The theme of the Writers Guild of America awards ceremony Sunday was a resounding salute to freedom of expression. It was also an evening in which half the audience chose the freedom to leave rather than stay for the entire three-hour program.
The guild gave posthumous awards to two victims of the blacklist era, Dalton Trumbo and Albert Maltz, both members of the Hollywood Ten. They were among those who went to prison for refusing to cooperate with the late 1940s investigation of alleged communist influence in Hollywood, conducted by the House Committee on Un-American Activities.
As a result of the blacklist, many writers were unable to work and some resorted to using another writer's name to cover their own work. "Academy Awards and Writers Guild Awards sometimes went to fronts for movies that were written by blacklisted writers," said guild member Warren Beatty as he made the presentation.
Based on a unanimous vote by the guild board, Beatty said: "Let the record now show that the best written Western of 1950, 'Broken Arrow,' had a screenplay by Albert Maltz. And the best written comedy of 1953, 'Roman Holiday,' had a screenplay written by Ian McLellan Hunter and John Dighton, with a story by Dalton Trumbo."
Previously, the writing credit for "Broken Arrow" was given to Michael Blankfort, a friend of Maltz who agreed to let his name be used. Trumbo never received any official credit for "Roman Holiday." Both films were nominated for screenwriting Oscars.
Accepting the honors from the guild were the writers' widows, Esther Maltz and Cleo Trumbo, who were given a standing ovation.
The guild's screenwriting awards for 1991 went to Ted Tally for "The Silence of the Lambs," which was based on the novel by Thomas Harris, and to Callie Khouri for her original screenplay of "Thelma & Louise." Tally accepted his prize at ceremonies held in New York.
Accepting her award at the L.A. ceremony, Khouri thanked, among others, MGM for retaining her script's unusual ending.
Award winners in other categories were announced in Monday's Times. Other special awards went to:
* Paul Selvin Award, for writing that embodies civil rights and liberties: George Stevens Jr., for the ABC film "Separate but Equal."
* Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award, for the advancement of television literature: Bob Carroll Jr. and Madelyn Pugh Davis and the late Jess Oppenheimer, for their "I Love Lucy" series and other situation comedies.
* Morgan Cox Award, for service to the guild: Screen and television writer John Gay.
* Valentine Davies Award, for service to the entertainment industry: Screen and television writer Allan Burns.
* Laurel Award, for advancing the literature of the screen: Frank Pierson, writer of films including "Cat Ballou," "Dog Day Afternoon" and "Cool Hand Luke."
* Edmund H. North Founders Award, for leadership: William Ludwig, a co-writer of the Andy Hardy series, and such films as "The Great Caruso" and the adaptation of "Oklahoma!"