Be sure to check out ‘Eclipse’ before film is released

Consider the diverse roles of actor Bryan Cranston: dashing dentist on “Seinfeld,” goofy dad on “Malcolm in the Middle” and teacher-turned-meth-kingpin on “Breaking Bad.”

For a character that hits closer to home, look for Cranston to star in “Trumbo,” a feature-length biopic about Dalton Trumbo scheduled to start filming next year.

Maybe you recognize Trumbo only as the bronze dude in the bathtub in front of Avalon Theatre.

Maybe you were required to read his National Book Award-winning novel “Johnny Got His Gun” in high school.

Maybe you’ve watched late-night reruns of some of his films: “Roman Holiday,” “Spartacus” and “Papillon.” His screenwriting career spanned five decades and earned him two Academy Awards.

Or maybe you’re familiar with his part in the Hollywood Ten, the group of Hollywood screenwriters and directors that at the leading edge of the Red Scare in 1947 stood on their First Amendment rights and refused to testify before Congress about their political affiliation.

They went to prison for that.

Trumbo led a fascinating life of highs and lows, and it started right here.

He was born in Montrose in 1905, grew up in Grand Junction, worked as a young “cub” reporter at this newspaper and attended college at the University of Colorado before moving with his parents and sisters to California in 1924.

He was no overnight success. For nine years he pulled night shifts at the Davis Perfection Bakery to help support his struggling family. He took college classes part-time and worked his way up through magazine writing and editing before breaking into screenwriting.

A prolific writer of film, plays and novels, he soon found there was much more money to be made in screenwriting, and that’s where he concentrated his efforts.

Regardless, in 1935 Trumbo published his first novel, “Eclipse.” In terms of critical or financial success, it was forgettable. But because it was in the style of social realism, with unflattering characters and settings recognizable to Grand Junction, it became a big scandal here.

Over the years, the few copies of “Eclipse” remaining on dusty den bookcases and in the library special collections became part of local lore, but they weren’t available to the general reading public until 2005.

A local group that came to be known as “The Dalton Gang” reprinted the novel with the Trumbo family’s permission (Dalton died in 1976). The reprint contained extra material that pointed out local connections.

In full disclosure, I was part of that effort. It was immensely satisfying to keep that book alive and to help make it available for future generations of readers.

“Eclipse” is still for sale at local bookstores and the downtown Central Branch of Mesa County Libraries. Read it before the film releases and you’ll have some comparison — particularly in the excellent foreword by Dalton’s daughter Nikola — to Hollywood’s version of Dalton’s life.

According to Variety magazine, Jay Roach will direct. His other films include the “Austin Powers” series and 2012’s “The Campaign,” starring Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis and Jason Sudeikis.

In 2012, Roach won a Directors Guild of America Award for the television movie “Game Change,” starring Julianne Moore as Sarah Palin.

The screenwriter is John McNamara. It’s reported he based his screenplay on Bruce Cook’s 1977 biography, “Dalton Trumbo.” Though Cook spent time researching in western Colorado, the book has multiple errors, according to the Trumbo family.

If McNamara had one more year, he would have a deeper and more-accurate portrayal of Trumbo’s life in a book due out in the fall of 2014 by film professor and author Larry Ceplair of Santa Monica, Calif., who was handpicked by Trumbo’s son, Christopher, to help set the record straight.

Christopher, also a screenwriter and playwright, had been researching his father’s life for publication, but he died in January of 2011 before he could finish.

Before his death, he passed along his research and the family’s private collection of Dalton memorabilia to Ceplair to finish the biography.

Ceplair visited Grand Junction and Montrose last year, where he interviewed members of The Dalton Gang, toured sites related to Dalton’s life and researched collections in local museums.

The University Press of Kentucky is publishing Ceplair’s book. The Dalton Gang is planning a big book-release party in Grand Junction, so stay tuned for those details.

Both the new film and the new book offer opportunities to learn more about a character more complex than even the creative Dalton Trumbo could have imagined: himself.

Their celebration is a continuation of Grand Junction’s much-delayed interest in an immensely successful homegrown talent.

Dalton’s wife, Cleo, died in 2009, but his two daughters, Nikola and Mitzi, survive. All three siblings were at the unveiling of Dalton’s bronze statue in October of 2007.

The reprint of “Eclipse” was released on what would have been Dalton’s 100th birthday: Dec. 9, 2005.

Christopher also had been at Avalon Theatre the previous year, in November of 2004, to play the role of his father in “Red, White & Blacklisted,” a play Christopher wrote based on his Dalton’s well-crafted and often scathingly humorous personal letters.

In 2007, Christopher turned that play, with some documentary material, into a film also named “Trumbo.” (Great tagline: “Hollywood blacklisted him, but he had the last word.”) If you rent that movie, you’ll recognize on the cover the bathtub photo taken by Dalton’s daughter, Mitzi, which also inspired the statue.

So next we have Bryan Cranston’s portrayal to look forward to. Dalton Trumbo was at once ambitious, irascible, sentimental and brash.

In other words, he is the perfect character for the talented Mr. Cranston to take on next.

Have news about local authors, bookstores, book clubs or writing groups? Email Laurena Mayne Davis at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Davis is the director of marketing and product development for The Daily Sentinel.


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