Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor

BUTLER, HUGO (1914-1968)

Photographs of some of Hugo Butler's film scripts written under pseudonyms after Butler was blacklisted

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Hugo Butler wrote motion picture stories and scripts for three decades. Born in Calgary, Alberta, on May 4, 1914, he soon abandoned the Canadian Prairies. His British parents divorced after World War I, and his father, Frank Butler, who worked for the Canadian Pacific Railway, relocated to Hollywood and a career as an actor and writer, while young Hugo moved with his mother to Victoria, British Columbia.

After studying journalism at the University of Washington, Butler left without a degree for a junior writer's job at MGM. Credited with eleven movies there, he specialized in adapting children's classics. He soon joined the fledgling Screen Writers Guild, while his father opted for the rival, industry-endorsed Screen Playwrights Inc. Hugo Butler's cowritten story, Edison, the Man (1940), earned an Academy Award nomination. Four years later, as a guild vice president, he presented the writers Oscars, one to his father. His postwar credits include scripts directed by Jean Renoir and Joseph Losey, among them Losey's The Prowler (1950), which Butler cowrote with Dalton Trumbo, though he received sole credit, fronting for the blacklisted Trumbo.

Butler and his wife, Jean Rouverol Butler, were active Communist party members, and they were identified to the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1947. They fled a 1951 huac subpoena with their children, choosing exile in Mexico over Butler's native Canada, because Butler disliked Canada's cold climate. Butler continued to write pseudonymously for Luis Buñuel and Robert Aldrich, contributed to scripts without credit, and codirected two documentaries as Hugo Mozo (Hugo the Houseboy). In Italy in the 1960s he wrote again for Aldrich and the also-exiled Losey. Returning to Hollywood in 1964 and about to rise from the blacklist with Aldrich's The Legend of Lylah Clare (1968), cowritten with his wife, Butler died in Los Angeles on January 7, 1968, of a coronary occlusion after several years' struggle with arteriosclerotic brain disease.

In 1997 his rightful credits were restored to five films cowritten during the blacklist. Butler's films include The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1938), A Christmas Carol (1938), Lassie Come Home (1942), The Southerner (1945), The Big Night (1951), The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1953), World for Ransom (1954), Torero! (1956), Los pequeños gigantes/ How Tall Is a Giant? (1958), La joven/The Young One (1960), Eva (1962), and Sodom and Gomorrah (1963).

Blaine Allan Queen's University

Conrad, Randall. "No Blacks or Whites: The Making of Luis Buñuel's The Young One." Cineaste 20 (1994): 28–34.

McGilligan, Patrick, and Paul Buhle. Tender Comrades: A Backstory of the Hollywood Blacklist. New York: St. Martin's, 1997.

Rouverol, Jean. Refugees from Hollywood: A Journal of the Blacklist Years. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2000.

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