My father’s friend, writer Dalton Trumbo, called the years of the Hollywood blacklist “the time of the toad.” I wonder what he’d call what’s happening today! The phrase comes from a line attributed to Emil Zola, Mark Twain and a number of other authors. Zola was purportedly giving advice to a young writer about the danger of literary critics; Twain was referring to the world in general. But the gist of the line suggests that if you eat a toad every morning for breakfast, after a while you’ll get used to it.
If nothing else, my father’s story is a cautionary tale that reminds us to not eat the toad in the first place!
I loved hanging out with my father’s students. They would often gather in the backyard before class and I would run out as fast as I could after dinner to sit on their laps, play chase with them, or challenge someone to a game of handball. One of my father’s students taught me out to ride a bicycle. On Valentine’s Day his students gave me a heart-shaped box of chocolate with a doll attached to the top of box. I was in heaven. While the sad truth is that all these wonderful young actors were there because the blacklist had made it impossible for my father to work as an actor in Hollywood, for me – at a ripe young age – it was a boon to my social life.