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Saturday Art: Influential Authors: Dalton Trumbo

James Dalton Trumbo

Dalton Trumbo statue in Grand Junction, CO (where he graduated high school)

If he had written no other words in no other fields, Dalton Trumbo has to be considered an influential author for the book Johnny Got His Gun. First published in 1939, I read it early in my college years, at the height of the Vietnam War, while I was still considering a career in the US Army. Here’s what the wiki intro for the book says:

Johnny Got His Gun is an anti-war novel written in 1938 by American novelist and screenwriter Dalton Trumbo[2] and published September 1939 by J. B. Lippincott.[1] The novel won one of the early National Book Awards: the Most Original Book of 1939.[3]

Coinciding with the book’s publication in September 1939, was the start of WW II as well. Obviously not a good time for an anti-war book to come out yet the book still managed to garner awards.

As influential as Johnny Got His Gun was and is, Trumbo is best known as a screenwriter and one of the “Hollywood 10“, i.e., ten screenwriters, directors, or producers who were blacklisted for refusing to testify and answer questions before the House Un-American Activities Committee on their “alleged involvement in Communist activities.” Trumbo’s wiki puts it this way in his intro:

James Dalton Trumbo (December 9, 1905 – September 10, 1976) was an American screenwriter and novelist. As one of the Hollywood Ten, he refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1947 during the committee’s investigation of Communist influences in the motion picture industry. Trumbo won two Academy Awards while blacklisted; one was originally given to a front writer, and one was awarded to “Robert Rich”, Trumbo’s pseudonym.[1][2]

Blacklisting effectively ended in 1960 when it lost credibility. Trumbo was publicly given credit for two blockbuster films: Otto Preminger made public that Trumbo wrote the screenplay for the smash hit, Exodus,[3] and Kirk Douglas publicly announced that Trumbo was the screenwriter of Spartacus.[4] Further, President John F. Kennedy crossed picket lines to see the movie.[5][6]

It appears Trumbo only wrote a total of eleven books with a mix of fiction and non-fiction. IMDB credits him with 67 total writing credits although this includes his original screenplay for a movie version of Johnny Got His Gun which he also directed.

Trumbo was blacklisted and officially unable to work in Hollywood from 1947 until 1960 yet was awarded two Academy Awards during this period for Roman Holiday in 1953 (uncredited) and The Brave One in 1956 (originally credited as “Robert Rich”). Trumbo was officially recognized for The Brave One in 1975 and it was not until 2011 that he received recognition for Roman Holiday. Otto Preminger helped weaken the blacklist by assuring that Trumbo received credit for his adaptation of Leon Uris’s Exodus in 1960 while Kirk Douglas publicized Trumbo’s work on Spartacus also from 1960. Trumbo did receive full credit for his work after this including The Sandpiper (Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton), Papillon (Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman), Hawaii (Julie Andrews, Max von Sydow, and Richard Harris), and Lonely Are the Brave (Kirk Douglas, Gena Rowland, and Walter Matthau). A few of his pre-blacklist credits are Kitty Foyle (Ginger Rogers), Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (Spencer Tracy and Van Johnson), and A Guy Named Joe (also with Tracy and Johnson and Irene Dunn).

Picture from Loco Steve licensed under Creative Commons

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Small town Kentucky country boy lived all over the country. Currently in Ruskin, FL