Hollywood Reporter digs into its role in the blacklist

bernstein-grant-thr-mann.jpgThe big package posted online Monday is billed as the Hollywood Reporter's first in-depth look at the trade's role in launching the blacklisting that cost many real or just suspected Hollywood communists their careers. The story fingers THR owner Billy Wilkerson, starting in 1946, as the force behind the industry's high-level collusion to exclude leftists from working.

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.

Nov. 25 marks the 65th anniversary of the inception of the infamous Hollywood Blacklist, when studio chiefs and the head of the Motion Picture Association of America gathered at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York and decreed an employment ban on the 10 members of the film industry who'd chosen not to cooperate with the House Committee on Un-American Activities, which had launched an investigation into the supposed communist infiltration of the business. These days, when the phrase "black list" isn't mistaken (especially among younger members of the industry) for Franklin Leonard's highly anticipated annual survey of best unproduced screenplays, it's reduced to catchall history-class terms like "the Red Scare" and "McCarthyism." But it's alive in vivid detail among the dwindling number of surviving victims of the period.

THR's own role in fomenting the Blacklist has long been overlooked: obscured by scholars and, out of shame, for decades never properly addressed in this publication's pages. Wilkerson's key advocacy is at most a footnote in the definitive book-length histories of the period, yet his unsparing campaign, launched early on and from the heart of the movie colony -- the front page of one of its two daily trade papers -- was crucial to what followed. There eventually might have been a Hollywood Blacklist without Wilkerson, but in all likelihood, it wouldn't have looked quite the same, or materialized quite when it did, without his indomitable support.


The Blacklist era is perhaps Hollywood's darkest chapter. Screenwriters, actors, directors, composers and others were, based on their alleged political beliefs, systematically rooted out and denied work. The lists -- there were several, including an informal tally known as the Graylist -- included both real and imagined communists. Careers were ended. Families fled the country. Lives were irrevocably changed.

The main story is by Gary Baum and Daniel Miller. The package includes an apology from Wilkerson's son, W.R. Wilkerson III, and an essay by actor Sean Penn, whose father was blacklisted.

Photo: Blacklisted screenwriter Walter Bernstein and blacklisted actor Lee Grant, by Wallace Mann in THR

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