There was violence on the streets. And there was Roy Brewer, blaming it al on the reds
Roy M. Brewer died a week ago in a Los Angeles suburb. He had ten grandchildren, and 20 great-grandchildren, and he was 97, so the ritual tributes of decent respect can be paid. But he did damage, and applied it as steadily as he knew how, and he was probably the second most important trade-unionist in the history of Hollywood. We'll come to number one before the end of what must be a brief obituary survey.
Brewer was born in Cairo, Nebraska, in 1909, the son of a blacksmith. He took up work as a movie projectionist in the days when that craft was close to art and danger (the film-stock was nitrate and it easily caught fire). He joined the proj ectionist s' union and was promoted. And by 1945, he was leader of IATSE (the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and Motion Picture Machine Operators). This was a grab-bag union for just about anyonenot coveredby the craft unions (i.e. the writers, directors and actors). It covered theatre projectionists, studio laborers, set builders, carpenters and so on.
In theory, it had the interests of labour at heart in one of the most extravagant and profitable of American industries. But the history at IATSE was of leaders who had made their private deals with the studios - a practice later employedby the Teamsters - of getting "insurance" payments: for a consideration, there wouldbe no strike. Over the years, two IATSE leaders had probably skimmed $15 million from the studios. Their names were George Browne and Willie Bioff and they both ended in prison. It was as part of the "clean- up" operation that followed that Roy Brewer came to Hollywood and took over.
No one ever accused him of personal corruption, but he had another angle. As a defender of organized labour, he decided that the Communists must be the defining enemy in the picture business. As the sucker who played right into his hands, just after the war, Herbert Sorrell was just trying to radicalize Hollywood unions as part of the new world order. Sorrell was certainly a leftist and he probably had naive Communist associations. But he thought he could mount a rival to IATSE, the Conference of Studio Unions, to get better terms. He was misguided enough to call for a strike, in 1945- 6, which was gingerly supported by the leftist elements in the Writers' Guild and the Actors' Guild. There were pickets, charges, and there was violence on the streets and serious work stoppages. And there was Roy Brewer explaining to the American …