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Remembering an American Hero By: Lloyd Billingsley
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, October 19, 2006

When a former Hollywood union boss named Roy Brewer died last month at 97, his passing was barely marked.  He deserved a bigger send off.

Though he fell short of the century mark, Brewer outlived his friend Ronald Reagan, two years his junior, and was responsible for helping shape Reagan's views on Communism. Brewer also outlived virtually all the Stalinists he and Reagan battled in the studios more than 50 years ago. The conflict is rich in lessons for today but, judging by the obituaries, remains overshadowed by revisionist history.


Born in Nebraska in 1909 in practically pioneer conditions, Brewer was a New Dealer and major figure in the American labor movement. To his enemies, he was a blacklister and McCarthyite.  There was actually no connection between him and the Senator from Wisconsin, although Brewer was certainly vilified on a scale that dwarfed any of McCarthy’s victims.


His great sin was to recognize, fight, and ultimately defeat studio Stalinism, for which the left never forgave him. The "blacklist," lamented by the left in endless books, articles and movies, is a sidebar to the true back-story--the overtures of the Communist Party USA in Hollywood.


The American comrades deployed a clever two-pronged plan in their effort to take over Tinseltown. V.J. Jerome, CPUSA cultural commissar, and his straw boss John Howard Lawson, led an effort through the talent guilds. Lesser lights led the charge through the back-lot unions, under the watchful eye of Harry Bridges, the CPUSA labor boss on the west coast.


Brewer hit town in 1945, about the time Stalin signaled to the parties he controlled that the wartime alliance with the United States was over. Brewer came to Hollywood because of the Conference of Studio Unions (CSU), headed by communist Herb Sorrell, which tried to shut down the studios and force through concessions that would have served CPUSA interests. Brewer's task was to keep the studios working, a tough task that involved massive pitched battles with the CSU, which at one point made the entrance of Warner Brothers into a bloody battleground.


When Ronald Reagan, also a liberal New Dealer, returned to Hollywood from military duty, he was initially on the side of the CSU. Roy Brewer, in need of allies, made the case that the CPUSA was behind the complicated conflict, and under this tutelage, Reagan became the leading anti-Communist in the talent guilds. Since the conflict was a jurisdictional dispute, not a strike, the actors could cross picket lines, and did. That drew CSU wrath and it is amazing that many were not killed. At one point, Herb Sorrell flew over the battles in an airplane, barking orders to his troops.


These wars took place when Stalin was kangaroo courting his own actors, artists and writers into the gulag. The Stalinists in the talent guilds, including those who became known as the Hollywood Ten, knew full well what was going on but said nothing. For those who remained in the CPUSA during the Nazi-Soviet Pact, this was not a difficult task. They had simply outsourced all moral judgments to Stalin.  The many Party front groups targeted the sins of America, and proved adept at using talent for political ventriloquism.


Brewer cultivated key alliances and kept the studios going, all the while being vilified as a gangster, fascist and so on. He stayed the course and by the early 1950s broke the CSU. By 1956, when Nikita Khrushchev revealed many of Stalin's crimes, the CPUSA was a spent force in the studios. But the legend of the misguided liberals and misunderstood artists, crushed by vicious McCarthyites like Brewer, lived on: Hollywood's version of the Greatest Generation.


Brewer of course remained an anti-Communist and like Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront said, in effect, "I'm glad what I done to you. You hear me? And I'm going to keep on doing it." He was repaid by a top billing on the historical blacklist of the left, which has lost its socialist utopia but retained its hatred of America.  The irony escaped the Hollywood elite: it was using the freedom he helped give them to attack people such as he.


The Communist Party has long since yielded its top rank among in the hate-America elite to Islamic fascists. Current union bosses have not exactly taken a high-profile role in opposing these killers. They could learn a thing or two from the predecessor, Roy Brewer, vilified but victorious, who at last has given up the fight.

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Lloyd Billingsley is the author of From Mainline to Sideline, the Social Witness of the National Council of Churches, and Hollywood Party: How Communism Seduced the American Film Industry in the 1930s and 1940s.

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