Book Review: ‘Trumbo’ Is A Great Look At Dalton Trumbo And Hollywood

Review by Lauryn Angel

Bruce Cook’s autobiography of Dalton Trumbo is the purported source material for director Jay Roach’s biopic Trumbo, starring Bryan Cranston. According to Roach’s introduction to the movie-tie-in edition of the book, he carried his copy around so as to refer to it when questions came up – Diane Lane particularly had questions about Trumbo’s wife Cleo – and it was so frequently used that his copy was falling apart by the time the movie wrapped. How accurate the film is to the book has yet to be seen, but it is clear that some embellishing has been made to the story, as Hedda Hopper (played by Helen Mirren) is not mentioned in the book, yet she looms fairly large in the trailer.

For those who do not know the name, Dalton Trumbo was a screenwriter who was blacklisted for denouncing the House Un-American Activities Committee and sentenced to jail time, along with nine others – directors, actors, and screenwriters. Trumbo wrote the screenplays for Spartacus, Exodous, Roman Holiday, and many other films; however, due to the blacklist, he used other writers or pseudonyms as fronts, since no studio would hire him.

Bruce Cook’s biography tells the story of Dalton Trumbo from before he was born to just after his death. Trumbo was clearly a complex and fascinating man, but the book is at times slow going due to the level of detail Cook uses in telling Trumbo’s story. Cook also shifts to first-person narrative several times throughout the book, as he recounts his interviews with Trumbo himself, as well as his friends and family. The book is thoroughly researched, but it is also clear that Bruce Cook was not an unbiased observer; Cook even admits as much in the latter part of the book.

This edition of the book included photos from the set of Roach’s film, with Cranston, Lane, and others in character, which was nice to whet the reader’s appetite for the film. However, since the book focuses on the man himself, not the film, the inclusion of photos of the real people featured in the book would have done more to satisfy the reader’s curiosity.

Despite Cook’s bias in favor of Trumbo, it is clear that Dalton Trumbo was an admirable person who stood by his principles. The book is a great read for anyone who is interested in learning about the workings of Hollywood from the 1930s through the 1970s, or who wants to learn more about the Hollywood Ten – what they stood for and why they did what they did.

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