Johnny Depp — the genuflected-at actor who first became a household name in Stephen J. Cannell’s ‘80s cop drama “21 Jump Street” — might be returning to series TV.
This time he’d be the producer of a period drama that he’s developing for Lifetime cable network. The project is about Billy Wilkerson, the dapper, dubious founder of the trade paper the Hollywood Reporter.
If the series is greenlit, Depp’s Infinitum Nihil production company will produce in association with GK Films, which is also partnered with Depp on his upcoming flick “The Rum Diary,” based on Hunter S. Thompson’s debut novel.
Wilkerson is what you’d call a “colorful figure,” what with his having been a New York-based movie-industry exec and compulsive gambler who lost most of his money in the big crash of ’29. He founded THR the next year.
Wilkerson owned nightclubs on what would become Hollywood’s Sunset Strip, and is also considered by some to be the guy behind the idea of the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas, which was actually built by “Bugsy” Siegel.
Which brings us to another colorful thing about Billy Wilkerson: his mob-ambassador reputation.
Others know him better as the guy who “named names,” as THR wrote in his obit, on the eve of the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings.
“Motion pictures could go to the front and highlight a great activity by blasting all the ‘Commies’ out of the picture business. … The resultant publicity might arouse others and eventually might get our government into action,” Wilkerson wrote in his regular THR column one month before those committee hearings in Washington — as THR notes in its bio of its founder.
“He was the original Don Draper,” GK TV president Craig Cegielski told the British publication that broke the news of Depp’s TV-series project, Television Business International.
We respectfully disagree. He was far more interesting.