The epilogue is the art of the playwright or the novelist, rarely the film maker. But this year, early in the annual Oscar awards festivities, a quiet epilogue was written to one of Hollywood's least distinguished chapters: the blacklist. In ceremonies a few days ago at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, screenwriters Carl Foreman and Michael Wilson received posthumous Academy Awards denied them in 1958 for their work on "The Bridge on the River Kwai."
It was not a proud time after World War II when investigators in Washington hunted communists and suspected communists and even those who would not renounce their friends. Politics was dominated by Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy and his lists of communists supposedly filling the State Department or poisoning the minds of Americans through the arts. Hollywood reacted by denying work to several hundred directors, actors and writers whose names were placed on a blacklist.
Foreman and Wilson were blacklisted. Foreman, for example, was willing to tell the House Un-American Activities Committee that he had been a communist but had quit the party in disillusionment in 1942. The committee wanted more. He must name names. He refused. Foreman and Wilson had written the screenplay for the film about a British prisoner whose pride makes him help the Japanese build a bridge during World War II. But they were denied the Oscar because of a 1957 Academy bylaw saying that no one could win such an award if he admitted being a communist or refused to testify before a congressional committee. Thus, only Pierre Boulle, who wrote the original story, got the Oscar.
Friends of the writers, Alfred Levitt and John Weaver, tracked down the material and made the presentation that last June led the Writers Guild to approve a petition that Foreman and Wilson share credit. Foreman, who had long been ill, died the next day. Wilson had died in 1978. In December the Academy decided to add Wilson's and Foreman's names to Boulle's for the Oscar for best screenplay.
As Eve Foreman, the writer's widow, said at the presentation, "For these two men the blacklist is over."