Fascinating Hollywood Reporter article about an event that began 65 years ago today. Here’s the start of the piece:
Billy Wilkerson was nervous. It was July 1946, and The Hollywood Reporter owner, editor and publisher was preparing to embark on a landmark campaign that would expose communists working in Hollywood. He would name the alleged Reds in his “Tradeviews” column and expose this lurking menace.
Wilkerson already had begun his crusade a year or so earlier, penning fiery editorials that railed against communism and targeted the Screen Writers Guild, the WGA precursor that he believed was the seat of what he termed the “Red Beachhead.” But this would be different. Wilkerson — who was mustachioed, 5-foot-7 and had a penchant for pinstripe suits — was going to brand people like Spartacus screenwriter Dalton Trumbo and Casablanca co-writer Howard Koch as leftists and communist sympathizers.
But the stakes were high. The possibility of a boycott of Wilkerson’s trade newspaper, which he founded in 1930 and kept afloat through the Great Depression, loomed large. And there were moral considerations: He was, after all, going to damage hundreds of lives — perhaps many more.
So Wilkerson turned to his religion. He went to confession.
The Blessed Sacrament Church in Hollywood was located just two blocks down Sunset Boulevard from The Reporter‘s office. It was a Saturday, and Wilkerson, then 56, made his way over to the soaring Roman Catholic edifice, which was the site of Bing Crosby‘s first marriage. Built in the Italian Renaissance style, the church could accommodate more than 1,000 people. But on this afternoon, as Wilkerson slipped into the confessional, he only wanted to speak with one person: Father Cornelius J. McCoy.
“Father, I’m launching a campaign, and it’s gonna cause a lot of hurt. But they are, you know, antipathetic to my faith. They are my natural enemies. And I just need to know what to do,” Wilkerson said. “You know, father, I’m having misgivings about doing this campaign.”
Wilkerson waited for an answer. All across Tinseltown, livelihoods — and lives — hung in the balance.
“Get those bastards, Billy,” McCoy replied.
On July 29, Wilkerson published a “Tradeviews” column that included the names of Trumbo, Koch and nine other Hollywood players the THR editor branded as communist sympathizers. “This is not an issue that concerns merely a few hundred writers,” he wrote. “It concerns millions of readers who must depend upon the free trade of ideas. … It concerns still more millions of children — who can’t read yet — but who were born with the right to hope for a free world.” The column was a pivotal one, sealing the fate of Wilkerson and the people he’d gone after. Ultimately, eight of the 11 men would be blacklisted. And Hollywood would never be the same.
Wilkerson’s son wrote a formal apology that appeared in THR this week:
The U.S. government, which had a great hand in this event, could have prevented it from mushrooming. It did nothing. And no one has ever apologized to the victims of this holocaust. So on the eve of this dark 65th anniversary, I feel an apology is necessary. It’s possible, had my father lived long enough, that he would have apologized for creating something that devastated so many careers. On behalf of my family, and particularly my late father, I wish to convey my sincerest apologies and deepest regrets to those who were victimized by this unfortunate incident.
Finally there is this response from actress Marsha Hunt who was subject to the Blacklist:
“I can’t tell you how heartwarming that is. I do salute Wilkerson’s son,” Hunt said of the apology. “For this apology to be issued now, I can’t tell you how much it means.”
At the time she was blacklisted, Hunt was on her way to becoming a major star, having appeared in 52 films, been offered TV shows by all three networks, and having graced the cover of Life magazine.
Hunt said remembering the Blacklist was essential for the country’s young people.
“It’s of great importance that younger people learn…not only that it could happen, but that it did happen here and to be on guard against anything that could arise in the future to make people cautious and afraid to question,” she said.
I have focused on the Hollywood Blacklist before for three reasons: (1) It is an important part of American film history. (2) It involves screenwriters. (3) It is impossible to comprehend fully the nature of the relationship between the WGA and the AMPTP without knowing this critical chapter in our past. Here is video presentation from members of the so-called Hollywood 10 who ended up spending 1 year in prison as the result of the Blacklist:
For more on the Blacklist, go here.
To read the full THR article on the Blacklist, go here.
To read the entire apology from Wilkerson’s son, go here.
To read more reactions from survivors who suffered from the Blacklist, go here.