Los Angeles — After 58 years, another wrong from the Hollywood blacklist era has finally been made right, thanks to a death-bed promise between childhood friends. The Writers Guild of America, West restored legendary writer Dalton Trumbo’s screenplay credit for the 1953 classic film Roman Holiday. The Guild’s WRITTEN BY magazine reveals the inspiring back story in its January issue.
Only a few insiders knew the truth behind Audrey Hepburn’s iconic movie debut on that famous Vespa with Gregory Peck. The scene had initially been imagined by a blacklisted screenwriter working anonymously in self-exile in Mexico. Two who knew were Guild writers Christopher Trumbo and Tim Hunter. They knew because their fathers had co-written Roman Holiday.
All their lives, Trumbo Jr. and Hunter Jr. shared much in addition to membership in the WGAW. Both are sons of famous screenwriters, Dalton Trumbo and Ian McClellan Hunter. Both grew up in the 1950s when the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) blacklisted their fathers as communist sympathizers. Both first became friends in Mexico where their parents were fugitives from HUAC.
When the boys met, Dalton Trumbo could not have his name on a screenplay. An outspoken member of the “Hollywood Ten,” he’d been labeled an “unfriendly witness,” cited for contempt of Congress, and imprisoned. To continue working, he had to recant and falsely accuse colleagues of “anti-Americanism,” or write using fronts or pseudonyms.
Before Tim’s father Ian McClellan Hunter himself got blacklisted, he volunteered to act as Dalton’s “front” writer, accepting studio payments for, among others, Roman Holiday and then secretly passing those monies to Dalton.
When Chris Trumbo grew increasingly ill in 2010, the two friends decided to approach the Writers Guild and propose that the screenplay credit for Roman Holiday be changed. They wanted it to reflect what their respective families believed: that the initial script was by Dalton Trumbo.
“Obviously, it was important for Chris Trumbo to know before he died that his father’s credit would be restored,” Tim Hunter wrote to then-WGAW President John Wells on January 11, 2011, in a letter reprinted in WRITTEN BY. “Under the circumstances I readily agreed to see if we can get it done. He died last week knowing that I would try.”
The WGAW investigated, using evidence recounted in the current WRITTEN BY, and the Board of Directors voted to restore the Roman Holiday screenplay credit. The full credit now reads:
Screenplay by Dalton Trumbo and Ian McLellan Hunter and John Dighton
Story by Dalton Trumbo
All of the credited writers have since passed away, but as Tim Hunter wrote to John Wells, “Roman Holiday was tangible proof of a friendship, a symbol on celluloid of many friendships, and the manifestation of a pact between friends during a time of political persecution.”
“It is not in our power to erase the mistakes or the suffering of the past,” said WGAW President Chris Keyser. “But we can make amends, we can pledge not to fall prey again to the dangerous power of fear or to the impulse to censor, even if that pledge is really only a hope. And, in the end, we can give credit where credit is due.
“In acknowledging the contributions of Dalton Trumbo, Ian McLellan Hunter and John Dighton to the writing of Roman Holiday, the WGA has not undone the hurt, but it has, at last and at least, told the truth. That fact is a tribute to the friendship of two fathers and then two sons and to a thing we can hold on to, which is that the friendship was stronger than and outlived the hate.”