entertainment industry and adapted from Richard
Wormser's screen story, was Trumbo's first RKO film. At the RKO Radio
Pictures B-movie unit, where the interest lay on crime subject,
'exploitation' films and homespun, sentimental diversions, Trumbo
worked primarily with producer Robert Sisk. In Five Came Back (1939), Trumbo
shared credit with Nathanael West, whose
script was unfilmable, and Jerome Cady.
From an early age, Trumbo was determined to be a novelist. The inspiration for his anti-war story Johnny Got His Gun came when he read an article about a British officer, who was horribly disfigured during World War I. The book won a National Book Award, but had its greatest success in Japan, where it appeared before the attack on Pearl Harbour. It was widely discussed among peace groups after the USA declared war on Japan. Trumbo himself was not in fact unhappy, when the book went out of print, on account of its possible use in obscuring the war effort.
Joe, the protagonist, is a soldier of the first World War. His
has been destroyed in a battle on the last day of the war. First he
doesn't realize his situation: "He had no legs and no arms and no eyes
and no ears and no nose and no mouth and no tongue. What a hell of a
dream. It must be a dream. Of course sweet god it's a dream. He'd have
to wake up or he'd go to nuts. Nobody could live like that." After
becoming aware of the extent of his disfigurement Joe, a living dead
man, tries desperately to find a way to communicate with his
surroundings. Using the occasional stream of consciousness, Trumbo
follows Joe's thoughts, feelings, and memories as he lies helpless in
Johnny Got His Gun remained for long an underground classic. Republished first in 1959, it influenced the emerging generation of Beats, and such protest singers as Bob Dylan. In the 1960s, the Spanish film director Luis Buñuel (1900-1983) planned to make a film adaptation out of it, and co-wrote the script with Trumbo. They had first met during Trumbo's Mexican sojourn. Excited by the opportunity to work with such a world reknowned figure, Trumbo said that Buñuel is the only director he could "implicity trust" with his novel. "I'd do a screenplay, and be his recretary, amd carry his briefcase and do his laundry". (Dalton Trumbo: Blacklisted Hollywood Radical by Larry Ceplair and Christopher Trumbo, 2015, p. 488) After Buñuel's parrot bit his hand and his lips, he returned to Los Angeles. This production never took off, but Trumbo himself found backing to the adaptation and debuted in 1971 as a director. Although the film, starring Timothy Bottoms, Jason Robards, Diane Varsi, and Donald Sutherland as Jesus Christ, won several awards at Cannes, it did poorly at the box office in the U.S. Noteworthy, the screenplay had only Trumbo's name on it.
In 1938, Trumbo married Cleo Fincher, whom he had been
since 1936. The couple were introduced by Earl Felton, a Warner Bros.
screenwriter. Trumbo bought a 320-acre ranch, named Lazy-T, at Lockwood
Valley, some 140 kilometers from Hollywood. Trumbo's first pamphlet Harry Bridges
(1941) was a defense of the West Coast labor leader and president of
ILWU, the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union.
Bridges was facing a deportation to Australia. The Time of the Toad (1949)
attacked HUAC and criticized American anti-Communism. The Devil in the Book
(1956) was about the conviction of fourteen California Smith Act
defendants; the statute made it illegal for advocating the overthrow of
any United States government.
During World War II, Trumbo served as a war correspondent with the US Army Air Forces. In Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944) Trumbo avoided racist overtones in his script. The film had the quality of a documentary and depicted the first American attack on Japan. Spencer Tracy played Lt. Colonel Jimmy Doolittle, who gained world fame as the commander of the bold bombing raid on Tokyo on April 18, 1942. "A big studio, big scale film, free of artistic pretensions, it is transformed by its not very imaginative but very dogged sincerity into something forceful, simple and thoroughly sympathetic." (film critic James Agee) In 2001, this episode of World War II filled the latter part of the mega-budgeted Pearl Harbor, directed by Michael Bay, starring Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett, and Kate Beckinsale. It was dismissed by Lou Lumenick as a "third-rate schmaltz that pays only lip service to history." (New York Post)
Trumbo joined the Communist Party in 1943. Though his contract with RKO had expired and he had returned to MGM, the studio produced Tender Comrade (1943), a Ginger Rogers film, which her mother Lela Rogers called an example of Red propaganda in 1947. After the war, Trumbo supported a strike organized by the Conference of Studio Unions. However, from 1948, Trumbo's relationship with the party became more distant, mainly because he did not have time for it. Communism meant for Trumbo freedom and brotherhood, and struggle against fascism, but he did not care much about Marx or Lenin. Lela Rogers, Ginger Rogers's mother, reportedly testified that she believed writers Trumbo and Clifford Odets were Communists. Ginger had refused to say a line from a Trumbo's screenplay - "Share and share alike, that's democracy." As a scriptwriter Trumbo was highly successful and well paid, but he was also a campaigner for union rights, the National Chairman of Writers, and member of the HICCASP (Hollywood Independent Citizens' Committee of the Arts, Sciences, and Professions).
In 1947, Trumbo was sentenced to a jail term for refusing to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Along with others from the 'Hollywood Ten' group of writers and actors (Alvah Bessie, Herbert Biberman, Lester Cole, Edward Dmytryk, Ring Lardner Jr., John Howard Lawson, Albert Maltz, Samuel Ornitz, Robert Adrian Scott), Trumbo refused to state whether they were, or ever had been, members of the Communist Party. The Ten were charged with contempt and later convicted. Trumbo was fired from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and imprisoned for a year in 1950. In his cell, Trumbo read Tolstoy's 1000-page classic War and Peace.
After his release, Trumbo was blacklisted and unable to find work in the United States. In Gun Crazy (1949), Millard Kaufman had served as a front for Trumbo. The film has enjoyed fame as one of the great B-pictures. Cummins and Dall are two doomed lovers, who owe much to the real-life characters of Bonnie and Clyde. The hero's fascination with guns is an early warning about the role of firearms in American culture.
Trumbo sold his California ranch and moved with his family to Mexico, living with a colony of other blacklistees. He continued writing scripts at cut-rate prices under various pseudonyms, mostly for low-budget films. He also contributed stories to women's magazine under his wife's name. Trumbo's employers included the King Brothers, who produced The Brave One (1956), based on his story 'The Boy and the Bull.' To hide his identity, Trumbo opened a checking account at the United States National Bank on Colorado Avenue in Pasadena, under the names of James and Dorothy Bonham. Banks rewarded clerks for giving information about anyone suspected of being subversive. "I went through this ridiculous routine because I have never endorsed with my own name any check, lest the looseness of Hollywood banking clerks would cause it to be known that DT was working for this or that producer." Ian McLellan Hunter has said, that Trumbo made the original story for William Wyler's film Roman Holiday (1953), starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. "He asked me to front for him," Hunter later said. Hunter was given an Academy Award for the story. "Had it been for the screenplay, I could have convinced myself that I had done most of it." Hunter turned over his fee from Paramount to Trumbo.
Trumbo was a phenomenally fast scriptwriter. He could turn out a full, polished 150-page script in a week. Usually he wrote first the dialogue, and then the shots, description, and action. His story for The Brave One (1956) won an Academy Award, under the alias 'Robert Rich'. After a pause, Trumbo’s name was seen in the screen credits of Spartacus (1960), about a rebellious slave, and Exodus (1960), both appearances to the embarrassment of the film industry. Otto Preminger, the director of Exodus, was a liberal and openly employed Trumbo.
For Spartacus Trumbo was hired through Kirk Douglas, who had always liked his stories. Spartacus was adapted from Howard Fast's didactic novel. Trumbo considered Fast just as narrow-minded in his Marxist views as the people, who did not tolerate leftist views. The manuscript was passed to Fast as the text of Eddie Lewis, who worked for Douglas for eight years. "This blacklisting is going to collapse because it is rotten, immoral and illegal. I am one day going to be working openly in the motion picture industry. When that day comes, I swear to you that I will never sign a term contract with any major studio. I will, proudly and by preference, do at least one picture a year for King Brothers, and I will try to make it the best picture that I have it in me to do" (from Trumbo's letter to the King Brothers, in The Penguin Book of Hollywood, ed. Christopher Sylvester, 1998). Lonely Are The Brave (1962), based on Edward Abbey's novel Brave Cowboy from 1956 and starring Kirk Douglas as the last of the cowboy rebels, was made almost "shot-for-shot" from Trumbo's script.
With the help of the director Otto Preminger, Trumbo broke away from the blacklist and was hired to write the script for Exodus from Leon Uris's bestseller. Trumbo was not the director's first choice. Premiger had fired the author from the project, but when his second writer Albert Maltz did not proceed as fast as he hoped, Preminger hired Trumbo, who had the fame of producing first quality work at breakneck speed. More scriptwriting credits came from The Last Sunset (1961), Lonely Are The Brave, and The Sandpiper (1965), perhaps better remembered for its song 'The Shadow of Your Smile' than for its famous stars, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. In Hawaii (1966), based on James Michener's bestseller, Trumbo shared the credits with Daniel Taradash. However, he he did not write the script for The Abominable Snowman (1957), though he had outlined an idea for the film, and he had done a great deal of research on the Yeti.
The Fixer (1968) was an adaption of Bernard Malamud's Pulizer Prize -winning novel. It tells of a Jew in Tsarist Russia, Yakov Bok, who had been imprisoned. The prosecuting attorney Grusbeshov tries to make Yakov confess to the murder of a child, and that he is the tool of an international Jewish political organization dedicated to revolution. After years of suffering Yakov, becomes the embodiment of human dignity and strength to resist injustice. "I committed no crime, I need no pardon. I want trial. If you try to make me leave here without one, you'll have to shoot me first. You have called me a criminal, now you must try me." (from Trumbo's screenplay) Also Papillon (1973), filmed from Henri-Antoine Charrière's autobiographical bestseller, took place in a prison, this was set on Devil's Island.
In the early 1970s, Trumbo brought onto screen his 1939
antiwar novel Johnny Got His Gun,
and the book also was reprinted. The film won the International Critics
Award at the Cannes Festival. However, Trumbo's comeback was shadowed
by poor health. He died in Beverly Hills on September 10, 1976. His
last novel, Night of the Aurochs,
written in the form of an autobiography of a Nazi, was left unfinished
and prepared for posthumous publication (1979) by Robert Kirsch. The
plot was reconstructed from Trumbo's synopsis and notes; by the
time of his death, Trumbo had finished barely a third of the novel.
Trumbo's letters to his children, auto dealers, creditors and others, edited by Helen Manfull, were published under the title Additional Dialogue (1970). Ishi, the Last of His Tribe (1978), Trumbo's screenplay for television, was completed by his son Christopher. Trumbo left behind a huge amount of unfinished projects and scripts.One of them was The Dark Angel (1962-62), based on the novel of Mika Waltari, a Finnish writer, whose bestseller The Egyptian had been filmed in 1954 by Michael Curtiz.
For further reading: Dalton Trumbo by B. Cook (1977); The Ragman's Son by Kirk Douglas (1988); Radical Innocence: A Critical Study of the Hollywood Ten by Bernard F. Dick (1989); Writers in Hollywood by I. Hamilton (1990); Johnny Got His Gun: Dalton Trumbo by Mary Ellen Snodgrass (1993); World Authors 1900-1950, vol. 4, ed. by Martin Seymour Smith and Andrew C. Kimmens (1996); Dalton Trumbo, Hollywood Rebel: A Critical Survey and Filmography by Peter Hanson (2000); Spartacus: Film and History, edited by Martin M. Winkler (2007); Dalton Trumbo: Blacklisted Hollywood Radical by Larry Ceplair and Christopher Trumbo (2015); Trumbo by Bruce Cook (2015) - Other blacklisted screenwriters in Authors' Calendar: Paul Jarrico, Abraham Polonsky. Huom.! Trumbon toteutumattomien elokuvaprojektien joukossa – niitä on kymmenittäin – on käsikirjoitus (1962-63) elokuvaan The Dark Angel, joka perustuu Mika Waltarin romaaniin Johannes Angelos.
Selected film works:
Novels, plays, and essays: