Screenwriter Millard Kaufman has decided to set the record straight.
Forty-three years after he agreed to be a front for blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo, Kaufman has officially requested that the Writers Guild of America West take his name off the credits for the 1949 crime drama “Gun Crazy” and instead list the late Trumbo’s name as a co-writer with MacKinlay Kantor.
“I’ve been telling people for years that I didn’t write that movie, but I guess it never becomes official until it appears in the newspaper,” Kaufman said yesterday.
Actually the WGAW has made it official by recently changing their credits, in addition to contacting the Academy of MotionPicture Arts & Sciences.
Two years before “Gun Crazy” hit the screen, Trumbo was among a group of industry notables targeted by the House Un-American Activities Committee as one of the Hollywood Ten. When the screenwriter refused to testify about alleged Communist activities, he was sentenced to 10 months in jail.
During that time in jail, Trumbo managed to smuggle scripts out of the Federal penitentiary in Ashland, Ky. Upon his release, he left the country and began writing from Mexico.
“I didn’t know Trumbo, but we had a mutual agent named George Willner,” Kaufman said. “To this day I’m not sure how Trumbo knew of my existence.”
Kaufman was just starting his career, having recently gotten out of the Marine Corps after winning a Bronze Star in Okinawa. He came to Hollywood to make his fortune, getting a start in animation with the creation of the character “Mr. Magoo.”
When Willner asked Kaufman to consider putting his name on Trumbo’s picture–since Trumbo was blacklisted and broke–Kaufman gave the only reasonable answer he could think of at the moment.
“I had sense enough to say ‘let me talk this over with my wife,’ ” Kaufman said. “But we discussed it and we believed that it was rotten that a man couldn’t write under his own name.”
So he agreed to front for Trumbo. There was no contract, no payment, just a verbal commitment.
“I just had the idea that I was not alone on this,” he said. “I had the idea that Americans wouldn’ttake this kind of crap.”
Ironically, several years later, Kaufman and Trumbo would end up sitting next to each other in the bar at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. They never talked about the incident.
“He did call me five years ago and asked if I would mind if he mentioned that he was the true co-writer on ‘Gun Crazy’ in an interview and I told him to go ahead,” Kaufman said. “Anytime I had speaking engagements where they included that film in my credits, I always set the record straight anyway.”
Both Kaufman and Trumbo would go on to productive careers, with the former writing such films as “Take the High Ground” and “Bad Day at Black Rock,” for which he received Oscar nominations. Trumbo, who ended up writing 18 screenplays under various pseudonyms, eventually won an Academy Award in 1956 for “The Brave One.”
Again, that Oscar was awarded to an unknown writer named Robert Rich, who later turned out to be Trumbo.
The WGAW, meanwhile, is currently conducting investigations to correct credits for any writers who had to use fronts or pseudonyms during that period.