Tom Mathews's Reviews > Trumbo

Trumbo by Bruce Cook
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really liked it
bookshelves: arc, audiobook, non-fiction, history-historical

When I was in high school, during the Vietnam War, I read Johnny Got His Gun, a book that changed forever the way I thought about war. The author was Dalton Trumbo, a name I had never heard of before that time. I’ve heard a lot about him in the decades since.

Trumbo was arguably the best and certainly the best know screen writer in the history of Hollywood. His screen credits include Kitty Foyle, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, The Brave One, Roman Holiday, Exodus, Papillion, and Spartacus. What he is best known for, though, is that he single-handedly, if some sources are to be believed, broke the blacklist that, for over a decade, dictated who could work in Hollywood.

Most of the books I am asked to review have not yet been published but Trumbo, and the accompanying audiobook narrated by Luke Daniels, was actually written in 1976 by Bruce Cook, with Trumbo’s knowledge and full cooperation and is now being re-released to coincide with the release of the Trumbo biopic starring Bryan Cranston.

It is a comprehensive biography that describes in depth Trumbo's childhood in Grand Junction, Colorado, and his evolution from baker to writer during the height of the Great Depression. It covered his rise to A-list screenwriter, his appearance before the House Un-American Affairs Committee, his trial and conviction for contempt of Congress, a misdemeanor for which he spent one year in federal prison.

“I remember visiting Dalton after his first night in the DC jail. He told me that in the middle of the night the police brought in a guy. He was charged with some heinous offense, assault with a deadly weapon or something. Then this gang member asked him what he was in for, and Dalton told him. This tough guy shrank back. ‘Holy Jesus,’ he said. ‘Contempt of Congress?’ He was impressed, overwhelmed.”

Following his release from prison Trumbo, the other members of The Hollywood Ten, and anyone else who aided them or was suspected of communist sympathies were officially blacklisted, unable to work in the film industry. Those who did work did so under the table and received no recognition for their efforts. When ‘The Brave One’ won an Oscar for the best screenplay it was awarded to Robert Rich, a man who did not exist. The screenplay was written by Dalton Trumbo.

In time, the blacklist was breached, not by Trumbo alone but by many people who recognized that there were few things more Un-American than to deprive someone of the right to earn a living based solely on his politics.

Cook portrays Trumbo as a larger than life character with a personality as big and bold as Earnest Hemingway. While the book does portray him in a positive light, it still provides enough information that the reader has little trouble forming their own opinion of the man, his life and the industry that he worked in.

“There is more to be said for the man than that. For even in a time like our own, one practically inured to the power of myth, a life like Trumbo’s takes on something of a fabulous quality. His has been a fabulous life, a tale told, an old-fashioned story that illustrates the virtues of hard work, of keeping faith with one’s self and one’s ideals, a quintessentially American story that he could, with only a few important details altered, have written himself for the Saturday Evening Post, back in the thirties. But no, he didn’t write it. He lived it, improvising it from the days and hours he was given, making it up as he went along.

“Let him be remembered by that story and his place will is assured.”


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*Quotations are cited from an advanced reading copy and may not be the same as appears in the final published edition. The review book was based on an advanced reading copy obtained at no cost from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review. While this does take any ‘not worth what I paid for it’ statements out of my review, it otherwise has no impact on the content of my review.

FYI: On a 5-point scale I assign stars based on my assessment of what the book needs in the way of improvements:
*5 Stars – Nothing at all. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
*4 Stars – It could stand for a few tweaks here and there but it’s pretty good as it is.
*3 Stars – A solid C grade. Some serious rewriting would be needed in order for this book to be considered great or memorable.
*2 Stars – This book needs a lot of work. A good start would be to change the plot, the character development, the writing style and the ending.
*1 Star - The only thing that would improve this book is a good bonfire.
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Reading Progress

November 1, 2015 – Started Reading
November 1, 2015 – Shelved
November 1, 2015 – Shelved as: arc
November 1, 2015 – Shelved as: audiobook
November 1, 2015 – Shelved as: non-fiction
November 1, 2015 – Shelved as: history-historical
November 2, 2015 –
page 37
10.51%
November 3, 2015 –
page 95
26.99% "Writing for films was to be no more than a temporary solution to his money problems, a bargain struck with necessity. Nobody, it seem, ever went into films with the intention of staying there. The studios were to serve as waystations to the ivory tower or back to Broadway. Yet passengers collected there in Hollywood, and coaches never departed. Those who left usually straggled out alone and on foot."
November 3, 2015 –
page 95
26.99% "Writing for films was to be no more than a temporary solution to his money problems, a bargain struck with necessity. Nobody, it seem, ever went into films with the intention of staying there. The studios were to serve as waystations to the ivory tower or back to Broadway. Yet passengers collected there in Hollywood, and coaches never departed. Those who left usually straggled out alone and on foot."
November 4, 2015 –
page 151
42.9% "When the opportunity presented itself the right would strike, and Hollywood, because of its prominence and because of the movie industry’s vulnerable dependence on good publicity, was certain to be a prime target. A more prudent man would have avoided political activities of any kind during the years that followed, but of course, prudence has never been an attribute cultivated by Dalton Trumbo."
November 5, 2015 –
page 191
54.26% ""I remember visiting Dalton after his first night in the DC jail. He told me that in the middle of the night the police brought in a guy. He was charged with some heinous offense, assault with a deadly weapon or something. Then this gang member asked him what he was in for, and Dalton told him. This tough guy shrank back. ‘Holy Jesus,’ he said. ‘Contempt of Congress?’ He was impressed, overwhelmed.""
November 7, 2015 –
page 2871
100%
November 7, 2015 –
page 271
76.99%
November 7, 2015 –
page 291
82.67% "Cracks were thus appearing in the rampart with routine regularity. But Trumbo [was] determined to breech it at any price. He sent word out to his contacts among producers who were dealing on the black market that he would be willing to do a screenplay without any kind of payment at all, literally for nothing, if they would publicly announce him as their writer and put his name up on the screen. He had no takers."
November 8, 2015 –
page 303
86.08% "Kennedy himself played a part in the breaking of the black list. Among the most active in the campaign against them was a group called the Catholic War Veterans. A gesture from him in support of them could well have turned the tide against Trumbo. Instead, Kennedy threw his weight to the other side. The president-elect crossed the picket lines and saw Spartacus. The black list had been breached."
November 8, 2015 –
page 324
92.05% "He was a film craftsman, not an author and not a film artist, willing to take a craftsman’s pride in his work - in getting the job done. Nobody knew the rules better than he, and therefore, nobody played the game as long, or as successfully."
November 9, 2015 –
page 350
99.43% "He loves films, loves working in the medium, and he is surpassingly good at it. Yet now, perhaps particularly now, as he takes stock of what he has done, Trumbo may well wish that he had a solid pile of books that he could claim as indisputably his. Film is flimsy stuff, essentially of the moment. That is its glory and its shame. He jokes about this, always a sign with him that it is something that he takes seriously"
November 9, 2015 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-5 of 5 (5 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Sue (new) - added it

Sue I wondered if this was written just for the film or vice versa. Glad to know it was the source. And that you rated it well. I've already added it.


message 2: by Sue (new) - added it

Sue P.S. Excellent, informative review.


message 3: by Jean (new)

Jean Some serious stuff. Nice review, as usual, Tom.


message 4: by Howard (new)

Howard Nicely done, Tom. It is impossible to forget the book that you referred to in the first paragraph. Anyone who reads the book runs the risk of forever being haunted by it.


message 5: by Valerie (new)

Valerie I had a similar experience of having read a book that changed my perspective on war and politics as a young adult.

This definitely sounds like an interesting read.


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