Dalton Trumbo (1905-1976)
From Time, May 24, 1993

HONORED. DALTON TRUMBO, screenwriter, with an Oscar for the screenplay of Roman Holiday, 40 years after its 1953 release and 16 years after his death. Trumbo was among the highest-paid screenwriters in Hollywood until his name disappeared from the screen for years as a result of Hollywood's McCarthy-era blacklist. The House Un-American Activities Committee accused Trumbo of membership in the Communist Party (an affiliation he acknowledged years later), and he went to prison in 1950 rather than cooperate with his inquisitors. Unable to use his own name, he recruited a series of "fronts," and it was during his underground years, ironically, that he produced his best scripts--the most famous being Roman Holiday, the tale of a princess passing as a commoner. Trumbo enlisted his friend Ian McLellan Hunter to pose as the creator of the film, but now an Academy Award has gone to the real author. In 1975 Trumbo received an Oscar for a blacklist-era work, The Brave One. That time, he was still alive to enjoy it.

The Hollywood Ten

The Hollywood Ten were a group of producers, writers, and directors called before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in October 1947 as "unfriendly" witnesses during the investigation of Communist influence in Hollywood. Alvah Bessie, Lester Cole, John Howard Lawson, Dalton Trumbo, Ring Lardner, Jr., Herbert Biberman, Adrian Scott, Samuel Ornitz, Albert Maltz, and Edward Dmytryk refused to state whether or not they were Communists. All served prison sentences and were blacklisted in the film industry.

The House Un-American Activities Committee

The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) was established (1938) as a special committee by the U.S. House of Representatives. Under the chairmanship of Texas Democratic representative Martin Dies, Jr., it investigated fascist, communist, and other so-called extremist or subversive political organizations. In January 1945 it became a standing committee. The Dies Committee, as it was first called, investigated the German-American Bund and the Silver Shirt Legion, both pro-Nazi organizations, and the U.S. Communist party's infiltration of the Federal Theatre Project and the Federal Writers Project. Its original intent was to halt Axis propaganda in the United States, but much of its attention was eventually centered on New Deal liberals, artists and intellectuals, and labor leaders.

After World War II and over the next 30 years, HUAC concentrated its efforts primarily on communist and left-wing organizations. In October 1947 it presented evidence that ten Hollywood writers and directors had communist affiliations. The Hollywood Ten, as they were called, refused to affirm or deny the charges made against them and were jailed for contempt. In 1948, HUAC's investigation of communists in the higher levels of the State Department led to its famous hearings on Alger Hiss. In 1950 the committee, responding to the red-scare tactics of Sen. Joseph P. McCarthy, Republican of Wisconsin, sponsored a bill requiring U. S. communists to register as foreign agents, denying them passports, and excluding them from government and defense-industry employment. This bill became law as the McCarran Act, but the registration provision and travel ban were eventually overturned by the courts. Dissent and public protest resulted in the decline of McCarthyism and the power of the committee. In 1969, HUAC was renamed the Internal Security Committee and in 1975 it was abolished; its functions were transferred to the House Judiciary Committee.

Bibliography: Beck, Carl, Contempt of Congress: A Study of the Prosecutions Initiated by the Committee on Un-American Activities, 1945-1957 (1959; repr. 1974); Bentley, Eric, ed., Thirty Years of Treason (1971); Dick, B. F., Radical Innocence (1988); Goodman, Walter, The Committee: The Extraordinary Career of the House Committee on Un-American Activities (1968); Hellman, Lillian, Scoundrel Time (1974); Kahn, Gordon, Hollywood on Trial: The Story of the Ten Who Were Indicted (1948; repr. 1972); Navasky, Victor, Naming Names (1980; repr. 1991); Trumbo, Dalton, The Time of the Toad: A Study of Inquisition in America (1972).

Text Copyright © 1995 Grolier Incorporated

Trumbo Links