VIP Dalton Trumbo

Dalton Trumbo (December 9, 1905 - September 10, 1976)

Dalton Trumbo was born in Colorado to a working-class family: his father worked for a shoe company. Traveling to Los Angeles to try his hand at writing, he took a job at a bakery, where he worked on the night shift for 10 years. It was during the Depression, and Trumbo witnessed police corruption and supplemented his income with a few schemes of his own--namely, a little check kiting and bootlegging. Bruce Cook wrote in his authorized biography of Trumbo, written just before his death, "Trumbo would go to a speakeasy and order whiskey, sample it, and say loudly, 'This stuff is no good.' He would then pull out his own bottle, and, with a lot of people around, he would say even louder, 'Taste this.'" It was a superior product, and he would get the sale, aided by a hydrometer he carried with him to check alcohol content. Trumbo got his first writing break with a story about his bootlegging days that was picked up by Vanity Fair editor Clare Boothe Brokaw (later Luce).

Trumbo wrote some novels, notably the anti-war Johnny Got His Gun (made into a film directed by Trumbo in 1971 and now in production for an upcoming version with OC star Benjamin McKenzie). But it was at scriptwriting that he excelled. His script for Kitty Foyle won Ginger Rodgers an Oscar in 1940 and his career was off.

Around 1943, Trumbo attended a Communist party meeting where his idol Dashiell Hammett spoke. Trumbo signed on and was later called before the House Committee on Un-American Activities where he refused to testify and served 8 months in jail for non-cooperation. After he was released, he was blacklisted and wrote several scripts with "fronts," among them Roman Holiday (1953). Trumbo spent time in Mexico with other blacklisted writers, where he wrote The Brave One, which won him a scriptwriting Oscar in 1957 -- except that the name that was called was his pseudomym Richard Rich. His article in The Nation about the Richard Rich affair helped break the blacklist, and in 1960 his name appeared on the screen again in Otto Preminger's Exodus and Kirk Douglas's Spartacus.

Spartacus: Rebel Against Rome, adapted from the Howard Fast novel, is the story of a communist uprising if ever there was one. Karl Marx called Spartacus his hero. Trumbo's script has Douglas rallying his rebel army with these words: "I'd rather be here, a free man among brothers facing a long march and a hard fight, than to be the richest citizen in Rome, fat with food he didn't work for and surrounded by slaves." When General Crassus becomes dictator, his first act is is announce, "The enemies of the state are every city and province lists of the disloyal have been compiled." Spartacus's fate may well have felt like Trumbo's own during the time he was imprisoned.

Cook's biography opens with a chapter on Papillon, for which Trumbo was called in to write a part for Dustin Hoffman. Trumbo travelled to Jamaica for the filming, writing just ahead of production and appearing in the film as the prison warden. Cook wrote, "The ganji was, as always, plentiful there in Jamaica, and it was readily available to the company. Some were not content to smoke the stuff, however; they boiled a batch of it up and mixed it secretly into the drinks at a party. Everybody got high but a few got sick as well." Before the film wrapped, Trumbo got the news that he had cancer, and he was ultimately replaced by his son Christopher, who wrote a 2007 documentary, Trumbo, that tells his father's story.

An October 2007 article in the New Yorker by Steve Martin says he saw Trumbo “sorting the seeds and stems from a brick of pot” during the 1970s while he was dating Trumbo's daughter Mitzi. She explained, “Pop smokes marijuana with the wishful thought of cutting down on his drinking.”

In The Sandpiper, Trubo wrote a speech for the minister (Richard Burton) who finds his way to a more natural life with the help of a Big Sur artist (Elizabeth Taylor). He meets with her at the restaurant Nepenthe and says to her friends that the term was used by the Greeks to describe a state induced by a drug, "probably hashish." Taylor speaks of Adam "stool pigeoning" Eve in the Garden of Eden. "I've learned that total adjustment to society is quite as bad as total maladjustment. That principled disobedience of unjust law is more Christian, more truly law-abiding, than unprincipled respect. That only freedom can tame the wild, rebellious, palpitating heart of man," the film's final speech says.

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