GRAND JUNCTION When prodigal son Dalton Trumbo returned to his hometown, he arrived on Main Street in a bronze bathtub.
After four years, hes still there, and the residents of Grand Junction cant figure out if having a statue of the towns most famous writer is a blessing or a curse. The Grand Junction City Council decided paying for Trumbo in a bathtub with city money was not an appropriate use of tax revenues, so local residents raised the $44,000 for the casting.
Trumbo would be pleased. Hes there in all his glory with a cup of coffee, cigarettes and even a rubber duckie in bronze, of course. And hes on the fringe, as he always was, not in the middle of the Main Street Mall but on the eastern edge, where he belongs. He certainly would enjoy the irony, for although he left the Western Slope decades ago, the pull of Colorados landscapes and its idiosyncratic characters never left him.
Born in 1905 in Montrose and raised in Grand Junction, Trumbo grew up knowing hard times, yet at the height of his literary powers, he earned $1 million per script, usually writing in his tub. He was a Hollywood golden boy. Time magazine wrote, Trumbo turned rambling, middle-grade raw material into tight and excellent scripts, lightened with humor and touched with irony.
But politics was not kind to him. He struggled through the Great Depression honing his writing skills only to run into the wall of anti-communism in the late 1940s. Actors and movie producers caved in to political hysteria and ratted on their colleagues. Trumbo became one of The Hollywood Ten scriptwriters and performers of integrity who used their Fifth Amendment constitutional rights to refuse to testify before the powerful Congressional House Un-American Activities Committee, known as HUAC.
His communist label probably came in part from his vivid anti-war novel, Johnny Got His Gun, which won an American Booksellers Award in 1939. A prescient novel about a wounded American soldier who lost his arms, legs and face, the book indicted modern warfare. The New York Times wrote, Mr. Trumbo sets this story down almost without pause or punctuation and with a fury amounting to eloquence. The Washington Post added that it was hard to write about Johnny Got His Gun without being guilty of understatement or hysterics. It is a terrifying book, of an extraordinary emotional intensity.
Trumbo let the books publication lapse during World War II. He wrote, There are times it may be needful for certain private rights to give way to the requirements of a larger public good. I know thats a dangerous thought, and I shouldnt wish to carry it too far, but World War II was not a romantic war. When it came to virulent anti-communism and the ugly tentacles of Sen. Joseph McCarthys career-destroying McCarthyism, Trumbo drew his line.
Like other disgruntled intellectuals in L.A., Trumbo had been associated with the Young Communists League, the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee and the Los Angeles Chapter of the Civil Rights Congress. To hell with commie witch hunts and the supposed public good, Trumbo and the other nine members of The Hollywood Ten stood steadfast for Americans individual rights.
For standing up for freedom of association and the right of every American to hold divergent beliefs, Dalton Trumbo was blacklisted by Hollywood in 1950 and served 10 months in federal prison in Kentucky for contempt of Congress. Literary critic Robert Kirsch of the Los Angeles Times wrote that Trumbo did not consider going to jail an act of heroism. He thought it nothing less than the minimum of principled action against repression and thought control.
After being released, Trumbo moved with his family to Mexico, broke as a bankrupt bastard, where he continued to write blockbuster movie scripts. Under a dozen pseudonyms, he wrote 30 scripts including the Oscar-winning The Brave One (1956). Thanks to the urging of actor Kirk Douglas, who wanted Trumbo to write the script for Spartacus, he was reinstated as a member of the Writers Guild of America. He punctured the blacklist in 1960 and wrote the script for the movie Exodus.
Trumbos son, Chris, remembers the Red Scare as real.
He recalls, My younger sister was thrown out of the Bluebirds (young Campfire Girls) for being undesirable. Feelings about my father were strong enough to get a reaction from schools, private organizations and individuals who sent hate mail. That was the tenor of the times.
While blacklisted, Dalton Trumbo turned an original story of his into the film Roman Holiday (1953). Three years later, another renegade Westerner published the book The Brave Cowboy, and in 1962, Douglas paid author Edward Abbey for the film rights and had Trumbo pen the script. I respect old Cactus Ed and Dalton Trumbo. Those deuces made a wild pair.
Retitled Lonely Are the Brave and filmed in black and white starring Douglas, George Kennedy and Walter Matthau, the film received rave reviews from Newsweek, but The New Yorker sniffed, The vulgarity of Mr. Trumbos perceptions is that he has his hero, a cowboy on horseback, run down by a trailer-truck filled with toilets. There may be a lot wrong with this country, but Mr. Trumbo is plainly not the man to point it out.
Abbey wrote the book and disagreed. Cactus Ed quipped, The New Yorker review of our movie calls it shoddy and simple-minded, a song of hatred for 20th century American society. Exactly! Exactly what I meant it to be. I am quite pleased by the reviewers observation.
A heavy smoker with a habit of six packs a day, Trumbo lost a lung to cancer and died in 1976. His legacy lives on. His professional papers can be found in three university archives. The University of Southern California has planned a monument to the victims of McCarthyism in Hollywood, and the University of Colorado at Boulder named the free speech fountain outside University Memorial Center after Trumbo, who attended CU for a year.
Ill never forget reading Johnny Got His Gun. With more than 40 printings, the Los Angeles Times has said it is perhaps the most effective anti-war novel ever written in America.
Trumbos hand can be found in dozens of scripts for movies and television, and he always drew on his western Colorado upbringing for characters, scenes and settings. So, thank you, Grand Junction. Thanks for putting the rebel writer in his bronze bathtub on your Main Street where he belongs.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Andrew Gulliford is a professor of Southwest studies and history at Fort Lewis College.