With opinions ranting left and right on social media like a fresh-cut that barely has time to scab, there was a time in American history where expressing your opinion had consequences and repercussions. One could even say that nowadays there is a “societal blacklist” that occurs in social media. Just ask Bill Cosby, any Kardashian or the hundreds of cops being called out for their reprehensible behavior.
The HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee) accused many of engaging in Communistic/Un-American activities in the Hollywood community. Ten screenwriters refused to answer questions regarding their possible communist affiliations, and, after spending time in prison for contempt of Congress, were mostly blacklisted by the Hollywood studios.
The group originally included the German writer Bertolt Brecht, but Brecht fled the country on the day following his inquest, and the remaining 10 were voted in contempt of Congress on Nov. 24, 1947. The 10 were Alvah Bessie, Herbert Biberman, Lester Cole, Edward Dmytryk, Ring Lardner, Jr., John Howard Lawson, Albert Maltz, Samuel Ornitz, Adrian Scott and Dalton Trumbo.
Even Arthur Laurents (The Way We Were, West Side Story, Gypsy, The Turning Point) was called in to account for his political views. He explained himself to the House Un-American Activities Committee, and his appearance seemed to have no obvious impact on his career, which at the time was primarily in the theater.
Years earlier, Laurents and Jerome Robbins had developed Look Ma, I’m Dancin’! (1948), a Broadway musical about the world of ballet that ran for 188 performances. Robbins approached Paramount Pictures about directing a screen version, and the studio agreed as long as Laurents was not part of the package. It was then that Laurents learned he officially had been blacklisted, primarily because a review of Home of the Brave that had been published in the Daily Worker. Laurents spent three months trying to clear his name. Just think, if Laurents name had not been cleared, American theater would not have some its iconic classics we still enjoy today.
The Brave One, Roman Holiday and Spartucus are all films written by the brilliantly talented screenwriter and novelist Dalton Trumbo and according to events in the feature film of the same name, “Trumbo” was very passionate about his writing and his politics.
Bryan Cranston as Dalton Trumbo gives a tour de force performance only to be rivaled by his spectacular Emmy/Golden Globe winning performance on “Breaking Bad” His gruff, eccentric and often times comedic portrayal could be seen as a master class in character work onscreen.
Michael Stuhlbarg is having an amazing cinematic year. In addition to Trumbo, he has Miles Ahead (The Miles Davis Story), Pawn Sacrifice, Steve Jobs either already in theaters or slated to open in 2016, which is literally around the corner.
As Edward G. Robinson, Stuhlbarg’s portrayal reminds you how difficult it must be to choose between your beliefs and your career. Especially if those choices may end the career and comfort that you have come to know and rely upon. It’s a safe bet that both he and Cranston will be walking a lot of red carpets this year.
Joining them on the carpet will most certainly be Dame Helen Mirren for her “balls to the wall” performance of the legendary gossip monger/former actress – Hedda Hopper. Nowadays, social media makes stars, but in Hollywood’s heyday, women like Hopper, Louella Parsons and Sheila Graham Westbrook could make or break a Hollywood career. Mirren recreates that essence with such bravado and commitment that one could only wonder just how treacherous the real Hedda Hopper truly was.
Luckily for us, Louie C.K. as Arlen Herd has finally been given a character that has arc to it and not just a small cameo for storytelling purposes. I adore him!
Kudos to Director Jay Roach and Trumbo’s daughters Nikola and Mitzi for having the patience and tenacity for seven years to ring this story to the forefront. The timing couldn’t be better. An extra special thanks to Kirk Douglas, without whose courage and support of Dalton Trumbo assisted giving us some of the greatest cinematic story ever told onscreen.
“Trumbo” is in limited release beginning November 6th and for those writers out there, you definitely want to add this screening on your “to do” list.
Here’s an excerpt from Cleo Trumbo’s acceptance speech for Dalton in 1992 at the WGA.