More Messages: Red Scare

Last year, it seemed as if Dalton Trumbo, arguably the most famous-ever resident of Grand Junction, had finally been embraced by his hometown. Now, however, the town's daily newspaper seems to be balking, and for the quaintest of reasons: Trumbo was a pinko.

No denying that. As noted in this Message column, Trumbo was one of the so-called Hollywood ten -- a group of screenwriters and so on who were blacklisted due to their association with the Communist party. By using others to front for him, Trumbo wound up winning two Oscars during this period, and he returned to the limelight in style when he was credited by name for scripting the Stanley Kubrick-directed epic Spartacus.

Yet neither these accomplishments nor his authorship of the classic 1939 anti-war book Johnny Got His Gun inspired official recognition in Grand Junction, where he spent his formative years. The main reason was an epic grudge. Trumbo's first novel, 1935's Eclipse, was a thinly veiled satire of Grand Junction society that made the town look petty and grasping. "One woman had to resign her job with the Mesa County schools because of that book, and she was dead within three years," elderly resident Josephine Biggs told Westword in a 1993 interview. "And it upset a good many other people's lives. That story has never been told."

Last year, detente was seemingly achieved. A local group arranged for the long out-of-print Eclipse to be republished as a benefit for the local library system; copies are available at Denver-area Tattered Covers. But when these Trumbo fans tried to get the city to erect a statue of Trumbo modeled on a famous photo of him in a bathtub (seen here), officials turned thumbs-down. As noted in this article from Grand Junction's paper of record, the Daily Sentinel, the town council determined that paying to memorialize Trumbo in bronze was a poor use of tax dollars. Members chose instead to allocate $40,000 for a statue of George Crawford, a fairly obscure town founder.

The pro-Trumbo clique was undeterred, declaring that they'd raise private funds for a statue of the writer. Still, the Sentinel couldn't resist taking another shot at the scribe. A September editorial declared that "Trumbo deserves celebration as a gifted writer and Hollywood screenwriter. Nothing more, nothing less. Unless, of course, you are of the mind that Trumbo deserves celebration for his unabashed membership in the American communist party and being an apologist for one of the 20th century's most cold-blooded mass murderers, Joe Stalin."

This flashback to half-century-old anti-commie rhetoric raised the eyebrows of at least one online commentator, who wrote, "Maybe we should immortalize the 1920's KKK personalities rumored to be closely affiliated with the Sentinel. Any secrets you want to share?" Also left slack-jawed was Josh Nichols, a columnist for another area pub, the Grand Junction Free Press. In a piece that requires registration to access, Nichols declared, "I was under the impression McCarthyism died long ago with the senator of the same name -- laughed off as the joke the Red Scare was -- until I read the Sentinel's editorial. Apparently, I was wrong."

As were most of us. -- Michael Roberts

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts