Blacklist Victims' Children Blast Apology From THR Founder's Son

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W.R. Wilkerson III, who goes by Willie, with his father, Billy Wilkerson, in 1952.

While some appreciated Willie Wilkerson's gesture, Dalton Trumbo's daughter Mitzi summed up other responses: "It was meaningless."

The Hollywood Reporter’s examination of its behavior during the Blacklist era (“The Most Sinful Period in Hollywood History,” Nov. 30), published days before the 65th anniversary of the list’s inception, was widely featured, from NBC’s Nightly News With Brian Williams to NPR. The story investigated this publication’s anti-communist crusade, focusing on how and why its founding editor and owner Billy Wilkerson led the charge. Yet it was the comments made by Wilkerson’s son, Willie, that provoked some of the most passionate responses from those people closest to the Blacklist.

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In the article, Willie identified his father’s motive as revenge, explaining that Billy wanted to hurt the studio moguls by naming their screenwriters as communists because the moguls had thwarted him in his effort to start a film company decades earlier. (Given that the moguls themselves already were at odds with their labor ranks, THR posited that the rationale was misguided.) Willie also claimed that his own pursuit of a career as a songwriter and musician during the 1970s and 1980s was stymied by his father’s actions: “Behind closed doors, I got a real haranguing for something my dad had done. It was the Blacklist in reverse.”

In a letter that Willie requested THR publish with the main article, he apologized “on behalf of my family, and particularly my late father,” for what he termed “Hollywood’s Holocaust.” He noted that “it’s possible, had my father lived long enough, that he would have apologized for creating something that devastated so many careers.”

While blacklisted actress Marsha Hunt, 95, told NPR that she was heartened by Willie’s apology, 92-year-old screenwriter Norma Barzman voiced to CBS that “the apology just gets me furious! It’s just below comment.” Joanna E. Rapf, daughter of blacklisted screenwriter Maurice Rapf, tells THR that it “rings hollow in light of the damage done to men and women and their families.” Mitzi Trumbo, daughter of Hollywood Ten member Dalton Trumbo, agrees. “I thought it was meaningless,” she says. “Willie wasn’t even born when this took place. It’s not his place to apologize, and his dad would have had no thought of apologizing.”

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Chris O’Sullivan, niece of screenwriter Budd Schulberg, counters the reverse-blacklist claim. “I don’t know Willie Wilkerson,” she says. “His problem could be lack of talent rather than his father’s misdeeds.” Tim Hunter, blacklisted screenwriter Ian Hunter’s son, is more circumspect: “I agree with Mitzi, but you can’t blame a son for trying to defend his old man. Dalton Trumbo said everyone was a victim, so I appreciate Willie Wilkerson for going as far as he could.”