Oscar Politics: Dalton Trumbo and Ned Young

An interesting incident occurred in the 1957 ceremonies, when the Best Story went to Robert Rich for “The Brave One,” but no writer claimed the award. The Writers Guild acknowledged that, “it knew nothing about the man, who's as much of a mystery to us as he is to everybody else.” Producer Frank King told the New York Times that he had no idea of his writer's whereabouts, but added that he was a brilliant young writer whom he had met in Germany, when he served in the American Army.

To the Academy's embarrassment, it turned out that Robert Rich was the pseudonym for blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo, one of the Hollywood Ten. Trumbo received his long overdue Oscar in 1975, when producers Frank and Maurice King sent the Academy an affidavit verifying his identity.

One of 1958's most acclaimed films, The Defiant Ones, earned nominations in most categories, including story and screenplay to Nathan E. Douglas and Harold Jacob Smith. But Douglas was the pseudonym of Ned Young, a blacklisted writer. The Academy, embarrassed for having to declare a member of a team ineligible, revoked its rules in January 1958. The Board of Directors denied that the motive for revoking the old rules was linked to The Defiant Ones. But it issued a statement calling the previous rule “unworkable and impractical to administer and enforce.”

According to the new regulations, the Academy would simply “honor achievements as presented.” Dalton Trumbo hailed that decision as the official end of the blacklist, though he continued to wonder how the industry could officially rescind a blacklist that it had never acknowledged existed in the first place.

If you would like to know more about this issue, please read my book, All bout Oscar: The History and Politics of the Academy Awards(NY: Continuum International, paperback 2003).