W.R. Wilkerson III comes clean with The Hollywood Reporter's "dark past." In the latest issue of the publication, the son of THR's founder Billy Wilkerson issues a formal written apology on behalf of his late father, 65 years after the father ran a Hollywood anti-communist campaign that ruined careers of many talents in the movie industry.
"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," he said in a statement.
The attempt to attack Hollywood members with communist ties is, according to his son, Billy's effort to take personal revenge on a "movie brass refused him entry into their 'club' and squashed his dream" to build and own a film studio. The blacklisted people in the infamous witch hunt included actress Marsha Hunt and Sean Penn's father.
The "schoolyard spat with the movie brass, snowballed out of control." In a "maniacal quest to annihilate the studio owners," Billy thought "the most effective retaliation was to destroy their talent. In the wake of this emerging hysteria surrounding communism, the easiest way to crush the studio owners was to simply call their actors, writers and directors communists."
"Unfortunately, they would become the collateral damage of history. Apart from being charged with contempt, for refusing to name names, none of these individuals committed any crimes," the younger Wilkerson added. "Calling someone a communist today is almost laughable. But in 1950, it was a professional death sentence."
"The town turned against us. Just about-face," Marsha said. "I was appalled, hurt, shocked that journalism could be so far out in prejudice." She was a rising actress back then, appearing in 52 films from 1935 to 1949 but having a hard time getting a role after being blacklisted in 1950.
Sean's father, Leo Penn who pursued a career in movie industry after retiring from the U.S. Army Air Force, suffered similar harsh, damning wounds. "I will never forget at my father's funeral, as the honor guard passed the flag, folded into a meticulous triangle, over my lap to my mother beside me, stating, 'In the name of the president of the United States, for his distinguished service," Sean said.