A cleareyed portrait of an irascible Hollywood power broker.
Drawing on scores of candid interviews, journalist and movie historian Wilkerson (One Person, One Vote, 2008, etc.) vividly recounts the life and career of his father, a powerful and controversial figure in Hollywood from the 1930s through the 1950s. Publisher of the Hollywood Reporter, William Wilkerson (1890-1962) could make or break reputations with one of his pointed editorials. With ties to organized crime, a lifelong addiction to gambling, and a mercurial temper, he was a man to be feared. He treated his six wives poorly, mercilessly mocked gay men, and repeatedly fired (and often impulsively rehired) his staff. Throughout his life, he “came to have three deep-seated hatreds: drunks, Communists, and people who stole from him.” Added to that list were studio moguls: “The studios could guarantee that their films would be screened, but before long Wilkerson had the power to dissuade audiences from seeing them.” Not content with being merely a publisher and editor, Billy was a restless entrepreneur, energized by challenges. “All his life Billy was in love with the impossible,” a friend of his noted. His projects included several restaurants—beginning with the Vendome, which became the place to go for a power lunch—and the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas, which got him entangled with Bugsy Siegel. When Siegel was on trial for murder, he had Billy’s elegant club, Ciro’s, deliver gourmet meals to his jail cell; but their relationship soured. Billy also became known as one of LA’s prominent “purveyors of vice,” owning a stake in supper clubs that hosted gambling casinos and kept prostitutes “on standby” for guests. In the late 1940s, Billy embarked on a zealous campaign to rout out communist influence in Hollywood. His “scathing editorials,” writes the author, inspired the House Un-American Activities Committee “to take dramatic action,” issuing subpoenas to scores of prominent Hollywood figures. A 300-car cortege assembled for Billy’s funeral in 1962; his many enemies pointedly stayed away.
An entertaining history of the movie industry’s tumultuous past.