It was Ginger Rogers's mother who ultimately screwed Dalton Trumbo. Until she got in on the action, things were going swimmingly for the Colorado-born author of the famous anti-war book Johnny Got His Gun. As a successful Hollywood screenwriter, Trumbo lived on a ranch in California and enjoyed the freedom to pursue whatever interested him: novels, plays, essays, even a stint as a war correspondent during World War II.
Mama Rogers changed all that.
Testifying before the House Un-American Activities Committee in the late 1940s, Rogers related how her daughter had refused to recite a line from a Trumbo screenplay that read, "Share and share alike, that's democracy." Trumbo was promptly summoned before the Washington, D.C., inquisitors; after he refused to testify, he was jailed for a year. Following his release, Trumbo was blacklisted and unable to find work in the United States. He moved to Mexico, where he lived in a community of blacklistees. During that time, unbeknownst to the powers in Tinseltown, Trumbo continued to work on screenplays, winning Academy Awards under aliases for both Roman Holiday (1953) and The Brave One (1956). At the same time, he fought against his wrongful exclusion from Hollywood.
In a letter to the movie-producing King Brothers, the exiled Trumbo wrote, "This blacklisting is going to collapse because it is rotten, immoral and illegal. I am one day going to be working openly in the motion picture industry. When that day comes, I swear to you that I will never sign a term contract with any major studio. I will, proudly and by preference, do at least one picture a year for King Brothers, and I will try to make it the best picture that I have it in me to do."
Trumbo wrote hundreds of these missives, all breathing with the fire of an enormous literary talent wronged by his country. That correspondence is the basis for Trumbo: Red White & Blacklisted, a new play that opens September 2 at the Curious Theatre. Written by Christopher Trumbo, Dalton's son, the play tells the legendary writer's life story, highlighting his refusal to be silenced by his country or his employers. In the era of the Patriot Act and the war on terror, Trumbo isn't just a slice of history. -- Adam Cayton-Holland
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