December 9: Dalton Trumbo

TrumboToday we celebrate the birth of Dalton Trumbo, born December 9, 1905, a legendary creative force of Hollywood’s Golden Age and one of the most famous victims of the Hollywood Blacklist.

During the Red Scare of the 1950s, a witch hunt began for any Communists or Communist sympathizers in Hollywood. Trumbo was a card carrying member of the Communist Party and unsurprisingly, he was called before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) to identify other Communists working in Hollywood. Trumbo refused and was convicted of contempt of Congress and sentenced to 11 months in federal prison. At that moment, his career was essentially finished, because no studio in their right mind would be crazy enough to hire a Communist.

However, after his release from prison, Trumbo continued to work in secret. He began writing screenplays under pen names or under those of other screenwriters who were willing to serve as a front (and take the credit). During this period, two of the scripts Trumbo wrote (The Brave One and Roman Holiday) won Best Story Oscars. At the time, it was not public knowledge that Trumbo had written these Oscar winners, and thus he was not able to accept the awards.

However, Trumbo’s fortune changed in 1960 when he wrote two of that year’s biggest hits. First, director Otto Preminger deliberately listed Trumbo as the screenwriter in the credits of the film Exodus. Soon after, Kirk Douglas revealed that Trumbo had written the then upcoming epic Spartacus. When Spartacus opened, there were protests because it was written by a known Communist, but President John Kennedy willingly crossed protest lines to see the film, putting an end to the controversy and, in the eyes of many Hollywood historians, effectively ending the Hollywood Blacklist.

After the release of Spartacus, Trumbo was welcomed back by Hollywood with opened arms. He was reinstated into the Writer’s Guild of America and continued working for another 13 years. In 1975, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences presented Trumbo with the Oscar he had won for The Brave One (which he had written under the pen name Robert Richard). In 1993, the Academy posthumously awarded Trumbo with his second Oscar, this time for Roman Holiday which had originally been credited to screenwriter Ian McLellan Hunter. When Roman Holiday was first released on DVD in 2003, Paramount Pictures edited the film’s opening credits, removing Hunter’s name and replacing it with Trumbo’s.

It’s only fitting that we raise a glass to Dalton Trumbo with a cocktail named after his greatest script: Roman Holiday is the creation of Talmadge Lowe, the founder of Los Angeles’ floating speakeasy and bartending service Pharmacie. Lowe has said this drink is perfect for holiday entertaining. It’s a rum based cocktail, which is odd as Rome isn’t known for rum, but I suppose the use of the Italian vermouth Put e Mes is enough to make it Roman. Whatever the case, who are we to judge if this cocktail, like Trumbo during the Blacklist or Roman Holiday’s Princess Ann, has chosen to live under an assumed identity?

Roman Holiday

  • 1 1/2 ounces Aged Rum
  • 1 1/2 ounce orgeat syrup
  • 1 1/2 ounce Punt e Mes

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Grate nutmeg on top of the drink before serving.

Tomorrow: One of the Mai Tai’s two possible fathers.

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