What “Trumbo” Doesn’t Tell You

CANNABIS CULTURE – I just saw Trumbo, the new film about blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, and it’s as remarkable as everyone’s been saying it is. However there are a few things about it that would, I think, bother Dalton.

Steve Martin wrote in an October 2007 article in the New Yorker that he saw Trumbo “sorting the seeds and stems from a brick of pot” during the 1970s while he was dating Trumbo’s daughter Mitzi. However, although it’s acceptable for Bryan Cranston to play a meth manufacturer (in “Breaking Bad”), and pop benzedrines playing Trumbo in the film, for some reason it was deemed necessary to omit Trumbo’s time in Mexico and the marijuana he smoked there, and afterwards.

It seems likely Trumbo came up with the concept for the film that won him his second Oscar (under a pseudonym), The Brave One, while in Mexico. With this achievement, Trumbo began to break the blacklist using only his mightier-than-the-sword pen.

Marijuana and communism were, in Trumbo’s time, linked in the public’s mind, and in popular culture. Hollywood touched on it in 1957’s Sweet Smell of Success, in which Tony Curtis plays a swarmy PR flack who tries to smear a jazz guitarist as a pot-smoking commie. Curtis was notable as a slave/bard in Spartacus, the Trumbo film that broke the blacklist for good, fittingly so, since it’s the story of a Thracian slave who takes on the Roman Empire. (Thrace was next to Scythia, where people ritualistically inhaled cannabis fumes, as recorded by Herodotus.)

Moments in Trumbo pay homage to Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Gregory Peck, Lucille Ball, and Tokin’ Man James Garner, all of whom stood up for the Hollywood 10. It’s cool that Kirk Douglas is a hero in the film, since it’s Hanukkah and he appears in Adam Sandler’s Hanukkah song (something else that’s been censored, changing the line, “smoke your marijuanikka” to “don’t smoke marijuanikka” in mainstream media. His newest version #4 of the song, however, shows Sandler’s still smokin.)

The composite character played by Louis C.K. in Trumbo seems to steal a line from Tokin’ Woman Lillian Hellman, who was blacklisted after telling the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1950: “To hurt innocent people whom I knew many years ago in order to save myself is, to me, inhuman and indecent and dishonorable. I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions.”

John Wayne, who’s featured in Trumbo as a flack for HUAC, produced a film about the controversial committee called Big Jim McClain that was released under the title Marijuana in Europe (the plot having been changed from Wayne fighting communism to knocking out marijuana instead). Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon and of course Joseph McCarthy are the other villains. But it’s Helen Mirren as Hedda Hopper who stands out. Hopper was accused of “pocketbook morality” when she took a fairly mild stand againstRobert Mitchum after he was arrested for marijuana in 1948. At the time, the studios had $5 million invested in Mitchum.

In the film, when Trumbo’s daughter asks her father if she is a Communist too, he asks her what she would do if her mother packed her favorite lunch and a classmate was without something to eat. “Share it,” was the reply. That kind of empathy, which seems a lot more “Christian” than what passes for it today in this country, is often reported after smoking marijuana.

“I’ve learned that total adjustment to society is as bad as maladjustment,” Trumbo wrote in The Sandpiper. “That principled disobedience of unjust law is more Christian, more truly law-abiding, than unprincipled respect. That only freedom can tame the wild, rebellious, palpitating heart of man.”

Read more about VIP Dalton Trumbo.

Ellen Komp
Ellen Komp

Ellen Komp is Deputy Director of California NORML and a regular contributor to Cannabis Culture. She manages the website VeryImportantPotheads.com and blogs at Tokin Woman.