Congratulations on being named best publication and website at Sunday’s National Entertainment Journalism Awards, Hollywood Reporter! The history of the entertainment trade journal might not have always been sparkling, though — the son of Hollywood Reporter founder Billy Wilkerson apologized Monday in the Reporter for its role in the Hollywood Blacklist, as well as the role played by his father. That blacklist destroyed the careers of writers, actors and directors accused not only of being communists, but even just having communist ties.
The journal explores the topic in depth in its latest issue, with several in-depth articles online. Willie Wilkerson, 61, calls the Blacklist era “Hollywood’s Holocaust” and says, “On the eve of this dark 65th anniversary, I feel an apology is necessary.”
He says his father supported the Blacklist to exact revenge against the Hollywood titans he felt denied him entry to their club when he wanted to establish a movie studio in the late 1920s. Billy Wilkerson founded The Hollywood Reporter in 1930, and after World War II, used the paper as a vehicle for a series of editorials attacking communist sympathizers and their influence in Hollywood.
Studios dominated the industry and denied work to those named on the Blacklist. Some writers worked under pseudonyms. Many actors and their families moved overseas to look for work. The Hollywood Reporter named names and ceaselessly covered the issue. The publication also details its role in the Blacklist era for the first time in a lengthy article published Monday.
The Reporter also published the story of how Billy Wilkerson helped Ronald and Nancy Reagan meet for the first time, a piece on the Hollywood bigwigs who supported the Blacklist, a story by actor Sean Penn on his father, Leo Penn, who was a victim of the Blacklist and profiles of seven writers and actors who opposed the Blacklist, including Kirk Douglas.
“Any man or woman who, under the guise of freedom of speech, or the cloak of the Bill of Rights, or under the pseudo protection of being a liberal, says things, causes things to be said, or who actually is involved with many of the conspiracies that have now infested this great land of ours, has no place among us, be he commie or what,” Billy Wilkerson wrote on Nov. 5, 1947. “He or she should be rushed out of our business.”
The first Hollywood Blacklist was published Nov. 25, 1947.
Willie Wilkerson says it’s possible that his father would have apologized for “creating something that devastated so many careers” had he lived long enough. He died in 1962, two years after the Blacklist was broken.
His son writes: “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.”
The Reporter was also criticized Monday by rival Nikkie Finke at Deadline Hollywood for those awards wins we mentioned earlier, arguing that the National Entertainment Journalism Awards lack legitimacy. KPCC won two of them and received more runner-up prizes, so we’ll leave it for you to judge whether you think it’s a fair system or not, though many national entertainment publications did not submit to the awards.