Class Struggle in Hollywood, 1930-1950: Moguls, Mobsters, Stars, Reds, and Trade Unionists

Gerald Horne, Author University of Texas Press $45 (363p) ISBN 978-0-292-73137-0

Walt Disney was famous in Hollywood for creating Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Communists: ""Mr. Disney created more communists [than any other studio] with his substandard wage scales and the way he handled his people,"" claimed the leader of the Conference of Studio Unions, Herb Sorrell. But Disney's policies--which Horne contends were racist, anti-Semitic and sexist as well--were not unique in Hollywood. Tensions between workers and management had long roots: attempts at unionization began as early as 1918 and had ended up in a union lockout in 1921. In 1927, the industry attempted to sidestep the union's power by forming the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which was designed to give the appearance of a surrogate union. In the 1930s, attempts at organizing studio workers by the CSU or other unions were labeled ""red."" In this maelstrom of political, social and legal bitterness, noted historian Horne (Fire This Time: The Watts Uprising of the 1960s) focuses on the great postwar CSU strike of 1945, which after a studio lockout escalated into a full fledged Cold War culture war, with rabid red-baiting, anti-Semitism and, eventually, violence between striking union workers and scabs, and extensive police brutality. Crafting a taut narrative in elegant prose, Horne is sympathetic with the union's struggles, though his historical overview and blow-by-blow retelling of the strike and lockout never feels biased. Relying on a wealth of primary documents and with an eye for salient details, Horne has unearthed a vitally important and mostly forgotten aspect of Hollywood and labor history. (Feb.)