Dalton Trumbo

Dalton Trumbo
Dalton Trumbo

Trumbo with wife Cleo at House Un-American Activities Committee hearings, 1947
Born James Dalton Trumbo
December 9, 1905(1905-12-09)
Montrose, Colorado,
United States
Died September 10, 1976(1976-09-10) (aged 70)
Los Angeles, California,
United States
Spouse Cleo Beth Fincher

James Dalton Trumbo (December 9, 1905 – September 10, 1976) was an American screenwriter and novelist, and one of the Hollywood Ten, a group of film professionals who 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 originally given to a front writer, and one awarded to Robert Rich, Trumbo's pseudonym.[1][2][3]


Early life

Trumbo was born in Montrose, Colorado, the son of Maud (née Tillery) and Orus Bonham Trumbo.[4] His surname originated from a Franco-Swiss immigrant ancestor who settled in Virginia in 1736.[5] Trumbo graduated from Grand Junction High School in nearby Grand Junction, Colorado. While still in high school, he worked as a cub reporter for the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, covering courts, the high school, the mortuary and civic organizations. He attended the University of Colorado at Boulder for two years, working as a reporter for the Boulder Daily Camera and contributing to the campus humor magazine, the yearbook and the campus newspaper.


He got his professional start working for Vogue magazine.

His first published novel, Eclipse (1935), about a town and its people, was written in the social realist style and drew on his years in Grand Junction. The book was controversial in Grand Junction and helped give him an infamous reputation in that city. Years after his death he would be honored with a statue in front of the Avalon Theater on Main Street, depicted writing a screenplay in a bathtub.

He started in movies in 1937; by the 1940s, he was one of Hollywood's highest paid writers[citation needed] for work on such films as Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944), Our Vines Have Tender Grapes (1945), and Kitty Foyle (1940), for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Writing Adapted Screenplay.

Trumbo's 1939 anti-war novel, Johnny Got His Gun, won a National Book Award (then known as an American Book Sellers Award) that year. The novel was inspired by an article Trumbo had read about a Canadian soldier who had lost all his limbs in World War I and was visited in hospital by the Prince of Wales.[6]

Involvement with communism

Trumbo aligned himself with the Communist Party USA before the 1940s, although he did not join the party until later.[citation needed] After the outbreak of World War II in 1939, American communists argued that the United States should not get involved in the war on the side of the United Kingdom, since the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of nonaggression meant that the Soviet Union was at peace with Germany.[citation needed]

In 1941, Trumbo wrote a novel The Remarkable Andrew, in which, in one scene, the ghost of Andrew Jackson appears in order to caution the United States not to get involved in the war. In a review of the book, Time Magazine sarcastically wrote, "General Jackson's opinions need surprise no one who has observed George Washington and Abraham Lincoln zealously following the Communist Party Line in recent years."[7]

Shortly after the 1941 German invasion of the Soviet Union, Trumbo and his publisher decided to suspend reprinting of Johnny Got His Gun until the end of the war. During the war, Trumbo received letters from individuals "denouncing Jews" and using Johnny to support their arguments for "an immediate negotiated peace" with Nazi Germany; Trumbo reported these correspondents to the FBI.[8] Trumbo regretted this decision, which he called "foolish". After two FBI agents showed up at his home, he understood that "their interest lay not in the letters but in me."[8]

Trumbo was a member of the Communist Party USA from 1943 until 1948.[9] He wrote in The Daily Worker that among the films that communist influence in Hollywood had quashed were adaptations of Arthur Koestler's anti-totalitarian works Darkness at Noon and The Yogi and the Commissar, which described the rise of communism in Russia.[10]


During the McCarthy Era in 1947, Trumbo, along with nine other writers and directors, was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee as an unfriendly witness to testify on the presence of communist influence in Hollywood. Trumbo and the other nine refused to give information. After conviction for contempt of Congress, he was blacklisted, and in 1950, spent 11 months in prison in the federal penitentiary in Ashland, Kentucky.

After Trumbo was blacklisted, some Hollywood actors and directors, such as Elia Kazan and Clifford Odets, agreed to testify and to provide names of fellow communist party members to Congress. Many of those who testified were immediately ostracized and shunned by their former friends and associates.[citation needed] Trumbo always maintained that those who testified under pressure from HUAC and the studios were equally victims of the Red Scare, an opinion for which he was criticized.[citation needed]

Later life

After completing his sentence, Trumbo and his family moved to Mexico with Hugo Butler and his wife Jean Rouverol, who had also been blacklisted. There, Trumbo wrote 30 scripts under pseudonyms, such as Gun Crazy (1950), based on a short story by MacKinlay Kantor, who was the front for the screenplay. It was not until 1992 that Trumbo's role was revealed.[11]

Gradually the blacklist began to be weakened. With the support of Otto Preminger, Trumbo was credited for his screenplay for the 1960 film Exodus, adapted from the novel by Leon Uris. Shortly thereafter, Kirk Douglas made public Trumbo's credit for the screenplay for Spartacus (1960),[12] an event which has been cited as the beginning of the end of the blacklist. Trumbo was reinstated in the Writers Guild of America, West, and was credited on all subsequent scripts.

In 1971, Trumbo directed the film adaptation of his novel Johnny Got His Gun, which starred Timothy Bottoms, Diane Varsi, Jason Robards and Donald Sutherland.

One of Trumbo's last films, Executive Action (1973), was based on various conspiracy theories about the Kennedy assassination.

His account and analysis of the Smith Act trials is entitled The Devil in the Book.

Academy Awards

He won an Oscar for The Brave One (1956), written under the name Robert Rich. In 1975, the Academy officially recognized Trumbo as the winner and presented him with a statuette.

In 1993, Trumbo was posthumously awarded the Academy Award for writing Roman Holiday (1953). The screen credit and award were previously given to Ian McLellan Hunter, who had been a "front" for Trumbo.[13]

Personal life

In 1939, Trumbo married Cleo Fincher who was born in Fresno on July 17, 1916, and later moved with her divorced mother and her brother and sister to Los Angeles. Cleo Trumbo died of natural causes at the age of 93 on October 9, 2009 in the Bay Area city of Los Altos. At the time she was living with her eldest daughter Mitzi.[14]

Trumbo had three children: one son, filmmaker and screenwriter Christopher Trumbo who was considered an expert on the Hollywood blacklist;[15] and two daughters, photographer Melissa, known as Mitzi, and psychotherapist Nikola.[16] Mitzi once had a relationship with actor/comedian Steve Martin; Martin later confessed that, at that time in his "tunnel-visioned life," he had never heard of her father.[17] In his memoir, Born Standing Up, Martin credits his time spent with the Trumbo family as having aroused his interest in politics and art. Christopher Trumbo mounted a Broadway play in 2003 based on his father's letters called Trumbo: Red, White, and Blacklisted, in which a wide variety of actors played his father over the weeks, including Nathan Lane, Tim Robbins, Brian Dennehy, Ed Harris, Chris Cooper, and Gore Vidal. A documentary about Dalton Trumbo called Trumbo was produced in 2007 incorporating elements of the play as well as footage of Dalton Trumbo himself and a panoply of interviews. Christopher Trumbo died on January 8, 2011, from complications of kidney cancer.[18]


Dalton Trumbo died in Los Angeles of a heart attack at the age of 70 on September 10, 1976 and donated his body to science.[19]


Selected film works
Novels, plays and essays
  • Eclipse, 1935
  • Washington Jitters, 1936
  • Johnny Got His Gun, 1939
  • The Remarkable Andrew, 1940 (also known as Chronicle of a Literal Man)
  • The Biggest Thief in Town, 1949 (lay)
  • The Time Out of the Toad, 1972 (essays)
  • Night of the Aurochs, 1979 (unfinished, ed. R. Kirsch)
  • Harry Bridges, 1941
  • The Time of the Toad, 1949
  • The Devil in the Book, 1956
  • Additional Dialogue: Letters of Dalton Trumbo, 1942–62, 1970 (ed. by H. Manfull)

See also

  • The Hollywood Ten, documentary
  • Trumbo, a 2007 documentary by Peter Askin based on Christopher Trumbo's stage play
  • Dalton Trumbo, biography by Bruce Cook
  • Dalton Trumbo: Hollywood Rebel, biography by Peter Hanson


  1. ^ AMPAS Press Release
  2. ^ AMPAS Oscar Trivia
  3. ^ IMDb.com: Dalton Trumbo. Retrieved 04-12-2010
  4. ^ [1]
  5. ^ [2]
  6. ^ Sparknotes.com. Retrieved 04-12-2010
  7. ^ Counsel from Hollywood, Time Magazine, February 3, 1941
  8. ^ a b Dalton Trumbo. Johnny Got His Gun. Citadel Press, 2000, pg 5, introduction
  9. ^ Naming Names, Victor Navasky, 2003
  10. ^ Hollywood's Missing Movies: Why American films have ignored life under communism. - Reason Magazine
  11. ^ John Apostolou, "MacKinlay Kantor", The Armchair Detective, Spring 1997, republished on Mystery File, accessed 17 Oct 2010
  12. ^ Trumbo (2007) at the Internet Movie Database Retrieved April 25, 2010.
  13. ^ "Great To Be Nominated" Enjoys a "Roman Holiday" AMPAS
  14. ^ McLellan, Dennis (October 18, 2009). "Cleo Trumbo dies at 93; wife of blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo". Los Angeles Times. http://articles.latimes.com/2009/oct/18/local/me-cleo-trumbo18/2. 
  15. ^ McLellan, Dennis (2011-01-12). "Christopher Trumbo dies at 70; screen and TV writer whose father was blacklisted". Los Angeles Times. http://articles.latimes.com/2011/jan/12/local/la-me-christopher-trumbo-20110112. Retrieved 2011-01-26. 
  16. ^ Michael Cieply (2007-09-11). "A Voice From the Blacklist: Documentary Lets Dalton Trumbo Speak". The New York Times (New York). http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/11/movies/11trumbo.html?_r=1&oref=slogin. Retrieved 2008-01-04. 
  17. ^ Steve Martin (2007-10-29). "Personal History: "In the Bird Cage"". The New Yorker (New York). http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2007/10/29/071029fa_fact_martin. Retrieved 2008-01-04. 
  18. ^ "Son Of Blacklisted Hollywood Writer Trumbo Dies" (Jan. 12, 2011) KTVU.com. Retrieved 1-12-2011
  19. ^ Nordheimer, Jon (September 11, 1976). "Dalton Trumbo, Film Writer, Dies; Oscar Winner Had Been Blacklisted". New York Times. http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F7091EFE395C137B93C3A81782D85F428785F9. Retrieved 2008-06-18. "Dalton Trumbo, the Hollywood screen writer who was perhaps the most famous member of the blacklisted film industry authors called "the Hollywood Ten," died of a heart attack early today at his home here. He was 70 years old. He donated his body to science." 

Further reading

External links

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  • Dalton Trumbo — (* 9. Dezember 1905 in Montrose, Colorado; † 10. September 1976 in Los Angeles) war ein US amerikanischer Drehbuch und Romanautor. Trumbo gehörte zur Gruppe der Hollywood Ten, die sich 1947 unter Berufung auf die amerikanische Verfassung… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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  • Dalton Trumbo — noun United States screenwriter who was blacklisted and imprisoned for refusing to cooperate with congressional investigations of communism in America (1905 1976) • Syn: ↑Trumbo • Instance Hypernyms: ↑screenwriter, ↑film writer …   Useful english dictionary

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  • Trumbo — noun United States screenwriter who was blacklisted and imprisoned for refusing to cooperate with congressional investigations of communism in America (1905 1976) • Syn: ↑Dalton Trumbo • Instance Hypernyms: ↑screenwriter, ↑film writer * * * /trum …   Useful english dictionary