Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Roy Brewer, 1909-2006

Roy Brewer, a major force in the history of Hollywood labor, died on September 16 ...
Left: Roy Brewer at the White House with President Ronald Reagan.

Roy M. Brewer, a Hollywood labor chief in the 1940s and ’50s, whose leadership and outspoken anti-Communism during one of the most violent strikes in American history catalyzed Ronald Reagan into political action, has died in Los Angeles, aged 97. He passed away on Saturday, and the cause was complications from pneumonia, according to Brewer’s daughter, Ramona Moloski. Although Brewer never ran a movie studio or directed a picture, for about a decade he had as much sway in the film capital as any mogul or filmmaker. He came from humble origins in Nebraska, and traveled to walk the corridors of power, becoming a confidant and close ally with such figures as Cecil B. de Mille, John Wayne, Clark Gable and Walt Disney ...

Brewer was close friends with SAG union activist Ronald Reagan, and is credited with Reagan's 180-degree political shift to the right. Brewer was the unofficial commissar of the Hollywood blacklist. He was head of the West Coast office of the IATSE, a rival union to the Conference of Studio Unions (CSU) when it was allied with the Screen Cartoonists Guild.

After the CSU's defeat in the late 1940s, Brewer worked to form IATSE Local 839. Tom Sito quotes him at an open debate meeting, screaming "You are pathologically unfit to work in this industry!" at SCG activist Bill Melendez. Local 839 won NLRB elections at virtually all of the major studios, and was chartered in January 1952.

A couple of years later, Brewer's star in the IA declined somewhat after he lost an election for IATSE president against incumbent Richard Walsh. Brewer remained active in the IA as something of a gadfly; we can recall seeing him in the 1980s, getting booed as he made speeches from the floor of IA conventions.

There will be much more about Roy Brewer and his times in president emeritus Tom Sito's book, Drawing The Line, to be published next month.


Anonymous said...

Roy Brewer introduced Ron Reagan to Nancy Davis at a party.
When he ran against Richard Walsh in the 50s part of his attack on the incumbent was that Walsh was too cozy with the studio heads.
Go figure!

Anonymous said...

Legend has it that Nancy Davis was having trouble finding work because she had the same name as another actress who was on the blacklist ... which is why Roy introduced her to Ron.

I cringe to say this, but Brewer was dead right about Walsh, and I think he might well have made a better IA president. Who knows how the residuals battles might have turned out?

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