Magazine article Variety

Who Busted the Blacklist?

Magazine article Variety

Who Busted the Blacklist?

Article excerpt

Kirk Douglas has insisted for more than a quarter century that he is the man who "broke the. blacklist." By demanding Dalton Jftimbo get credit in I960 for writing "Spartacus," the screen icon asserts he struck a death blow to a system that forced créatives out of Hollywood, or left them to work in its shadows. '**'

For almost as many years, Trumbo's family has charged that Douglas - while admirable for disagreeing with the anticommunist witch hunts of the 1940s and '50s - awarded himself too much credit for a victory that belongs to ifiany people. They have advocated for more recognition of "Exodus" director Otto Preminger, who first called for an onscreen credit for the blacklisted writer.

"Trumbo's" Toronto Film Festival premiere seemed like an occasion that inight renew the long-running feud. Instead, the biopic, starring Bryan Cranston and directed by Jay Roach, uses artful creative license to give Douglas his due, but not in excess - a compromise likely to defuse the kind of furor that has dogged recent historical pictures like "Selma" and "The Imitation Game" for taking too many liberties with history.

"Trumbo" goes to Toronto and a Nov. 6 opening with the blessing of both Trumbo's daughters and Douglas. "I think the movie gets it right" says daughter Mitzi. Douglas screened the film at his home last week and was "very, very pleased," says Fred Specktor, the actor's agent for three decades.

While peace may be at hand in the Douglas-TYunïbo dispute, the historic re-creation, fronrGroundsweirProds. and ShivIIans Pictures, and released by BleeCker Street, could reignite other seven decades-old political fires. The John Wayne character is ' portrayed as a simpleminded accomplice of ruthless right-wing columnist Hedda Hopper. A bYief newsreel glimpse of actor Ronald Reagan positions him as another tool of a government recklessly targeting its oWn citizens. It's hard to imagine that conservative commentators won't offer a rebuttal.

The Douglas case proves that Cold War-era emotions sometimes remain very raw. The 98-year-old Douglas will go to his grave, insisting he broke the blacklist. But a good body of evidence will say he played his part, but did not act first, or alone. '

Some of the facts now seem clear: In 1947, Trumbo was held in contempt of Congress, blacklisted and later imprisoned when the self-avowed communist declined to identify other leftists to the House Un-Amfcrican Activities Committee, for more than a decade, the writer continued to seratch out a living by churning out mqstly B-movies under a series of pen names. (That peri,od is a centerpiece of "TYumbo," and daughter Mrtzi says Cranston has captured the screenwriter's essence to the point that "he just seems like my father to me.")

By the late 1950s, studios quietly had begun to hire TYunjbo again. In January 1960, Preminger told the New York Times that he had hired the still-blackli^ed writer to author the screen version of Leon Uris' novel "Exodus," and that he "naturally will get the credit on the serpen that he amply deserves." Thp,Times also revealed TYumbo had worked on the script for "Spartacus."

Douglas disliked Preminger, and depicted the director as jumping on the anti-blacklist bandwagon, according lo "DalJon TYumbo: Blacklisted Hollywood Radical," by l^irry Ceplair and Trumbo's son, Christopher Trumbo. …

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