\o7 The Writers Guild of America is currently investigating whether Dalton Trumbo was wrongfully deprived of credit for the original story and the Academy Award for best story that Ian McLellan Hunter received for the 1953 movie "Roman Holiday," starring Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn. There have been recent reports that Hunter "fronted" the script for his friend Trumbo, who was blacklisted in Hollywood for refusal to cooperate with the House Committee on Un-American Activities.
As part of his research for a biography of director William Wyler, who directed "Roman Holiday,' Times staff writer Jan Herman interviewed Hunter about his involvement with the film.
Wyler directed the film after obtaining the property from Frank Capra. Capra had hoped to make the picture himself in 1948 with Elizabeth Taylor and Cary Grant, but dropped it after his independent production company, Liberty Films--which he owned with Wyler, George Stevens and Sam Briskin--was sold to Paramount. Capra has written in his autobiography, "The Name Above the Title," that Paramount executives "turned thumbs down" on his doing "Roman Holiday" because he couldn't agree to make it for their budget limit of $1.5 million.
Herman was saving Hunter's comments for the Wyler book, to be published by Putnam, but decided the interview could help set the record straight. Hunter, who has since died, spoke by telephone from his home in New York Jan. 4, 1990. \f7 Question: It is my understanding that Trumbo wrote the original story, but you fronted for him because he was blacklisted. And that later, you did considerable rewriting on the script, as did John Dighton. But it's never been clear who did what.
Answer: My recollection is that Trumbo wrote an original story. Being blacklisted, he asked me to front for him. And my agent sold it to Capra.
Q: Then what happened?
A: Then I went on (to write) the screenplay for Capra. But at the time there was "the atmosphere." (Capra) had "Roman Holiday" and two or three other properties all by the lefties and that scared him, and he handed or sold it to Wyler. After that happened I had absolutely nothing to do with it.
Q: Did you see "Roman Holiday" when it came out?
Q: Did it resemble anything you had written?
Q: What about getting screenplay credit, as opposed to story credit? Was there was a problem with your politics?
A: I think what pertained was the authorship that was done before the (expletive) hit the fan. It was like pre-Prohibition booze. My rather unfortunate position was that it was certainly Trumbo's story and mostly my screenplay with Dighton and what-not in there. On the Academy Awards thing, as I recall, I was given an Academy Award for the story, which was clearly not mine. Had it been the screenplay, I could have convinced myself that I had (done) most of it anyway. But the way it worked (out) it has always been a difficult thing for me.
Q: In other words, you were troubled that you got an award for the story and not for the screenplay.
A: Yes. The story of course was Trumbo's. . . . If something's phony it drives me crazy. But I was stuck. I mean, what the hell do you do? Your friend is blacklisted and he needs money. . . . They offered my agent at first some not-very-good sum, but I had a price already and had sold other originals. My price was about $50,000, which was not bad in those days.
Q: Did you get that price for it?
Q: Did you turn that over to Trumbo?
A: Oh yes.
Q: What about your own writing job, your end of it?
A: Then I just went on to Paramount to write it. And I got paid separately for that at my salary. Apart from the deviousness going on, that was a rather normal thing. You wrote something for the studio in treatment form and then you took your money plus you went on to write the screenplay at a raise in salary at the studio.
Q: Did Wyler ever try to consult you about the script?
A: Not in any way whatsoever.
Q: And you never had any contact with him?
A: None. On the political thing, have you read that autobiography by Capra?
A: It was a little bit of news to me, to tell you the truth, when I read it, that Capra had all these other properties and he was scared that people would say he had nothing but Communist stuff.
Q: Did you ever hear that Wyler cared about that?
A. Oh no. Wyler was a superior sort of fellow compared to Capra in this regard.
Q: When "Roman Holiday" came out, were you impressed with the result?
A: Indeed, I was. It doesn't happen too often. A screenwriter has an image in his mind when he's writing--at least I do. There's a picture in your mind, and when someone directs it, it is not your picture. One is not used to being elated at a production. But I saw that the girl (Audrey Hepburn) was so marvelous. I had never seen her before. And (Gregory) Peck of course I've always liked. That was one time I came out of the theater and said to myself, "Well, you got a good deal \o7 that \f7 time."
Q: So, just to be sure, the "reverse Cinderella" story of "Roman Holiday" was yours or, rather, Trumbo's?.
A: There was no change I could detect. It was structured pretty damned well actually, right from the word go. Trumbo's structure in the story was excellent.
Q: Did you ever talk to Trumbo about his reaction to the film?
A: Yes. We agreed that Wyler had done a helluva job with this thing. My reaction was shared by Trumbo.