Dalton Trumbo was the highest paid screenwriter in Hollywood.
Then for the next fifteen years he couldn’t get a job.
During the war, Trumbo had joined the Communist party.
Communism was about fairness and the rights of poor people.
Russia was America’s ally against the Nazis.
Joining the Communist party seemed a reasonable thing to do.
But after the war was over, the Cold War began.
Russia became America’s enemy, and the word communist became synonymous with traitor.
Fear of communism spread through America like fear of witchcraft spread through Salem 300 years earlier.
In 1947, Dalton Trumbo was one of ten screenwriters called to testify before Congress.
They were ordered to name other members of the communist party.
They refused, citing the First Amendment To The Constitution:
“Congress shall make no law……abridging the freedom of speech…..or the right of the people peaceably to assemble.”
But it made no difference.
They were found guilty of contempt and sent to prison.
When they got out, no one would employ them.
They were placed on the Hollywood blacklist.
But, with all the good writers banned from working, most of the scripts being produced were rubbish.
Written by people who only got jobs because they weren’t communists.
So the good writers weren’t allowed to write, and the people who were allowed to write, couldn’t write.
This was a problem.
But to a creative person, like Trumbo, it looked like an opportunity.
He talked to some of the bad writers.
Basically he said:
“I’ve got good work but a bad name.
You’ve got bad work but a good name.
Let’s put the two together: your name on my work.”
And that’s what Trumbo secretly did: wrote screenplays with other writers’ names on them.
And it worked.
Over the years he was blacklisted, Trumbo wrote over thirty screenplays that were made into films, under other writer’s names.
Almost three a year, a better rate than any other writer.
In 1960, he finally came off the blacklist when his own name was put on the massive blockbusters Exodus and Spartacus.
Amazingly, during his career Dalton Trumbo also won two Oscars.
Both for films written under other screenwriters’ names.
He wrote more scripts, made more films, and won more awards than just about any other screenwriter.
And he did most of it while he was banned from writing.
For me, that’s about as creative as it gets.
Anyone can create when the conditions are perfect.
When they give you an office, and a salary, and a brief, and someone to sell your work.
But how do you create when you’ve got no job, no office, no money, no clients, and no one will let you work?
That’s what separates really creative people off from the rest.
As Hannibal said “We shall find a way, or make one”.