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After signing with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1943, Trumbo ranked as Hollywood’s highest paid screenwriter. The following year he joined the Communist Party of the U.S.A. and participated in film industry labor disputes. While investigating these disturbances, the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) summoned Trumbo and nine other unfriendly witnesses to testify in Washington, D.C., in October, 1947.

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HUAC eventually cited Trumbo for contempt for refusing to answer questions about his communist affiliations. Important to the case was the fact that witnesses before congressional hearings have fewer rights than defendants in criminal trials. Throughout the hearings Trumbo tried unsuccessfully to have his scripts entered into the record, arguing repeatedly, but futilely, that one should be accountable only for actions, not for purported thoughts.

After being blacklisted in the film industry as a member of the “Hollywood Ten,” Trumbo later resumed his career, writing under assumed names for reduced fees. His script for The Brave One (1956), written under the pseudonym Robert Rich, won an Academy Award; the fact that Trumbo himself wrote it was not publicly known for years. In 1960, with the blacklisting finally over, he again wrote in his own name, and completed screenplays for such notable films as Exodus and Spartacus (1960), Lonely Are the Brave (1962), Hawaii (1966), and Papillon (1973). In surviving government censorship and industry blacklisting, Trumbo embodied the courage and idealism of many of his own characters.


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Born in Montrose, Colorado, in 1905, James Dalton Trumbo was the son of Orus Trumbo and Maud Tillery Trumbo, parents with limited financial resources who nevertheless were ambitious for their son. The family moved from Montrose to Grand Junction, Colorado, the site of most of Trumbo’s fiction, where they lived until 1924. When he was in the fourth grade, his mother became a Christian Scientist, and the whole family attended her church. According to Trumbo, Christian Science was responsible for his lack of fear. From his father, an unsuccessful businessman, he acquired the inability to lie, a characteristic that later would lead to his imprisonment. In his youth Trumbo had a variety of jobs, but the most influential one was as a cub reporter for the Grand Junction Sentinel, an afternoon daily owned and edited by Walter Walker, who befriended him. In addition to being a good writer, Trumbo was also an excellent speaker who won prizes for debating and oratory in high school. Although his family was poor, he attended the University of Colorado in Boulder, but when his father lost his job in Grand Junction, Trumbo had to leave school. During his one year in college he wrote for the Silver and Gold, the school newspaper; helped edit the college yearbook; was invited to write for the Colorado Dodo, the campus humor magazine; and was invited to join Sigma Delta Chi, the national honorary society for journalism.{$S[A]Kaufman, Millard;Trumbo, Dalton}{$S[A]Hunter, Ian McLellan;Trumbo, Dalton}{$S[A]Perry, Ben;Trumbo, Dalton}{$S[A]Rich, Robert;Trumbo, Dalton}{$S[A]Stubblefield, Sally;Trumbo, Dalton}{$S[A]Jackson, Sam;Trumbo, Dalton}

In 1925 Trumbo joined his family in Los Angeles, where he worked for eight years at the Davis Perfection Bakery, which also provided him with pro-labor material that he later used in his novels. After his father’s death, Trumbo became the family breadwinner and supplemented his salary with bootlegging, which became the source for a story he wrote for Vanity Fair in 1932. He began to take writing courses at the University of Southern California and wrote several unpublished novels that concerned the bakery and Grand Junction. Soon he was working for The Film Spectator (later The Hollywood Spectator ), which led to a position in the story department at Warner Bros....

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