About The Production
In the wake of World War II, as relations between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.
the fear of the "Red Menace" reached unprecedented heights, the House
Committee (HUAC) investigated tens of thousands of Americans suspected of being
sympathizers. Teachers, military contractors, civil servants, and others lost
their jobs, their
reputations and even their families as suspicion and paranoia swept the nation.
HUAC paid special attention to Hollywood, convening hearings in October 1947
rooting out communists in the film industry. Scores of prominent actors,
directors, producers and
screenwriters were publicly berated about their association with an array of
organizations deemed to
be "un-American." Threatened with the loss of their livelihoods, many witnesses
against friends and colleagues. Ten of those called to testify refused to answer
denying the committee's right to ask them about their political beliefs and
denouncing the hearings
as a violation of their civil rights. All ten were sentenced to prison for
contempt of Congress. The
best-known among them was Dalton Trumbo.
Born in the tiny Colorado town of Montrose, Trumbo came to Los Angeles in 1925
parents and sisters to find financial stability. His father's death made him the
when he was only 21. He worked in a bakery, but his passion for writing drove
him to produce
articles and stories printed in Vanity Fair, the Saturday Evening Post and the
Balancing financial responsibilities with his creative aspirations inspired a
lifelong sympathy for
working people and a deep understanding of the inequalities of class and
Signed to a screenwriting contract with Warner Bros., Trumbo's drive,
humor made him Hollywood's most successful screenwriter. But he is best
remembered today as the
most high-profile member of the "Hollywood Ten."
Brilliant, ambitious and contentious, Trumbo enjoyed exposing what he perceived
world's hypocrisy and injustices in his films, from Academy Award-winners Roman
Holiday and The
Brave One - both written under pseudonyms during his 13-year exile from
Hollywood - to the
blockbusters Spartacus and Exodus, which revitalized his career and marked the
beginning of the end
of the blacklist.
Screenwriter John McNamara first heard the story of Dalton Trumbo when he was
screenwriting under formerly blacklisted scribes Ring Lardner Jr., Waldo Salt
and Trumbo supporter
Ian McClellan Hunter. "I told Hunter how much I enjoyed his screenplay for Roman
McNamara says. "He told me that he didn't write the script. Dalton Trumbo did."
Hunter realized that not only was McNamara unaware of the far-reaching impact of
HUAC hearings and the blacklist, so was the rest of the writing class. "For the
next two days, these
men, who had lived through that era, told us the story from their point of
remembers. "When Ian suggested I read Bruce Cook's biography of Trumbo, I
McNamara saw an opportunity to create a film that could encapsulate the
of that volatile era in American history in a personal story. "It's that rarest
of things - a true story
with a happy ending," he says. "In Hollywood, we concoct happy endings to make
up for the fact
that there are so few in real life. This story got inside me and wouldn't let
go, but I couldn't get what
I saw in my head on paper until I came across an article written by Trumbo's
Reading that short, poignant essay, entitled "A Different Childhood," McNamara
had been seeing his subject as a writer and a political activist, but he had no
idea of the man. "Niki's
article showed me a person full of real flaws and contradictions. She wrote
about what kind of father
he was, what kind of husband and what it felt like to be part of his family when
arrived. It opened a huge door for me."
As McNamara was beginning to discover, Dalton Trumbo was many things to many
"He was an outsider and an underdog," says producer Michael London, an early
champion of the
film. "He was both a capitalist and a communist. Those kinds of contradictions
make for a great
character. More than anything, I loved his willingness to stand up to power and
sacrifice his own
career for the greater good. Trumbo hated bullies. He refused to tell people
what they wanted to
hear if it meant being disloyal to his friends. And he paid a tremendous price
Eventually McNamara reached out to Niki Trumbo to get her insights and her
his work-in-progress. "She wrote back the most gracious email with very specific
critiques of the
script in general and her character in particular. I've never had such an
with anyone who ripped my work apart! She gave me cogent, insightful, emotional
and logical notes
that have really helped the screenplay be better in every way."
Niki Trumbo and her younger sister Mitzi became integral to the creation of the
"They are the last living members of the immediate family, so it was essential
for us to have their full
participation," says London. "Early in development, we asked them for their
comments and they
gave us a tremendous amount of material. Major new story beats came out of those
was not always easy for them. The family endured such trauma and hardship, but
Niki and Mitzi
were both incredibly generous and devoted to helping us make the most truthful
Niki is still fiercely proud and protective of her father's legacy. "Trumbo is
still known as a
communist, but people don't realize that he was actually a patriot," she says.
"He was a communist
in the late '30s and early '40s, when that meant you were pro-labor and anti-Jim
Crow, and you
fought for civil rights for African-Americans. It had nothing to do with Russia
and everything to do
with how an already great country could improve itself."
"He believed Congress had no right to compel him to give testimony about his
beliefs," she says. "I think he was stunned to have lost that battle. This is a
story about a man who
held true to his own beliefs and principles. We can all aspire to be that kind
of hero, whatever our
flaws and weaknesses may be."
At Groundswell Productions, excitement was building for the project. "It's one
of the best
scripts we ever read," says producer Janice Williams, the company's president of
didn't matter that it was a period piece with a huge cast and a subject that
could be seen as 'political.'
We were so in love with it that no matter how hard it was we were going to do
whatever it took to
put the film together."
Williams describes Trumbo as an unexpectedly vibrant movie about a very serious
"It isn't a political film at all, but it is a story about the right to free
speech. It's entertaining,
interesting and full of amazing, real-life characters. We are portraying an
incredible time in
Hollywood history, both the beautiful, glamorous part of that world and the dark
side, including the
House Un-American Activities Committee."
ShivHans Pictures founder Shivani Rawat was drawn to the project by the
and Jay Roach and Groundswell Productions' involvement. "As soon as I read the
script, I knew we
had to make this film," she says.
It is a larger-than-life tale of triumph over adversity that producer Monica
difficult to believe was true. "Trumbo's story really breaks down to our right
as U.S. citizens to free
speech and assembly. Trumbo and the other blacklisters were not only denied
those rights - but
persecuted without having committed any crimes. Trumbo was a true patriot - he
country. But the system failed him." Rawat adds, "His story is still relevant
today, as the world in
which we are living has many people facing too much intrusion from their
Director Jay Roach was tapped to helm the film early in the development process.
for comedies including the Meet the Parents franchise, Roach had made a
transition to more
weighty fare including the HBO films "Recount," a political drama about the
U.S. presidential election, "Game Change," which centers on Sarah Palin's role
in the 2008
presidential campaign, and the upcoming "All the Way," an adaptation of the hit
Broadway play with
Bryan Cranston reprising his Tony-winning performance as Lyndon B. Johnson.
"Those films are about serious historical events," says Williams. "Jay is very
skilled at making
true stories entertaining to watch. We wanted Trumbo to be accessible and
entertaining. I can't
imagine a director who could have done that better."
Rawat agrees. "It was an honor to work with Jay because in my opinion he is one
of the best
directors working today. I knew he would do an amazing job handling such a
sensitive story. Jay was
the perfect person to carry on Trumbo's legacy by bringing his story and
struggles to life."
Roach found the script an extremely compelling take on an important and
that needed to be told. "I think most people have at least heard of the
blacklist," says the director.
"They may even know the name Dalton Trumbo and be aware that he was a
successful screenwriter who was blacklisted in 1947 for his political beliefs.
He was, in fact, the
highest paid screenwriter in the world when he was blacklisted. He was talented,
outspoken about what he believed. He could also be cantankerous and annoying and
top of that, he was a communist - a very wealthy communist, which makes for a
Roach was fully hooked once he began reading Trumbo's letters. "His writing
style is so
captivating and sincere: deep and wise and funny," says the director. "He was
inconsistent and paradoxical but always irresistible. I wondered how a person
this talented had
gotten to a place where people thought he should be prevented from writing. One
of the questions
that I hope the film raises is how this very patriotic man, an artist who loved
his country, could be
seen as a traitor worthy of being sent to jail."
"The extensive interviews with the Trumbo sisters during development and filming
that the portrayal of the family was as authentic as possible," adds Roach.
"Niki inherited feistiness
and a passion for ideas from her father, but that often put them in conflict.
She talks about him with
tremendous respect and admiration, but there was a lot of stress and strain on
According to Mitzi Trumbo, Roach listened carefully to what the sisters had to
say and made
a number of adjustments to the script based on their input. "A biopic is a
complicated thing," she
observes. "You're seeing someone else's version of the life you actually led.
Jay was extraordinarily
sensitive. He was concerned about the same sorts of things I was. My father's
story can be a
lightning rod for many people and he wanted to make sure he told it truthfully."
What will make Trumbo's story resonate to a generation not familiar with the
history of the
Hollywood blacklist, says Brown, is that everything he was fighting against
still goes on today. "Even
in America, and certainly in other parts of the world, people are being
persecuted for what they
believe," he says. "The message of this movie is sadly still relevant today.
Free speech is not yet a
Screenwriter McNamara calls Trumbo "the most complex human being I've ever tried
render," adding: "I miss him now that the film is done. I sure can relate to
being a short-tempered
writer who spends too much money, gets too far behind on deadlines and yells at
his kids for
interrupting him. But I'm not as brave as Dalton was. I don't know that I would
go to prison for an
ideal. I don't think there's another story quite like his in Hollywood."
After reading dozens of memoirs published about the blacklist by those who were
says that a comment from Arthur Laurents, the playwright, director and
screenwriter, stays with him.
"It was the most poignant observation I came across. Laurents said that an
entire generation of
writers and directors, of actors, and producers of a certain political bent were
suddenly silenced. But
what if the blacklist hadn't happened? What would Trumbo have written with his
name on it in
1955? What would Ring Lardner have written with his name on it? What would
Many thousands of people in Hollywood and elsewhere were impacted by the
Dalton Trumbo was one of the few with the talent, perseverance and personality
to fight back
successfully, according to Brown. "He was willing to face the consequences," the
"There were a lot of other people writing under assumed names and using fronts,
but they weren't
fighting for a larger cause the way he was."
According to McNamara, it is no accident that Trumbo is the writer of Spartacus,
about a gladiator who turns on his masters and leads his fellow slaves in
rebellion. "That film is the
greatest collectivist fantasy ever produced by Hollywood," says McNamara. "And
it is a masterpiece,
because it shows that collectivism might not be the dream in the end, but it's
so much better than
being a pawn in a game designed to enrich somebody else. I think what Trumbo was
really saying in
that film was if you have to die, die on your feet, die fighting and die
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