Trumbo, Trump, and Moon Shots

Trumbo, Trump, and Moon


Leonard Zwelling

         Nothing is more uplifting and nothing more dangerous than an

         Trumbo, a film by
Jay Roach starring Bryan Cranston, is the true story of Dalton Trumbo, a famous
Hollywood screenwriter and author, a winner of the National Book Award, and the
most famous victim of the Hollywood 10 blacklist against putative Communists
infiltrating America and the film industry. Indeed, Trumbo was a member of the
Communist Party. That was not against the law. What he was convicted of and
served time for was contempt of Congress. He had been called before the House
Un-American Activities Committee and asked to name names of his fellow
Communists. He refused. He was cited for contempt, a “crime” to which he
readily admitted (can you imagine how many of us would be in jail today just for
holding Congress in contempt)? He served 11 months in a prison in Kentucky and
when he got out could not get work any longer in the John Wayne/Hedda Hopper
anti-Communist Hollywood of the late 1940’s and 1950’s.

         Trumbo made a living writing scripts that others put their
names on. In so doing, he won two screenwriting Academy Awards for Roman Holiday and The Brave One, although actually received neither at the time the
awards were given.

         This story seems to have a happy ending as Trumbo was
eventually given the Oscars for his work. It took two unlikely heroes to get
there—Kirk Douglas who credited Trumbo by name for writing Spartacus, and Otto Preminger for doing the same for Exodus. It was also the imprimatur of
President Kennedy who crossed picket lines to see Spartacus and liked it, that eventually led to the end of the
blacklist and to Trumbo gaining his dignity back.

         In a speech at the end of the film that really occurred,
Trumbo talks about how people were forced to choose sides and had behaved badly
toward one another during this bleak period in our history. Two future
Presidents began their political ascents attacking people as Communists like
Trumbo, Richard Nixon (in Congress) and Ronald Reagan (President of The Screen
Actors Guild). This is one of the blackest (pun intended) periods in American
history as American turned against American in the name of some foreign threat
(the Soviet Union) and the ability of our Cold War enemy to infiltrate and
damage American values. Of course, it was the “Commie-hunters” and “red
baiters” that truly harmed American values and many innocent people without the
skill and genius of Trumbo to stay afloat were permanently damaged.

         Sound familiar? It should.

         What the anti-Communists were doing in the 1940’s and 1950’s
is what the anti-Muslims are doing today. The part of Hedda Hopper, a famous
anti-Communist, anti-Semitic columnist in Hollywood (Helen Mirren in the film,
I smell another Oscar), is being played by Donald Trump today. Joe McCarthy is
Ted Cruz now. Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz are using American’s fear of their
neighbors who do not think, dress or act as they do to pit one citizen against
the other. There were true Communists in Hollywood, but they weren’t wielding
guns and no one makes anyone go to the movies except J.J. Abrams. Of course,
there may well be jihadists sequestered among us here who wish us harm and they
must be unmasked if possible. But to shut the borders to all Muslims is insane
and will engender a response today like the blacklist did 60 years ago. Fear
and loathing. This is not the best of America.

         Finally, on the theme of WE vs. THEM we have the current
climate at MD Anderson where every day someone else is marched off in the
Holcombe Perp Walk (yes, indeed, I have taken it) having been removed from a
position of responsibility because Commissar DePinho wants group think to
dominate the place where individual eccentricities used to give birth to
biomedical innovation. (I am really fearful that a Freireich of today might
have to go to New York or San Diego to display his or her genius).

         It’s all the same.

         Either you think like me, act like me and share my faith in
America, Christianity or Moon Shots or you are the enemy. We have seen and
heard it all before from Nixon to Bush 43 and it’s on wonderful display in this
most excellent film. See it!

         It was only Dalton Trumbo’s genius and perseverance that
allowed him to finally see the light of day and receive the awards he deserved.
That and the help of his fellow Americans. We all don’t have Kirk Douglas or
Otto Preminger to speak up for us nor have the talent of Dalton Trumbo. We
shouldn’t need any of that just to be free to express ourselves. Apparently
there are still those despots who insist that it’s “my way or the highway,” and
say this is their idea of order and management. The current executives at
Anderson fill this bill. They need not be resisted. They just need light shed
on their bullying. Unfortunately, it took two reporters to do that to Nixon.
Perhaps two reporters or one blogger can try with the FORDs.

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