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"Trumbo" Saturday at Bevard Room: Hollywood's black-listed screenwriter

(Dalton Trumbo on the way to federal prison in Kentucky to begin serving his sentence for contempt of Congress, 1950.)

"My father wrote his letters in three acts," said Christopher Trumbo last year when Peter Askin's documentary film "Trumbo" had its theatrical opening in New York City.

Both that film and the play "Trumbo" -- which simply new theatre, inc. presents for a second performance this Saturday evening at the Civic Center's Bevard Room -- were written by Trumbo the son.

Born in 1940, the son was seven when successful, prolific screenwriter/novelist Dalton Trumbo was called to testify in Congress by the House Unamerican Activities Committee. One of the Hollywood Ten who refused to cooperate and name names in the initial round of HUAC hearings, Trumbo tangled with his interrogators, was charged with contempt of Congress, fired from MGM Studios and for the next 13 years could not work openly in film due to the industry-imposed blacklist that Hollywood denied existed and even federal judges did not acknowledge until the mid-60s. In 1950 he lost his court appeal and served 11 months in federal prison in Kentucky. He later moved his family to Mexico for a period of time as the political climate worsened in the mid-50s with continued HUAC hearings and blacklisting that spread to radio and television broadcasting, journalism, university campuses, law, and industrial jobs.

Two Trumbo scripts, "fronted" by other writers, won Oscars during this period. Then in 1960, director Otto Preminger hired Trumbo openly to write "Exodus"; after that Kirk Douglas hired him to write "Spartacus." In 1960, Trumbo's son -- who has primarily worked as a television writer for series like "Naked City," "Quincy, M.E." and "Brannigan" -- also began working in film as assistant director on "Exodus."

The son started this play in 1997, but it lagged until wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the nation's subsequent slide into the Patriot Act and related excesses. Similarly, at the height of the Vietnam War in 1971, Trumbo the father adapted his own 1939 anti-war novel about World War I, "Johnny Got His Gun," for screen. That film was finally released on DVD in April and screens this weekend in Hollywood as part of a three-night salute to Trumbo; it was, says the son, "the best response he could manage to the carnage of the war in Vietnam."

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