The PJ Tatler

Was Kirk Douglas Responsible for Breaking the Hollywood Blacklist? Two Authors Reveal the Truth and Destroy a Hollywood Myth

In The Atlantic online, John Meroney and Sean Coons explode yet one more myth about the Hollywood blacklist and the Communists. For many years, the now 95 year old actor has taken credit for singlehandedly ending the blacklist, by hiring the blacklisted  Communist writer Dalton Trumbo to write the script for the film “Spartacus.”

It wasn’t so simple, as Douglas claims in a new book,  I Am Spartacus!: Making a Film, Breaking the Blacklist, that has an introduction by George Clooney. Meroney and Coons show that in fact, Douglas was rather tepid and behind the times. Now that those who were blacklisted are all viewed as martyrs for civil liberties, they write, “it makes sense that Douglas wants to claim credit for” being the man who slayed the would be dreadful giant.

As the authors write, however, “the facts…are a little difference. In the 1930s and ‘40s, Stalinists seized control of the Screen Writers Guild and after World War II, many of the same operatives controlled and dominated a painters’ union as well as the unions representing readers, cartoonists, publicists and secretaries. They all worked together to pull a violent jurisdictional strike that blew the town apart for a couple of years.”

Not only was Douglas not the man who brought the blacklist of the Communists to the end. His production company secretly employed blacklisted writers, benefiting from “their discounted rates” for writing scripts. He used Trumbo well before Spartacus, it turns out, paying him what Trumbo’s daughter says was “only as a small fraction of what his salary would have been had he not been blacklisted.”

Moreover, they write that “Douglas had to be prodded to act on Trumbo’s behalf.” By that time, a year before the film came out, Otto Preminger had already given Trumbo screen credit for writing his film, Exodus.

So, now that the truth is out, will The Writer’s Guild rescind the 1991 award they gave Douglas for “breaking the blacklist?” Don’t place bets on that happening any day soon.