April 14, 2024

News Release: January 26, 2016

Screenwriter John McNamara to Receive WGAW’s 2016 Paul Selvin Award for Trumbo

Photo: Eric Weiss
2016 Award Recipient

The Writers Guild of America West has named screenwriter John McNamara the recipient of the 2016 Paul Selvin Award for his screenplay Trumbo. Based on the biography by Bruce Cook, the film chronicles the turbulent career and life of Blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, exploring issues of political freedom, censorship, civil liberties, and what it means to be an American.


McNamara, who is also a producer on the film, will be recognized at the 2016 Writers Guild Awards L.A. ceremony on Saturday, February 13, at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza. He recently received a WGA Adapted Screenplay nomination for his script.

“The Paul Selvin Award honors ‘that member whose work best embodies the spirit of the constitutional and civil rights and liberties that are indispensable to the survival of free writers everywhere.’ Though we’ve given it since 1989, it might as well have been purpose-built for John McNamara’s Trumbo. In shining light on a dark corner of our history, while at the same time illuminating Dalton Trumbo from within, John McNamara has both illustrated and embodied the importance of courageous writing,” said WGAW President Howard A. Rodman.

“I want to thank the Writers Guild of America West for stunning me with surprise and filling me with gratitude. This is an award shared by my band of brothers and sisters, we few, we happy few. More on those folks soon. The movie Trumbo exists mainly because I met several blacklisted screenwriters while I was a student at NYU. Arthur Laurents, Waldo Salt and Ring Lardner, Jr. eloquently and selflessly brought that dark time to life for me, while Ian McLellan Hunter painted a both ennobling and warty portrait of his good friend Dalton Trumbo,” said Trumbo screenwriter John McNamara. “In the same way I share this award with biographer Bruce Cook, ShivHans, Bleecker Street, director Jay Roach and the crew, Michael London and our fellow producers, Bryan Cranston and the whole cast, I share it with my four fellow writers whose words first convinced me this story needed telling. A story that obviously wouldn't exist without Dalton Trumbo and the improbably brave stand he and his family took against a perfect storm of repression, fighting for that first American freedom: the right to be wrong in any political season, out loud, without fear and in glorious Technicolor.”

Having launched a successful screenwriting career in 1937, by the ’40s Dalton Trumbo had become one of the most sought-after and highest-paid screenwriters in Hollywood. But in 1947, as part of the “Hollywood Ten,” he found himself, along with other creative artists, targeted for their political beliefs by the House Un-American Activities Committee during its investigation into alleged Communist influences in the entertainment industry.

Refusing to name names of friends and colleagues to HUAC, Trumbo (who was a member of the Communist Party from 1943 to 1948) found himself out of work, blacklisted by the studios and producers. He ultimately served nearly a year in federal prison after being convicted of contempt of Congress.

Wielding his own words and wit to take on not only studio bosses but the U.S. government, Trumbo exposed the hypocrisy, absurdity, and sheer injustice of the Blacklist, which ruined many lives and careers. Shunned by Hollywood, he still managed to carve out a covert screenwriting career, often writing under various pseudonyms or using “fronts” so he could continue working to support his family. Ironically, he garnered two Academy Awards for screenplays he wrote while being blacklisted: the first for the classic romantic comedy Roman Holiday – credited to his “front,” fellow screenwriter Ian McLellan Hunter – and second for his screenplay for The Brave One (1956), originally credited to “Robert Rich,” Trumbo’s pseudonym. It was not until 1975 that the Academy formally recognized Trumbo for The Brave One and presented him with his Oscar statuette. In 1993 he was posthumously awarded his Oscar for writing Roman Holiday. In 2011, the Writers Guild formally announced that Trumbo’s screenwriting credit for Roman Holiday had been restored.

By 1960, the Blacklist had begun to lose credibility and was effectively broken by several key events that year. With the support of director Otto Preminger, Trumbo was officially credited for the screenplay of the hit film Exodus, adapted from the novel by Leon Uris; actor Kirk Douglas publicly announced that Trumbo was the screenwriter of Spartacus; and in show of solidarity, President-elect John F. Kennedy crossed a picket line of protestors to watch Spartacus in a Washington, D.C. theater.

In 1970, Trumbo received the WGAW’s Laurel Award for Screenwriting Achievement, a fitting coda to his indelible voice and inspiring career.

Trumbo, starring Bryan Cranston, Helen Mirren (who portrays the infamous gossip columnist Hedda Hopper), Louis CK, Diane Lane, Elle Fanning, Michael Stuhlbarg, and John Goodman and distributed by Bleecker Street, has so far received numerous accolades this awards season, including three Screen Actor Guild nominations (Best Cast, Best Actor, and Best Supporting Actress) and two Golden Globe nominations (Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress, Drama). Cranston was recently nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor, and earlier earned the Spotlight Award (Actor) at the 2016 Palm Springs International Film Festival.

In addition to his acclaimed screenplay for Trumbo, McNamara – a WGAW member since 1985 – recently created 2015’s NBC period crime drama series Aquarius, about a police detective (David Duchovny) on the trail of cult leader Charles Manson during the ’70s. He is also Co-Creator of the new SyFy series The Magicians (co-created by Sera Gamble), based on Lev Grossman’s best-selling book series. McNamara has also created the TV series Eyes and Profit (co-created by David Greenwalt).

Born and raised in Michigan, McNamara attended the University of Michigan and New York University. While attending NYU, McNamara authored two children's books both published by Delacorte Press, as well as an original teleplay for the CBS Afternoon Playhouse. In 1982, his play “Present Tense” won the first annual Young Playwrights’ competition and was produced off-Broadway at the Circle Rep Theatre. With its companion piece, “Personal Effects,” it was later produced at the Manhattan Punchline Theatre and has been performed internationally ever since. He moved to Los Angeles in 1984 and began a career as a screenwriter, working for Disney, Warner Bros. and Paramount. In 1992, he became a staff writer on the Fox TV series The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr – and in 1993 joined ABC’s Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman as a writer and producer.

His other TV writing and producing credits include Prime Suspect, The Fugitive, and Vengeance Unlimited.

Named after the late Paul Selvin, general counsel to the Guild for 25 years, the award is given each year to the WGA member whose script best embodies the spirit of the constitutional and civil rights and liberties that are indispensable to the survival of free writers everywhere and to which Selvin devoted his professional life. Previous recipients of the WGAW’s Paul Selvin Award include Tony Kushner, Dustin Lance Black, Tate Taylor, Eric Roth, Michael Mann, Larry Karaszewski & Scott Alexander, Robert Eisele & Jeffrey Porro, Anthony Peckham, Alex Gibney, and, most recently, Margaret Nagle.