“Stalin wasn’t even a Communist”

trumboWe’ve spent the last couple of days talking about Trumbo, a new movie by director Jay Roach that tries to make a free-speech hero out of blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (1905-76), and about Hollywood Traitors, a new book in which Allan H. Ryskind shows that Trumbo and his fellow Tinseltown Stalinists, far from being free-speech heroes, sought, in the years before the HUAC hearings, to silence non-Communists and to slip as much pro-Soviet propaganda as possible into their scripts. 

Front-The2And in the years after the blacklist? As the late Andrew Breitbart noted in a 2009 interview, Hollywood has been run by leftists for “the last forty years,” and those leftists have made one movie after another about the blacklist – among them The Front (1976), Guilty by Suspicion (1991), and The Majestic (2001). All of these pictures have sold the same dishonest message – namely, to quote Breitbart, that “the worst thing that ever happened” during the Cold War was that “a few screenwriters had to write under pseudonyms for a few years.” Yet for the last four decades, Breitbart added, these very same powers-that-be “have been vicious to people who disagree with them,” doing their best to keep the silver screen scrubbed clean of non-leftist voices. Indeed. And if that’s not a blacklist a – or, at least, a “brownlist” – what is it?

2001_MAJESTICBut the main point to be made about Trumbo is this: however inadvisable, stupid, wrong, or unjust the HUAC hearings and the blacklist may or may not have been, Trumbo’s summons by HUAC and his placement on the Hollywood blacklist didn’t magically convert him into a champion of American freedom. Roach and company, of course, would have you believe otherwise. On November 3, promoting the movie on the Howard Stern Show, Bryan Cranston, who plays Trumbo, actually made two thoroughly outrageous claims in quick succession.

First, Cranston maintained that “Stalin wasn’t even a Communist. He was a fascist dictator.” Cranston didn’t explain what he meant by this ridiculous statement, and Stern didn’t ask. Presumably, this was Cranston’s own little contribution to the decades-old, and still ongoing, effort by many leftists to whitewash Communism as an ideology by representing real-life, brutal, monstrous, totalitarian Communism, whether in the USSR or China or Vietnam or Cuba, as a betrayal of true Communism – which they continue to view as benign ideology that’s never really been put into practice and that, if it were tried, would succeed, lifting humankind to an unprecedented level of goodness and glory.  

BryanCranston
Bryan Cranston

Second, Cranston suggested that even though Trumbo and other members of the Hollywood Ten joined the Communist Party, they weren’t really Communists or Stalinists or whatever; they were just well-meaning guys in search of a way to fix the ailing U.S. economy. And besides, the USSR was our wartime ally. 

We’ll wind this up tomorrow.

Dalton Trumbo: sorry, no hero

Yesterday we started in on Trumbo, the new movie, directed by Jay Roach, that makes a hero out of blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (1905-76). As we’ve already said, Trumbo was no hero. Here, very briefly, is why.

johnnyIn the 1930s, Trumbo was a staunch anti-fascist who supported the Loyalist struggle in Spain and who hoped for a united Western front against Hitler. When the Soviets and Germans became allies in August 1939, Trumbo, in perfect accord with the Kremlin line, dropped his disdain for Nazis down the memory hole and transformed himself into an ardent pacifist – as reflected in his novel Johnny Got His Gun, which depicted war (for any cause) as the ultimate evil. Then, in June 1941, when Hitler invaded the USSR, Trumbo’s pacifism disappeared instantly; he called for the U.S. to enter the war on the Soviet side and, after Pearl Harbor, banged out rah-rah war films such as A Guy Named Joe and Thirty Seconds over Tokyo.

In short, what mattered to him throughout was not the well-being of his own country or the cause of freedom, but the survival of Stalinism – period.

Poster - Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo_02His devotion to the Soviet Union continued after the war. He despised Churchill’s 1946 “Iron Curtain” speech, which he described as a vile expression of fascism. In 1950, when the Communists in North Korea attacked the South, he took the side of the aggressors.

During the 1950s, because of the blacklist, he was obliged to write scripts under fake names or friends’ names; two of them, for Roman Holiday (1954) and The Brave One (1957), won Oscars. In 1960, when Kirk Douglas’s Spartacus and Otto Preminger’s Exodus were released, both carrying his screenwriting credit, the blacklist was finally broken.

Dalton_and_Cleo_Trumbo_(1947_HUAC_hearings)
Dalton Trumbo and his wife, Cleo, at the 1947 HUAC hearings

We’re not here to defend the blacklist. Some of those whose careers it damaged weren’t Communists at all. But what about the Communists, such as Trumbo? Was a House committee the proper venue in which to address their nefarious activity? Was an industry blacklist a defensible response to it? Tough questions; honorable people can disagree. But certain facts are beyond doubt. As Allan H. Ryskind’s book Hollywood Traitors makes clear, card-carrying Party members were, in a very real sense, active agents of an unfriendly and totalitarian foreign power. In the years prior to the institution of the blacklist, they’d done their best – both in the unions and in the studios themselves – to maximize their own power in the film industry, neutralize their ideological opponents, and use American motion pictures, to the greatest practicable extent, as vehicles for Communist propaganda. In other words, they tried to do to their non-Communist colleagues essentially what HUAC ended up doing to them.

More tomorrow.