In 1960, following the release of Stanley Kubrick’s Oscar-winning film Spartacus, Kirk Douglas took a stand against the controversial Hollywood blacklist and defended the great Dalton Trumbo.
Trumbo, a famed screenwriter and novelist who is responsible for some of the most outstanding cinematic pictures of all time, worked on a series of brilliant pictures such as Roman Holiday, Exodus, and Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo and more. Once labelled as one of ‘The Hollywood Ten’, a group who were cited for ‘contempt of Congress’ and blacklisted from Hollywood after seemingly refusing to answer any questions about their alleged involvement with the Communist Party, Trumbo faced an uncertain future.
The results meant that in 1947 Trumbo, along with the likes of Alvah Bessie, Lester Cole and more, were pushed out of Hollywood and placed on an entertainment industry blacklist which refused them the chance to work. However, because of Trumbo’s extraordinary talent, he was hired in secret by a number of directors who allowed him to submit his screenplay’s under a pseudonym; Stanley Kubrick is one of those directors.
In Trumbo’s later career, as whispers began to circulate Hollywood of his incognito influence, the blacklist began to gradually weaken. However, it would be the year of 1960 when the screenwriter would finally arrive back to the big stage and take the credit he deserved. Following the release of Otto Preminger’s film Exodus, adapted from the novel of the same name by Leon Uris, Trumbo was given his full credit. Shortly after, as Kubrick prepared his big push toward the Academy Awards with Spartacus, Trumbo was listed as the film’s writer, a decision which blew the blacklist wide open.
A key component in this decision came through the film’s lead actor and producer, Kirk Douglas, who was refusing to accept the situation any longer. “I didn’t exactly call him back,” Douglas said on reflection when asked about his decision to reveal the writer’s influence. “Dalton Trumbo was writing all the time but always under a false name and the hypocrisy of that disturbed me,” he added.
“So I said, ‘look I want to use Dalton Trumbo, and I insist on using his name’. I had a lot of resistance from the studio but finally, I said I won’t make the picture unless we use his name. We used his name and the earth didn’t fall apart, and after that, I’m proud to say that it broke the blacklist and they began to use people’s names who had been unfairly on the blacklist.”
He continued, when told about the courage he showed in making the decision to stand by Trumbo: “I didn’t think about it… I just hated the hypocrisy of it. I really didn’t realise the importance of what I was doing.”
See the clip, below.