In the 1940's Dalton Trumbo was one of the highest paid screenwriters in Hollywood. He was a prodigious writers whose films included Kitty Foyle and Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo.
He was also a member of the Communist Party.
That became a huge liability in the years following World War II, when the House Un-American Activities committee ruthlessly tried to root out communism where it existed and even where it didn't. As the committee pursued communist influence in Hollywood, Trumbo was called to testify but refused to answer questions. In 1950, he spent 11 months in prison and was subsequently blacklisted, making it dangerous for anyone in Hollywood to associate with him, much less hire him.
Trumbo's struggle to earn a living and outlast the blacklist is the subject of Jay Roach's new movie Trumbo. Bryan Cranston plays the embattled writer.
Even while he was blacklisted, Trumbo wrote Academy Award-winning screenplays for Roman Holiday and The Brave One, but he couldn't take his bows because both scripts were written under assumed names.
The villain of Trumbo is gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, played by Helen Mirren, who became obsessed with sniffing out any whiff of communism in Hollywood.
By 1960, she lost the battle when Kirk Douglas and director Otto Preminger separately agreed to put Trumbo's name on their latest projects, Spartacus and Exodus.
Jay Roach, who has directed comedies including Austin Powers and Meet the Parents is no stranger to political films. He's won Emmys for two HBO movies about recent political history: Recount and Game Change. Those films caught the eye of producer Michael London, who hired Roach for Trumbo. Roach felt one thing was imperative to bring the script to life -- they had to talk to the Trumbo daughters.
Trumbo died in 1976 but his daughters, Niki and Mitzi, both recall living through their father's travails, and both served as consultants on Roach's film. He says their input was essential, but also complicated because the daughters didn't always see the story the same way.
Cranston and Roach worked to take the sometime differing stories from Trumbo's daughters, as well as other perspectives, to bring a historically accurate version of Trumbo's life and triumph over the blacklist to the big screen.