Trumbo’s Shale City

Dalton Trumbo
This photo is licensed from The Huntington under CC BY 2.0.

In 2005, in conjunction with the centennial celebration of screenwright and novelist Dalton Trumbo’s birth, I was approached by the Mesa County Public Library to produce a limited series of radio broadcasts highlighting Trumbo’s career, and the historical period during which he grew up in Grand Junction, Colorado. Trumbo’s Shale City (which took its name from the alias Trumbo used for Grand Junction in works like Eclipse and Johnny Got His Gun) was just one of several events celebrating Trumbo that year; additionally, the Library sold a limited print run of his long hard-to-find novel, Eclipse, and what would eventually come to be known as the Legends of the Grand Valley Historic Sculpture Project was initiated when a local citizens’ group commissioned sculptor Mike Wilson to create a bronze sculpture derived from the famous photo of Trumbo working in his bathtub. (The piece was eventually unveiled on Main Street in downtown Grand Junction in 2007.)

I was eager to take on this project, which allowed me to tell the secret stories of Grand Junction’s socialist past… to reveal how the Ku Klux Klan played an important role amongst the city’s power players in the first decades of the 20th Century… and to tell the little-known history of the Avalon Theatre. The series culminated in a half-hour episode that includes a dramatic word-for-word recreation of Trumbo’s testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee that led to his being blacklisted. These episodes of Trumbo’s Shale City went unheard for nearly a decade, having played only once on local community radio station KAFM in 2005. Credit is also due to the actors who helped bring the committee hearings to life: Lee Borden, Jeremy Franklin and Kirk McConnell.

I’m proud of these episodes. A lot of research went into them — research which was made much easier when I stumbled across a cache of old copies of The Journal of the Western Slope, a digest-sized publication published in the late 1980s by the Mesa College (now Colorado Mesa University) Historical Society, being sold for cheap in a local bookstore.

I hope you enjoy them!

Ep. 5: Shale City’s “Elysium”: the Avalon Theatre

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