Dalton Trumbo Papers, 1905-1962


One year after Dalton Trumbo's birth in Montrose, Colorado in 1905 his family moved to Grand Junction, Colorado, where they lived until he graduated from high school. The years in Colorado had a profound influence on the writer, for Colorado names, places, and settings figure in many of his novels and stories, and his first published novel, Eclipse (1934) was based on Grand Junction life and characters.

In 1940 Trumbo recalled the next phase of his life in an article for the Daily Worker:

After my graduation from high school my mother and father completed the westward trek which the family had begun two hundred years before, and moved to Los Angeles. I attended the University of Colorado in the year of 1924-1925, joining them on the coast in the summer of 1925. My father died the following year. I went to work as a night bread wrapper in the largest bakery in Los Angeles. I started this work in 1925 at a salary of $4.00 a week, and when I quit, nine and one-half years later, I was earning $18.00. During this time I wrote eighty-eight short stories and six novels, all rejected. I attended the University of Southern California for almost two years,...repossessed motorcycles, reviewed pictures for a motion picture trade magazine, and did various other jobs, all the time remaining at the bakery.

In 1934 Trumbo's fortunes began to change rapidly. He left his bakery job to become editor of the Hollywood Spectator. His short story, “Darling Bill--,” was a prize-winning Saturday Evening Post selection, and other stories appeared in Liberty, McCall's, The Forum, Vanity Fair, North American Review, and other magazines. Before the end of the decade, three novels - Eclipse (1934), Washington Jitters (1936, adapted as a Theatre Guild play in 1938), and Johnny Got His Gun (1939)--were published, the last of these winning the American Booksellers' Award as the most original book of the year.

The mid-1930s also marked the beginning of Trumbo's screenwriting career, which flourished until 1947 and which included such credits as A Man to Remember (voted one of the ten best films of 1938); Kitty Foyle (Academy Award nomination); A Guy Named Joe (Boxoffice Magazine Award); Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (Boxoffice Magazine Award); Our Vines Have Tender Grapes (Boxoffice Magazine Award), Tender Comrade, Five Came Back, and a film adaptation of his own novel, The Remarkable Andrew.

During the period between 1934 and 1945, Trumbo was a founding editor of The Screen Writer, the official publication of the Screen Writers' Guild; served as chairman of Writers for Roosevelt; and worked as a war correspondent in the Pacific during 1945.

In the fall of 1947 nineteen Hollywood notables, including Trumbo, were summoned before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Trumbo was one of the witnesses who refused to state whether they were members of the Communist Party and who came to be known as the Hollywood Ten. For refusing to testify Trumbo was cited for contempt of congress and subsequently blacklisted from employment in the film industry. After numerous attempts at appeal, the Hollywood Ten were imprisoned, Trumbo serving nine months during 1950 and 1951 in the Federal Correctional Institution in Ashland, Kentucky.

Even before his term began, however, Trumbo began to write for the Hollywood Black Market, selling scripts for over thirteen years either under an assumed name or that of a colleague. Immediately after the completion of his prison sentence, Trumbo, his wife Cleo, and their three children, moved to Mexico. Because he was too far removed from the center of the film industry to find lucrative work, Trumbo and his family returned to Hollywood in 1953. Although it was rumored Trumbo wrote hundreds of scripts, he actually wrote some thirty original scripts or adaptations and advised on or did rewrites for many others. In 1955 Trumbo received an Academy Award for the best original screenplay for The Brave One, which he had written under the name Robert Rich. Trumbo did not admit that he was Rich until 1959.

In 1960 producer Otto Preminger announced that Trumbo would write the screenplay for Exodus. Almost simultaneously it became known that he had adapted Howard Fast's novel, Spartacus, for the screen. Trumbo's name appeared on both of these films, although the incident was not without controversy. Later he also adapted the highly-acclaimed Lonely Are the Brave (1960) and was involved with James Michener's Hawaii (1966) and Papillon (1973) and with bringing his own novel Johnny Got His Gun to the screen in 1971.

Trumbo died September 11, 1976.