Gore Vidal plays Dalton Trumbo, on stage

Although I have played parts in a number of films I was never an actual actor and so, except for a school performance of The Comedy of Errors, I had never acted on a stage anywhere until some New York producers offered me the lead in Trumbo, a play based on the letters of the blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo.

The producers were rotating the part of Trumbo among a number of actors ranging from Richard Dreyfuss to Nathan Lane. […] Why not appear onstage for a week or two at the Westside Theater? I could never memorize in youth but Trumbo is a series of letters that he wrote, often to his son played onstage by Gordon MacDonald.

There was, happily, no director by then, only an excellent stage manager and a workable set where I would make my entrance in near-fatal darkness back of screens showing film footage of the various disturbances of the 1940s when Dalton Trumbo fell afoul of congressional Red hunters with his sharp responses to their deeply un-American catechisms.

For a long time while Trumbo was officially blacklisted by the Hollywood establishment, he wrote scripts under pseudonyms as well as many letters which I enjoyed performing.

I had known Trumbo slightly in Rome where he had invited me to his splendid apartment overlooking the Tiber: he wanted to talk to me about the Byzantine Empire: the background to a movie he was writing for an Italian producer. He was obviously being well paid and I thought of the pluses of not having one’s name on a script particularly in an era like today’s when “focus groups” examine one’s every line for inadvertent lack of political correctness or its somber incubator unwanted originality.

In the end I had the impression that Trumbo was enjoying his well-paid martyrdom not to mention special status since, as he liked to point out, nearly every distinguished film covertly made abroad was credited to him while the disasters — some of his own making — remained parentless.

Finally, he was white-listed again and the Oscar awarded to one of his pseudonyms was finally presented to him.

All in all a curious time.

From Gore Vidal, Point to Point Navigation: A Memoir, 1964 to 2006, Doubleday, New York, 2006, pp. 89–90.


Originally published at shortcutsamerica.com on February 17, 2016.

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