By Allan H. Ryskind
Hollywood relishes making anti-American movies, but, maybe even more, loves to lavish tributes on full-blown Communists, you know, those fellows who swooned at Joe Stalin’s feet but are still hailed as heroic martyrs and towering defenders of the Bill of Rights. That model fits Trumbo to a T , the new screenplay written by Dalton Trumbo’s worshipful son, Christopher, and based on his earlier play.
His father, the famous screenwriter, was the author of such hits as Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, Spartacus, Exodus and Roman Holiday. Stars like Gregory Peck, Kirk Douglas, Audrey Hepburn and Steve McQueen graced his films and by 1945 he commanded top dollar from the major studios. He was also a Communist, which the movie barely allows us to discover and certainly doesn’t dwell on.
To the great delight of liberals, Chris has transformed Dalton, a thoroughgoing Stalinist, into a modern day Dreyfus, stuffed with Old Testament wisdom and profound thoughts on liberty.
The film, of course, has been drenched in liberal accolades, with the New York Times’ reviewers handing it the distinguished “Critics Pick.” Michael Douglas, Dustin Hoffman, Nathan Lane, Donald Sutherland and Liam Neeson are just a few of more than a dozen stars that appear in the film paying homage to this iconic figure on the Left.
As the film informs us, he was jailed for refusing to tell the House Un-American Activities Committee in those famous 1947 hearings whether he was a Red (thus becoming a famous Hollywood Ten member). He then spent a lot of dark days on the blacklist, meaning he couldn’t openly work for the studios because he had hidden behind the First Amendment. He went to Mexico for awhile, suffered severe money problems and, supposedly,found grown-ups picking on his daughter because of the writer’s stubborn stand against HUAC’s “Inquisitors.”
Typical of Hollywood’s take is the piece by the Los Angeles Times’ Kenneth Turan, who portrays the writer as “a contrarian” who “believed passionately in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.” And when HUAC began to investigate his “connections to the Communist party,” his life showed “the fearsome cost of standing up for your principles. . .”
The trouble with all this revisionist stuff is that it’s fundamentally fraudulent. Dalton Trumbo wasn’t a passionate defender of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights; he wanted to destroy them with communism.
Nor did he just have “connections” to the Communist party. He was a full-blooded Red, who worked hard to impose the Soviet system, with all its lovely qualities, upon his country of birth. For much of his adult life, Dalton was in Stalin’s hip pocket. This huge part of his existence, alas, appears to have been left on the cutting room floor.
I’ve read a lot of Trumbo and combed through his files at the Wisconsin State Historical Society in Madison. Yet I’ve never found a paragraph, or even a phrase, where he ever publicly condemned Stalin’s Soviet Union, certainly not when this most tyrannical of rulers was murdering folks by the millions, egging Hitler on to crush the Western democracies and eagerly devouring countries not his own.
Dalton was a party member, with a party card, and the party, as he well knew, was controlled by Moscow. Its purpose was to crush America’s liberties and make us a Soviet colony. The American party never deviated from the Stalinist line. Not once. And neither did Dalton.
He was not a brave and good-hearted American, as the “documentary” pretends, but a serious un-American, in that his hero was Lenin and his loyalty was, always, to the Soviet Union.
Is this just reckless red-baiting, as my liberal friends might say? The evidence of his Red activities is hardly secret. He came clean, sort of, to his biographer, Bruce Cook. He told Cook he joined the party in 1943 (there is evidence he joined earlier), that some of his “very best friends” were Communists and that “I might as well have been a Communist 10 years earlier. . .” He suggests he didn’t pay dues to the party for several years after his HUAC appearance, but he never turned his back on communism.
In his private papers he admits that he “reaffiliated with the party in 1954”—the year he returned to Los Angeles from Mexico–the experience, one supposes, having been so exhilarating the first time around. He claims to have quit the party for good in 1956.
So, by the historical record and his own account, he was in tune with the Soviet-controlled CP for nearly a quarter of a century, when Joseph Stalin was in his prime killing years. Dalton was still playing ball with the Caligula in the Kremlin long after virtually every American liberal worthy of the name had abandoned him.
Like so many of his comrades, he was all opposed to Hitler–until the Soviet-Nazi pact in 1939. Under this devils’ agreement, the two totalitarian countries divided Eastern Europe, with Hitler turning his guns against the West the following year.
After vanquishing Western Europe, the Nazi ruler then attempted to dispose of England, initially leveling its cities with saturation bombing. How did Dalton exhibit his deep devotion to those freedoms the film insists he championed? He sided with the Fuehrer. To ward off potential American assistance, Dalton unleashed his polemical fury against the British—the last major European people still willing to resist the Nazis.
England was no democracy; it had a “king,” he argued. FDR was guilty of “treason” and “black treason” for his pro-English policy. No drop of American blood should be spilled for the British imperialists. Yet when Germany turned on his angelic Stalin in June of 1941, ah, finally, there was now a compelling reason to confront the Nazi warlord! Rescuing Russia was now worth flinging young Americans onto foreign battlefields.
Much of Dalton’s Red activities were chronicled in 1947 by HUAC. The committee disclosed that he had joined, spoke for or contributed to dozens upon dozens of Communist causes, before, during and after World War II. There seemed to be no Red activity he wouldn’t embrace. He was raising money for the Daily Worker, campaigning for Communist candidates, propagandizing for Red labor leaders and (pre-pact) encouraging the shut down of U.S. defense industries.
Earl Browder was deposed as Communist party chieftain in 1945 (partly for saying America and the USSR could cooperate after the war). Dalton, obeying Stalin’s new hard line, gave two thumbs up. When Winston Churchill warned against Soviet imperialism, Trumbo compared him to Hitler.
When editing the Screen Writer in the mid-‘40s, Trumbo turned this influential Sceen Writers Guild publication into a virtual Red propaganda organ. When North Korea attacked South Korea in 1950, guess which side Trumbo took? In an unpublished play, his heroine proclaims the North is the nation really fighting for freedom. (For those who doubt me, I’ve got the script.) His support for the Soviets and American communism never quits.
When the Hollywood Communists put on their horror show before HUAC in 1947, screaming at committee members and refusing to respond to legitimate questions, the studio executives laid down a rule: Those who refused to say whether they were Communists, that is those who wouldn’t state whether they were conspiring with our enemies in Moscow, could no longer work in Hollywood. Those who turned against our Soviet foe were welcomed back with open arms. Trumbo stood with Stalin. No one deserved to be blacklisted more.
Mr. Ryskind, the son of screenwriter Morrie Ryskind, has written extensively on Hollywood’s Communist writers and is Human Events’ editor at large.