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‘Trumbo’ Tells the Story of Blacklisted Screenwriter

Helen Mirren, left, and Bryan Cranston star in the new movie "Trumbo."

Helen Mirren, left, and Bryan Cranston star in the new movie "Trumbo."

In 1950, the United States Congress tried to end the career of Dalton Trumbo, the highest-paid screenwriter in Hollywood.

Now, that story is being told in the new movie, “Trumbo.”

In 1947, Dalton Trumbo appeared before the U.S. House Un-American Activities Committee. The committee was looking for members of the Communist Party. It suspected many film industry members belonged to the greatly feared political group.

Dalton Trumbo was one of the suspects. He refused to answer the committee’s questions.

The committee blacklisted Trumbo. That meant no one would work with him or buy his screenplays.

Actor Bryan Cranston plays Dalton Trumbo. He portrays him as a difficult and disagreeable man, but also as a beautiful speaker. In “Trumbo,” the title character fights the government’s actions with sharp thinking and a fierce spirit. The political pressure does not intimidate him.

HUAC COMMITTEE MEMBER: "Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist party?"
DALTON TRUMBO: "Many questions can be answered ‘yes’ or ‘no’ only by a moron or a slave."

Bryan Cranston says the movie’s message attracted him more than Trumbo's showy character.

"This man, who was a prolific writer, the highest-paid screenwriter in Hollywood at the time and a member of the American Communist party, and summoned to Washington to make a statement under oath, under the penalty of imprisonment, to withgo his first amendment rights and be compelled to give testimony with a very un-American question: 'Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?'"

SCREENWRITER: "You talk like a radical, but you live like a rich guy."

TRUMBO: "It's the perfect combination! The radical may fight with the purity of Jesus, but the rich guy wins with the cunning of Satan."

Trumbo's sharp humor does not win him many friends. In 1950, he is sentenced for contempt of court. He is no longer permitted to work in Hollywood and loses his wealth. But he is talented and resourceful.

TRUMBO: "I'll write you a movie."
STUDIO EXECUTIVE: "And, you don't want your name on it."
TRUMBO: "No, you don't want my name on it."

Society reporter and intense anti-communist Hedda Hopper was one of Trumbo's greatest enemies. Actor Helen Mirren plays her in the movie.

HOPPER: "Whisper a movie you've written in secret. Maybe I've even heard of it."
TRUMBO: "Maybe you have…."

As it turns out, Hopper probably had heard of it. Dalton Trumbo won two Academy Awards for screenplays he wrote while blacklisted. He wrote them under different names. “Roman Holiday” won the Oscar for best writing in 1954. Three years later, Trumbo’s screenplay for the movie, “The Brave One,” also received an Academy Award.

Jay Roach directed “Trumbo.” His movie’s humor and its skilled cast do more than entertain. “Trumbo” also provides a frightening reminder of what happens when political power is abused and civil liberties are attacked.

I’m Caty Weaver.

Penelope Poulou reported this story for Caty Weaver adapted it for Learning English. ­­­­­­­­­­­­Kathleen Struck was the editor.

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Words in This Story

blacklist v. to say that a person, company, etc., should be avoided or not allowed to do something : to place (someone or something) on a blacklist — often used as (be) blacklisted

portrayv. to play (a character) in a film, play, or television show

intimidatev. to make (someone) afraid

contempt of court n. (law) speech or behavior that does not show proper respect to a court or judge

talented adj. having a special ability to do something well

castn. the actors in a play, film, or television show

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