MOST HOLLYWOOD MEMOIRS, barely worth writing about or discussing, sell simply because a celebrity (ostensibly) wrote them. The stars are players in their personal narratives both public and fictional. These books are usually tossed aside and forgotten. So it may not be a big deal if the stories within are BS. But the blacklist created its own nuclear winter from which the fallout has not completely cleared and heads still spin when it comes to explaining or understanding what happened in the entertainment industry during the McCarthy era. Real or accused dead Commies of Beverly Hills must be rolling over in their collective grave as, under the muddy banner of memoir, I Am Spartacus!: Making a Film, Breaking the Blacklist by Kirk Douglas paints a fictional and self-aggrandizing presentation of his actions during the making of that celebrated movie. Many producers, directors and stars of the fifties would not work with blacklisted talent and movie studios forced all employees to sign loyalty oaths throughout the period. The moral high ground of that time was a lofty and perilous place and idealists courageously carved a difficult path. The most talented blacklisted screenwriters, like Dalton Trumbo, were able to work under the table using fronts. Some survived the McCarthy era but not without bankruptcies, divorces, suicides, or any number of other long-time heartaches. Hollywood does that to people even on a good day, but the children of the children of those who named names, or of those who went to jail because they would not, continue to suffer from losses their families incurred.
"In the room" — in Hollywood meetings — creatives trade in fantasy. The execs, the writers, directors, and producers lubricate the business process with their fanciful concepts. Nobody calls them lies “in the room,” but in show biz meetings people make things up to move a project forward even an inch. Kirk Douglas, Hollywood fixture and veteran of the dream factory, uses this same methodology in his memoir to questionable effect and carries that ethos to historical events — to real-world matters — which doesn’t work as well.
Burnished dimple forward, Douglas sets forth a version of events placing himself at the center of the story as both star and protagonist in the breaking of the blacklist and promoting himself to a somewhat undeserved place there when in fact his role in these matters may actually have been less than central. Nevertheless, he has accepted standing ovations in media appearances, on television and in motion picture theaters, “humbly” taking credit for acts of political valor, treating the world as his “room” while on tour with the book since its publication this year.
The kernel of the book’s trajectory is this: Dalton Trumbo, once the highest paid screenwriter in Hollywood, was unable to receive screen credit during the McCarthy decade as one of those who refused to name names in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee. He worked for lower pay, using fronts in his contracts and fake names in his screen credits. He won a Best Original Screenplay Oscar for The Brave One in 1957 under the name Robert Rich. During this period of his long and successful career, Dalton Trumbo was hired by producer Edward Lewis to write the script for Spartacus.
While writing about Trumbo and Spartacus, Douglas takes on major players of film history who are no longer living and cannot answer for th...read more