Today in history: Blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo is born

Writer Dalton Trumbo was born on this day 110 years ago in 1905 in Colorado. His anti-war novel Johnny Got His Gun won an early National Book Award, for Most Original Book of 1939. He was a member of the Communist Party USA from 1943 until 1948.

As one of the Hollywood Ten, he refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1947 during the committee’s investigation of Communist influences in the motion picture industry. In 1950, Trumbo served eleven months in prison for contempt of Congress, in the federal penitentiary in Ashland, Ky.

Trumbo won two Academy Awards while blacklisted. The first, for the 1953 romantic comedy Roman Holiday, was originally given to a front writer; only in 2011 was Trumbo given full credit for his work on the screenplay. The second, for The Brave One, was awarded to “Robert Rich,” Trumbo’s pseudonym.

Blacklisting effectively ended in 1960 when it lost credibility. Trumbo was publicly given credit for two blockbuster films: Otto Preminger made public that Trumbo wrote the screenplay for the smash hit Exodus, and Kirk Douglas publicly announced that Trumbo was the screenwriter of Spartacus. Pres. John F. Kennedy crossed American Legion picketers to see the film. Trumbo died in 1976. The biopic Trumbo is playing in theaters now.

“For a Convict’s Wife” appeared in Mainstream, July 1959.

…Each man owes his country
At least a little time in jail,
So it cannot be a matter of surprise
That I arrive at last before these gates
And daily close upon my brothers…

There is something strange in this cell
The air in this place turns agitated.
The foundation walls carry distant tremors
And we are suddenly engulfed in sounds.

Do you feel them, my dear?
 Do you hear this enormous tumult?
Did you hear that great shout from the throat of Asia?
Can you hear the howled obscenities of the last slaver
 Riveting handcuffs and judicial decrees
That will never fit the clean black fist of Africa?
 Do you hear the uneasy murmur of the Americas saying

Is this what you meant?
Were these the promises?
Can you build a jail that big?

Lift your clear eyes from this place, my dear:
Can you see them there,
moving in light above the great horizon’s arch,
All the lovely generations,
Bathed in the dew of morning,
fresh with the touch of kisses,
Proud in brotherhood and sisterhood,
Free at last of all but each other,
And singing?
Can you see them, the people of earth, as they work?…

For a moment we were frightened
For an instant we stood alone.
For a time the darkness descended
And perhaps we were afraid.

But here in this warm and friendly light,
Among these hearty peoples of our own,
In this kaleidoscope of color and of tongues,
We stand together as always we have stood,
your gentle hand in mine, and mine in yours.

And being now together while apart,
Never again shall we be separate.
And a year will make no difference,
And a thousand years will make no difference,
And never seeing each other again will make no difference,
And dying will make no difference.

For as friends and lovers and equals
We have sealed our treaty against the past:
We have drunk wild sacramental wine
And our children rise from the earth like flowers
Lifting their faces for tomorrow’s sun.

From Poets of Today: A New American Anthology, ed. by Walter Lowenfels (New York: International Publishers, 1964). Additional information from Wikipedia.

Photo: Colorado screenwriter and novelist Dalton Trumbo with Wife Cleo at House Un-American Activities Committee hearings, 1947. German poet and Marxist Bertolt Brecht is visible in the background. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons


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