His most famous work is perhaps Johnny Got His Gun, a bitterly anti-war novel that won him the National Book Sellers Award in 1939. The book follows the thoughts of a young World War I American infantryman who becomes a quadruple amputee, as well as deaf, mute, and blind. Having no way to communicate with the outside world, he spends most of the book reminiscing about his life and meditating on the futility of war and medical ethics.
The book was published in 1939, during the Nazi-Soviet pact, when the Party line was to keep the U.S. from interfering in Hitler and Stalin's division of Europe. After the collapse of the pact, Trumbo, like the Party line, reversed course, becoming fanatically pro-war. When fans wrote to Trumbo requesting copies of the book, he "named names," turning them in to the FBI, writing:
|“||I share with the men of your organization a sincere desire to see an end to all such seditious propaganda as criminal slander of the Commander in Chief, defeatism, pacifism," etc.||”|
Trumbo was a member of the Communist Party of the USA (CPUSA) throughout the 1940s and '50s. When fellow Communist screenwriter Albert Maltz published a defense of artistic freedom, arguing that literature should not be judged solely on the politics of its author, Trumbo participated in a Party inquisition, browbeating Maltz for his heresy until he publicly recantated. According to University of Maryland Professor Art Eckstein, Maltz, who also later was brought before HUAC (and went to jail for refusing to testify), told historian Gerda Lerner "that his appearance before HUAC in 1947 was simply nothing compared to the real and psychologically-destructive trauma of his criticism/self-criticism sessions before the Communist Party in 1946." Eckstein continues:
|“||Dalton Trumbo was also part of the savage Communist Party inquisition against the director Robert Rossen in 1949, because of Rossen's film, "All the King's Men." Party Headquarters in New York thought that his film was too much an attack on one-man rule--i.e., Stalin. The confrontation with his Hollywood inquisitors over the nature of his art drove Rossen right out of the CPUSA ("Take the Party and shove it!").||”|
Long before the Blacklist, there was Hollywood's Communist "Redlist." In The Worker, Trumbo openly boasted that the comrades had prevented the production of Hollywood films based on books banned by Stalin, including classics such as Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon and Victor Kravchenko's I Chose Freedom. When Hollywood screenwriter Richard MacCauley submitted a piece to Screenwriter magazine opposing left-wing censorship, Trumbo, who was then the magazine's editor, rejected the piece, denouncing the "inalienable right" to free speech, which he claimed had "directly resulted" in the Holocaust:
|“||It is difficult to support your belief in the inalienable right of man’s mind to be exposed to any thought whatever, however intolerable that thought might be to anyone else. Frequently such a right encroaches upon the right of others to live their lives. It was this inalienable right in Fascist countries which directly resulted in the slaughter of five million Jews.||”|
Trumbo claimed to have ghost-written Secretary of State Edward R. Stettinius, Jr.'s Report to the Nation on the 1945 founding conference of the United Nations, where Alger Hiss presided as Secretary General. In 1946, he hosted a CPUSA meeting, allegedly to discuss putting Communist propaganda in Hollywood movies. At that time, the Soviet Union was becoming America's Cold War enemy, and it controlled the CPUSA. In 1947, the House Un-American Activities Committee called Trumbo to testify about Communist influence in Hollywood. In the course of this hearing, the committee introduced into evidence a Communist Party registration card for 1944, issued under the name "Dalt. T.," identified as a motion picture writer, residing at 620 Beverly Drive. Trumbo's Communist Party card number was 39300. Trumbo refused to testify, and spent 11 months in prison for contempt of Congress. He, along with nine other Communists convicted of contempt of Congress, are known as the Hollywood Ten for allegedly being blacklisted by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and had difficulties getting scriptwriting jobs and often worked under a pseudonym. However, after receiving full writing credits on such movies as Spartacus and Exodus, he was reinstated into the Writers' Guild of America.
Trumbo's last writing credit was a 1971 screenplay for a movie version of Johnny Got His Gun. Trumbo died of lung cancer in 1976.
- Dalton Trumbo (Helen Manfull, Ed.), Additional Dialogue; Letters of Dalton Trumbo, 1942-1962 (M. Evans/Lippincott, 1970), p. 30. Cf. Trumbo, Dalton. Johnny Got his Gun. 1939, introduction.
- Art Eckstein, "Fountain of Lies," FrontPageMagazine.com, March 14, 2005
- Kenneth Lloyd Billingsley, "Hollywood's Missing Movies," Reason, June 2000
- John Cogley, Report on Blacklisting (The Fund for the Republic, 1956), p. 68. Cf. Ron Capshaw, "Orwell vs. Communism," FrontPageMagazine.com, February 9, 2007
- Dalton Trumbo (Helen Manfull, Ed.), Additional Dialogue; Letters of Dalton Trumbo, 1942-1962 (M. Evans/Lippincott, 1970), p. 37
- Victor S. Navasky, Naming Names (1980), p.78
- Committee on Un-American Activities, Hearings regarding the Communist infiltration of the motion picture industry (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1947), pp. 539-540
- The Internet Movie Database