Ken AshfordHistory, Popular CultureLeave a Comment

Here's the sum total of what I knew about Dalton Trumbo before yesterday:

  1. He wrote "Johnny Got His Gun", which was one of the first grown-up books I ever read.
  2. He was one of the "Hollywood Ten" who got blacklisted because he refused to name names.
  3. He wrote the screenplays to "Spartacus" and "Papillon".

Last night on PBS, the American Mastersseries ran a documentary about Trumbo (called "Trumbo"), and it was a rare delight.  If you can catch a rebroadcast, do it.

The documentary tells Trumbo's story about his fight with HUAC (which he lost), his time in jail, the impact of the blacklist on him and his family, and his resurrection.  Although archival footage and interviews are used, much of Trumbo's story is told through the letters he wrote (read by such people as Michael Douglas, Liam Neeson, Dustin Hoffman, Nathan Lane, David Straithorn, Paul Giamatti, Joan Allen, Donald Sutherland, and others).

Trumbo was a man who was at once charming and curmudgeonly.  He had a very dry, and cutting, wit.

In other words, the dude could write.  Even his private letters (the ones "performed" by the actors above) had a Shakespearean eloquence.

Follow this linkto see the reading of Trumbo's letter to the telephone company (performed by Paul Giamatti).

And that ain't nothing compared to Nathan Lane's reading of a letter Trumbo wrote to his son, in which Trumbo recommends two books: one about poker, and one entitled "Sex Without Guilt".  The latter book becomes a humorous yet eloquent soliloquy on the virtues of, uh, self-pleasure: