Hollywood Paper Apologizes For '47 Blacklist Support

Host Rachel Martin speaks to W.R. Wilkerson III about the infamous 1947 Hollywood Blacklist. Wilkerson is the son of Billy Wilkerson, who was publisher of The Hollywood Reporter from 1930 to 1962 and supported the blacklist through the trade paper. Wilkerson III has written a formal apology for his father's role in the controversy 65 years later.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Sixty-five years ago today, the Hollywood Blacklist was born. It would eventually kill the careers of hundreds screen stars, writers and filmmakers with alleged ties to communism. It was the late 1940s and the Red Scare loomed large around the country. Congressional investigations touched many pockets of American life. Hollywood was no exception. The late Billy Wilkerson was then the owner, publisher and editor of The Hollywood Reporter. And he was among the film industry leaders who supported the Blacklist. Now, 50 years after his death, Wilkerson's son, W.R. Wilkerson III, has written a formal apology on behalf of his father. It appears in the latest issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. And W.R. Wilkerson joins us now on the phone. Mr. Wilkerson, thanks so much for talking with us.

W.R. WILKERSON III: It's a pleasure.

MARTIN: So, can you describe first of all your father's role with this list, the Hollywood Blacklist, as it was known?

III: Well, he was the one who lit the match. He was the one who initially named the names that are now so famous. They were called the Hollywood 10, but really was close to 20, as I recall.

MARTIN: Why do you think he did this? Why did he support the Blacklist?

III: Well, you know, Rachel, it's very interesting because the communist sympathizers were never really the target. The real target was the studio owners. My father absolutely hated them. In 1927, he was in the film industry and he wanted to start his own film studio. The problem was, Rachel, at that time, the entire entertainment industry was owned by these ironfisted studio moguls. Now, we don't know the reason why they shunned him. But he was devastated by that because it meant that he couldn't have his dream. Well, instead of picking himself up and doing something else, he exacted revenge. He started The Reporter in 1930. And from that point on he went after them.

MARTIN: So, it's been 65 years since the first Hollywood Blacklist came out. Why now? Why issue this apology now on behalf of your dad?

III: Well, for a number of reasons. First of all, if I were on the receiving end, Rachel, I would like to hear an apology. I think that that's just, you know, basic human nature. And I did it because I was not allowed to have a career in the entertainment industry because the people my father blacklisted went on to have children who went into the entertainment industry. And so when I wound up in their offices, of course, you know, they weren't going to give me work. So, I think, you know, hatred and scapegoating and blacklisting is a self-perpetuating cycle until you do something about it. And an apology absolutely levels the playing field.

MARTIN: W.R. Wilkerson III. He has written a formal apology in the latest issue of The Hollywood Reporter for the role that his father, Billy Wilkerson, played in the Hollywood Blacklist. Mr. Wilkerson, thanks so much for taking the time.

III: It's been a pleasure. Thanks so much, Rachel.

MARTIN: This is NPR News.

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