The 5 Most Notorious Informants of the Blacklist Era

Billy Wilkerson

The men who named names and derailed dozens of Hollywood careers.

When the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) called on Hollywood — with a series of hearings between 1947 and 1958 — it found many “friendly” witnesses, those who were willing to identify others in the motion-picture industry as confirmed or suspected Communists. Some named names to save their own careers, others did so out of true political conviction. Regardless of their motives, these informants had placed some 320 names on the Blacklist by the time the Red Scare finally died down in the late 1950s. Some of the most prolific included The Hollywood Reporter’s founder Billy Wilkerson and the Academy Award-winning director Elia Kazan.

Martin Berkeley: 161 names
Screenwriter (Tarantula, 1955; Revenge of the Creature, 1957)
He was HUAC’s all-star friendly witness for the quantity, if not the quality, of his contribution to the Blacklist. The head HUAC investigator allegedly told an eager Berkeley he was giving more names than the committee needed.

Edward Dmytryk: 26 names
Director (Crossfire, 1947; The Caine Mutiny, 1954)
As a member of the Hollywood Ten who refused to testify before HUAC in 1947, Dmytryk served a few months in prison on his contempt of Congress conviction before deciding to return to the witness stand as a friendly.

William R. Wilkerson: more than 11 names
Founder, publisher and editor of The Hollywood Reporter
In a column published in his paper on July 29, 1946, Wilkerson accused 11 Hollywood writers of being Communist sympathizers, including four who ended up being part of the Hollywood Ten. He had named others in his run-up to the July outing and continued to publish the names of alleged “commies” and their sympathizers in numerous subsequent columns.

Jack Warner: 12 names
President, Warner Bros. Studios
The staunchly anti-Communist Canada-born studio chief told committee members in 1947: “We are willing to establish … a fund to ship to Russia the people who don’t like our American system of government and prefer the communistic system to ours.” Warner’s red list, which cites four of the Hollywood Ten, fingered several non-Communists, including screenwriter Howard Koch (Casablanca, 1942), who allegedly had angered the mogul by joining the 1945 strike against Warners. 

Elia Kazan: 8 names
Director (A Streetcar Named Desire, 1951; On the Waterfront, 1954; East of Eden, 1955)
In his April 10, 1952, HUAC testimony, the Academy Award winner (Gentleman’s Agreement, 1947) informed on eight former colleagues from the left-wing Group Theatre troupe in New York who, like Kazan, had once been members of the Communist Party.

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