1970s – 2000s Recent film union leaders haven’t exactly been models of virtue…

The Hollywood Sewer

Creativity emerges from specific contexts and cannot be fully understood apart from its history. S. J. Perelman said that Hollywood is, “a dreary industrial town controlled by hoodlums of enormous wealth, the ethical sense of a pack of jackals, and taste so degraded that it befouled everything it touched” (Mitgang 1964:41).  The phenomenon Perelman described continues to the present era.  For example, the studio executives were sued recently by the Screen Actors Guild for employing premature babies for use in film production in order to get around the Screen Actors Guild contract that prohibits the use of child actors younger than two-weeks old (this was enacted to protect newborns from use in film production).  The executives’ argument was that prematurely born babies fell outside the age guidelines of the contract (Blumenthal 1997, Lewis 2007, Robb 1996).   

To Perelman’s statement, I would add that rank-and-file workers are not unaffected by this befoulment. Consistently throughout my research, I learned about historical and currently living individuals who–and by extension groups of people–behaved in ways ranging from the offensive to the allegedly and actually criminal.[1]  This activity is not limited to studio representatives.  Many unions are rife with nepotism, cronyism, racism,[2] violence, sexism,[3] ageism, “business unionism,” [4] and all manner of other corruption (Nicholson 2004).  The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artist and Allied Crafts of the United States and Canada, AFL-CIO, CLC (IATSE) is a superb example (Nielsen & Mailes 1995).  For instance, former IATSE President Thomas C. Short, who held office during the time I researched this project, was a third-generation IATSE member.  He was once indicted with his father for embezzling from the IATSE. (The charges against Short were dismissed.  His father served prison time.) (Verrier 2007). In keeping with the IATSE tradition, President Short regularly employed profane language,[5] threats, blacklisting,[6] bullying, and physical violence to keep film workers under control in order to deliver a compliant workforce to the studios (Robb 1995, Nielsen & Mailes 1995, Verrier 2007, Wright 2006).

 

 


[1] For more information, see also Aller 1972, Neilsen & Mailes 1995, Schwartz 1982, Prindle 1988, Robb 1995, Verrier 2006.

 [2]  See “Scribes: Same Old scene, White males still dominate writing work force” in The Hollywood Reporter, March, 9, 2007, 1.

[3]  See “Low Clearance, The ‘Celluloid Ceiling’ is sagging” in The Hollywood Reporter, June 14, 2007,  s-2, and The Hollywood Reporter “Women in Entertainment” issue, December 2006.

 [4] The term “business unionism” is used to describe practices by union leaders which have allied them with  business interests rather than the interests of their rank-and-file membership whom they are supposed to be protecting (Aronowitz 1991).

[5] President Short has publicly referred to both his direct employees and democratically elected local representatives as “pains in the ass” (Coleman 2003).

[6] Blacklisting is defined as, “to put on a blacklist.”  A blacklist is, “a list of persons who are disapproved of or are to be punished or boycotted” (Websters 1999:119).  In this case, film workers in the union can no longer get union film jobs because of the blacklist.  This has been going on in the motion picture business since long before the HUAC-related blacklists, and has continued long after them (Nielsen & Mailes 1995).  Despite the fact that President Short has publicly stated, “The IATSE deeply regrets the blacklisting days of Hollywood…Our Union leadership and its members do not condone the singling out of any individual on the basis of his or her political views” (Variety Short 2002), as of 2007, the IATSE by-laws still condone blacklisting, long after the other guilds have removed that language from their by-laws, and in defiance of  IATSE membership protest (Wexler 2007 interview).

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