I’ve recently been digitizing interviews I’ve done over the years, especially those I did relating to my PhD dissertation, “Popeye the Union Man,” which dealt with the Fleischer strike and attempts to organize the Van Buren studio in the 1930s. . While I was at it, I also did a good number of interviews with people involved with organizing other studios, including Disney, Schlesinger and Terrytoons. One of these was with former Disney inker Nancy Massie on June 4, 1981 (two months before she passed away); she was later hired by Richard Williams to teach the secrets of Disney inking to his staff. Unfortunately, only the last part of the interview seems to have survived my several moves since I left Los Angeles eight years ago.
Anyway, during my visit last week to L.A. last week, I dropped off a copy to Nancy’s son, Jeff, the Animation Guild’s Recording Secretary, who posted it on the Guild’s blog here as part of TAG’s ongoing series of interviews with animation veterans. A list of TAG’s interviews, which I highly recommend, can be found here (they are also available through iTunes).
May 28th marked the 70th anniversary of the start of the Disney strike by members of the Screen Cartoon Guild (later the Screen Cartoonist Guild). The nine-week walkout, precipitated by the firing of Art Babbitt, the head of the Guild’s Disney’s unit, is a legendary event whose full story has yet to be told. Though I may someday finish my history of the beginnings of the union movement in American animation, I’m obviously not going to do it here. Rather, I thought I would say a few words about the strike’s place in the history of the labor movement within the film industry and a bit about how it affected animation itself.
The strike was, in a sense, was the closing event of the Hollywood labor wars of the 1930s and seemed to end the Chicago mob’s control over The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), the industry’s largest union. Specifically, the Disney strike was the last stand for the mob’s man in Hollywood, Willie Bioff, who tried to prevent being sent to prison by (unsuccessfully) trying to settle the strike on Disney’s behalf.
The unions which supported the strike, under the leadership of Herb Sorrell, the charismatic leader of the studio local of the Painters and Paperhangers Union (under whose aegis the Guild operated) subsequently formed the Conference of Studio Unions. The Conference, after the war, became involved in a series of strikes, including the Battle of Warner Bros. (which I wrote about here), which led to the blacklist, the ouster of the Guild from the major studios and the rise of Ronald Reagan.
As for animation industry, the strike marked the end of Disney’s Golden Age. And like the Fleischer strike four years earlier, it caused an almost indelible rift between strikers and nonstrikers. It also led to a heated discussion, especially among strikers and Guild members, about the artistic direction animation was going. This discussion laid the groundwork for the formation of UPA, the studio which changed the face of animation in the 1940s and 1950s.
Images: The drawing on the top is from a mimeographed “Strike Summary” published three weeks into the walkout. The second is from the June 5th issue of On the Line, the daily mimeographed newsletter the Guild’s Disney Unit issued during the strike. Both were copied from originals in the Urban Archives Center of California State University, Northridge’s Oviatt Library. The last image is the last panel of a Guild comic strip version of Three Little Pigs published in a newspaper during the strike which I have seemed to have gotten from a posting at Shaneglines.net.
P.S.: July 7th, 2011.The cartoon from the Disney strike newsletter, On the Line, was probably done by Dan Noonan, a junior animator who did story sketch work on the side; Noonan’s struggles to get by when he first came to Disney helped the Guild’s organizing drive. The newsletter itself was edited by Phil Eastman, best known today as children’s book author P.D. Eastman.
The posting by Google of digitized images from the vaults of Life magazine has led to a number of bloggers (including myself) to mine it for all sorts of wonderful images. I thought I would add to the feeding frenzy with a series of postings, starting with some pictures from the fabled Battle of Warner Bros., a key event in Hollywood labor history, which had ramifications far beyond movie industry.
Both photos (by Bob Landry) were taken on Monday, October 8, 1945, known as The Battle of Warner Bros. On that date, according to Wikipedia(which identifies the event as Black Friday and mistakenly identifies the day as Friday, October 5, 1945):
a six month strike by the set decorators represented by the Conference of Studio Unions (CSU) boiled over into a bloody riot at the gates of Warner Brothers’ studios in Burbank, California. The strikes helped the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947 and led to the eventual break up of the CSU and reorganization of the then rival International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employes (IATSE) leadership.
The CSU was established in 1941 by film industry unions that had supported the Screen Cartoonists Guild (SCG) during their strike against Disney, which the IA (then under the waning control of the Chicago mob) officially opposed. As Larry Ceplair and Steven Englund wrote in The Inquisition in Hollywood: Politics in the Film Community, 1930-1960:
Without allies, and with the strike dragging on, [CSU head Herb] Sorrell decided to single out one studio—Warner Brothers—and, by putting maximum pressure on it, to break a link in the studios’ chain of resistance. On October 5 a mass picket was thrown up around the studio. Three days later the studio’s police and fire departments, equipped with fire hoses and tear gas, and a vigilante squad of one thousand IATSE thugs, led by IA officials and equipped with chains, rubber hoses, blackjacks, and metal cables, attacked the CSU picket lines. In the melee that followed, many injuries were sustained, but the strikers held their lines. (220)
Sorrell, the charismatic leader of the studio local of the Painters and Paperhangers Union, had earlier taken the SCG under his wing and enabled it to organize the animation industry in the early 1940s. The Guild did not participate in the CSU strikes, but did lend support. The IA, under Roy Brewer (shown here in an October 1946 Life photo by Peter Stackpole), working with the studios eventually prevailed, leading to the downfall of the CSU and to Sorrell’s departure from the labor movement. With Sorrell gone, the Cartoonists Guild left the umbrella of the Painters and Paperhangers, which gave Brewer, working in conjunction with Walt Disney, an opening to set up a rival union, IA Local 839 (today’s Animation Guild), which eventually supplanted the SCG in 1951. Brewer, who ran the Hollywood Blacklist, promptly extended the blacklist to the animation industry, and UPA in particular (leaving to the departure of John Hubley, among others).
The postwar labor wars also set the stage for the future political career of Ronald Reagan, who as President of the Screen Actors Guild, threw his support to the anti-CSU forces.