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Wednesday, December 2, 2015

JACKIE EVANCHO, DALTON TRUMBO AND THE HOLLYWOOD TEN

Jackie Evancho and Dalton Trumbo are on opposite ends of the entertainment spectrum.  Some of you have followed Jackie since I first introduced her to this blogsite when at the age of 10 she auditioned for America's Got Talent.  Last night, she had a PBS show, Awakening (actually first shown in December of 2014) and she is growing up well, indeed, at the age of 14.


About Dalton Trumbo, let me begin by summarizing reviews by Rotten Tomatoes of three films I've seen since my return to Hawaii:

                                     ROTTEN TOMATOES
                                    Reviewers       Audiences    Box Office Mojo

     Specter                         64%               66%                     3
     Creed                            93%               96%                     4
     Trumbo                        70%                82%                   13

All of them were excellent, but the top two are fiction.  Very few know of Dalton Trumbo.   The film was not that well reviewed and did not even make the top ten this weekend.  Bryan Cranston, though, playing Dalton Trumbo, might well win an Oscar for his portrayal.  Voting is by the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and there is lingering guilt of a dark moment in its past, not unlike, for example, the Japanese Relocation Camps of World War II, or, maybe, even the current attitude today against Syrian immigrants.

Hollywood has been utilized by our Federal government in the past.  Anything having to do with Adolf Hitler during World War II showed him to be a buffoon.  Then you visit Germany, see a more accurate personage, and realize that Hitler had a strong personality, and, in fact, was domineering. I still have difficulty shedding the propaganda I grew up with seeing Hitler in To Be or Not to Be with Jack Benny.

But Trumbo was a different kind of Hollywood betrayal.  He was with the Hollywood Ten, a group of mostly screenwriters, who refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947.  They were the most vilified of the Hollywood Blacklist, inflamed by, perhaps, the most despised man in American political memory--yes, worse than Richard Nixon--Senator Joseph McCarthy, who raised pathological demagoguery to a new high.

Trumbo had a reasonably normal upbringing, and for nine years wrapped bread, yes, wrapped bread, for a Los Angeles backery, while he sometimes studied at the University of Southern California, but mostly wrote:  88 short stories and six novels, which were rejected for publication.  He finally published a book in 1935 and went on to fame as one of the highest paid screenwriters, even gaining an Academy Award nomination.  He joined the Communist Party in 1943, but his reasons had to do with equal pay and anti-Fascism.  Remember, the Soviet Union joined America in fighting Hitler.

World politics, however, shift instantly.  In World War II our mortal enemies were German and Japan.   Today, they are our most dependable allies.


Thus, you need to appreciate the hysteria of the times, with the Soviet Union suddenly becoming the perilous villains after World War II.  Students (me) practiced hiding under desks in case of an atomic bomb attack during the Cold War.  Ronald Reagan, as president of the Screen Actors Guild, was an FBI informant.

Maybe because he avoided serving  in World War II, John Wayne became a vocal anti-communist, so much so that Joseph Stalin hired hitmen to murder the actor.  They, and a whole host of other stars, including Hedda Hopper (well played by Helen Mirren in the film) and Lucille Ball no doubt sincerely, squared off against Trumbo.  Not exactly with an unflawed character, it made it worse that he felt that the Red Menace was not as dangerous to us as the American Menace was to the people of the Soviet Union.  He kind of sympathized with "the enemy."  Most of us growing up during that period were not informed enough to understand the true reality.  Turned out Trumbo was more right than wrong.

In any case, the Hollywood 10 lost in a Supreme Court ruling, paid $1000 fines and served up to a year in prison.  Maybe hundreds caught in this post-war paranoia couldn't get hired, committed suicide, left the country and otherwise suffered for two decades and more.  Many of these reputations were never restored.

Dalton Trumbo and his fellow "traitors' turned to ghostwriting movie screenplays.  However, in 1960, aided by Kirk Douglas and Otto Preminger, Trumbo was announced as the screenwriter for Spartacus and Exodus.  He passed away in 1976, and it took until 1993, forty years after the film's release, that he was posthumously awarded an Oscar for his screenplay,  Roman Holiday.



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