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The Lombard-Trumbo connection



Few successful actors advance in their careers without appreciating wrtters, and Carole Lombard was no exception. She had a good reputation in Hollywood among writers; not only was she someone people liked composing scripts for, but she had an excellent story sense. Even at the start of her Paramount tenure in the early 1930s, people in the industry admired her ability to look at scripts and make suggestions.

We bring this up because few are aware Carole had a relationship of sorts with a writer whose controversial life has been adapted into one of the year's top films. In fact, today is te 110th anniversary of his birth...



...Dalton Trumbo, whose film marks yet another acting triumph for Bryan Cranston. (He's become a legitimate triple threat, thanks to "Breaking Bad" on TV, his stage portrayal of Lyndon B. Johnson and now this.)

First, let me emphasize the Lombard-Trumbo relationship was not a romantic one (we'll have to wait for a Robert Riskin biopic to see Lombard in love with a writer). But they did know each other, probably from their RKO affiliation, and both had progressive political beliefs in the late 1930s.

Trumbo, who by this time was gaining renown for his facile screenwriting skills, published the anti-war novel "Johnny Got His Gun" in early 1939. Carole -- at that time a devout pacifist -- and new husband Clark Gable read the book and were so moved that Trumbo told this to syndicated columnist Hedda Hopper that year:



(This is from http://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/466092.html; double-click to view it at larger scale.) Another link on Lombard and Trumbo is http://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/166692.html.

It should be noted that soon after Germany invaded Poland that fall, Trumbo himself asked the publsiher to cease its publication and recall all copies.

Lombard knew Trumbo's politics were to the left of hers, but she never knew him as a communist because he didn't join the party until 1943. (This was two years after Germany revoked its pact with the Soviet Union and began an ill-fated eastern invasion.) Also in 1943, Trumbo -- who with Ginger Rogers had won Oscars for writing and starring in "Kitty Foyle" in 1940 -- teamed up for another vehicle, the Soviet-leaning "Tender Comrade."

World War II ended, the Cold War soon began, and Berlin and Tokyo were displaced as enemies by Moscow and soon, Peking (now Beijing). Anti-communism was in full force, and those writers and performers who showed even the faintest shade of "red" in their writings were blacklisted by the industry.

In October 1947, Trumbo was among 10 industry professionals -- popularly known as the "Hollywood Ten" -- called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. All refused to answer any questions, and all were convicted for contempt of Congress and jailed; Trumbo served 10 months of a one-year federal prison sentence and was fined $1,000.

When he and his fellow writers got out, they found themselves persona non grata by the industry, and even the Screen Writers Guild refused to help them. It was the time of the blacklist and Trumbo, now exiled to Mexico, only found work under assumed names or with others acting as "fronts." Among the films he scripted this way were the 1950 film noir "Gun Crazy" and the Audrey Hepburn vehicle "Roman Holiday." In 1956, the Oscar for "The Brave One" went to Robert Rich, who was fronting for Trumbo, though the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences later awarded him an actual award.

The era of anti-communist hysteria was slowly fading, and in 1958 Kirk Douglas (who turns 99 today) announced his friend Trumbo would write the script for "Spartacus." Otto Preminger had him do likewise for "Exodus," and both films hit theaters in 1960. The following year, Trumbo posed in his office for this picture:



With anti-war fervor increasing in the late 1960s, "Johnny Got His Gun" was revived, and Trumbo himself directed a film version in 1971. His final screen credit came for "Papillon" in 1973; he died in September 1976, his reputation rehabilitated.

A lengthy online biography of Trumbo can be found at http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0874308/bio. My blogosphere friend, Hollywood writer Ken Levine, reviewed it today and liked it a lot (http://kenlevine.blogspot.com/2015/12/trumbo-my-review.html). And Variety reviewed it in September, at the Toronto Film Festival: http://variety.com/2015/film/reviews/trumbo-film-review-1201592118/
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