340 pages. Foreword, 8 pages of black-and-white photos, sources, index.
This is the 2015 edition of Dalton Trumbo's biography, reissued on account of the film being made. The author had the cooperation of Trumbo, who was seriously ill at the time and knew his time was limited. This edition includes a foreword by the screenwriter of the movie, and photos from the making of the movie.
Dalton Trumbo is doubly famous – first, because he was an extremely talented screenwriter who wrote (or rewrote) many great movie scripts; and secondly, because he "broke" the blacklist against Communists working in Hollywood.
If you've seen the movie, the book has much more. The movie primarily deals with the blacklist, simplifies to a few key people, adds more family interaction, and draws a story through everything. The book covers his entire life, rising from poverty to the top ranks of studio scriptwriters… until he was blacklisted.
Trumbo claims to have been a Communist because his friends were; he saw himself more as a liberal than a Communist. He says he didn't attend a lot of meetings, but he did write political articles.
After WWII, when the Cold War with the Soviet Union began, the Communists in Hollywood were accused of colluding with the Soviet Union in order to influence movie scripts and insert Communist themes. Eventually, Trumbo was one of ten people asked to testify before Congress.
The Hollywood 10, as they were called, had chosen a strategy based on the First Amendment – they argued that free speech included the right not to speak, or to refuse to answer questions. When Congress held them in contempt for refusing to answer questions, the Hollywood 10 thought they would lose in court initially, but that the liberal Supreme Court would agree with them. Unfortunately for that strategy, one of the Justices died before the case was heard, and the Supreme Court swung conservative. And so Trumbo went to jail.
(Later, during the McCarthy hearings, others used the Fifth Amendment as a successful defense.)
What happened next was that anti-Communists in Hollywood organized the so-called blacklist, which was an industry attempt to prevent known Communists from working in the film industry. The blacklist was quite effective against most professionals, but Trumbo would show that a writer could circumvent the blacklist by working through someone else or using an alias.
At first, Trumbo had to accept work far below his usual wages, for second- and third-rate studios. He was able to acquire such a volume of work, however, that he could farm assignments out to other blacklisted writers. Eventually, the larger studios realized they needed Trumbo's skills as a script doctor, until finally the blacklist became something of a joke and Trumbo was able to step back into the limelight.
Strangely, the author ducks a central question: did the Hollywood Communists collude with the Soviet Union? I imagine the answer is no, but it is odd that it is never asked.
Another question is: Did Trumbo really break the blacklist? In a sense, yes, because he and later others with Communist associations were able to find work again. But, in another sense, Trumbo was able to succeed because he muted his politics. He was also able to succeed because he was a writer; he couldn't have done this if he was an actor or producer, who had to be visible in his profession.
Trumbo famously would give a speech in his later years where he basically said that where the blacklist was concerned, everyone made mistakes and it was no good to look backwards. In the movie, this is the climax; in reality, some of Trumbo's friends never forgave him.
There's much more to the book than this. He had an interesting upbringing, influential parents, flirted with a life of crime to pay the bills, and had a most unusual courtship! He was often accused of being a "swimming pool Communist" because of his lifestyle, but he certainly used his money to help his friends (he also collected archeological artifacts).
Why would this book appeal to wargamers? If you have any interest in movies or the blacklist, this will certainly interest you. For Pulp campaigns, Trumbo makes a useful character – as a writer, could be anywhere in the world on assignment; collects artifacts; and may or may not have useful Communist connections!
I found this book fascinating, and recommend it.
Reviewed by Editor in Chief Bill .