Membership Through the Years

The First Guild Employee

Midge, the first Guild Employee

Marjorie Van BurenIt's summer, 1933. You're an actor—your name is Kenneth Thomson—and you and a guy named Ralph Morgan, and a few others, are starting a union of film actors. But it's all kinda "hush-hush," see? Youdon't want the studios to find out what you're up to just yet. But someone needs to take meeting minutes, someone has to keep the books, someone has to handle the mail, arrange meetings, type letters, answer phones...and know how to keep secrets. How do you find this employee? One you can trust, implicitly, totally? Put an ad in the trades? "Wanted, one employee for new actor union. Good secretarial skills required. Must promise to keep mouth shut."? Of course not! But, as luck would have it, the ideal person was practically in Ken & Ralph's own back yard—21 year-old Marjorie Van Buren, known to all as "Midge." Midge's parents were actors: A.H. Van Buren and Dorothy Bernard. Dorothy had toured across the country with Ralph Morgan's brother, Frank, in the play The Man Who Came Back in 1918/1919, when Midge was a child. Ken's mother, Edith Taylor Thomson, helped out at the Dominos Club, of which character actress Lucile Webster Gleason was president. And Ken was great pals with Lucile's actor/playwright/screenwriter husband, Jimmie Gleason. Midge's mother, Dorothy, was god-mother to Jimmie and Lucile's son, Russell, and Dorothy had told Midge to "look up the Gleasons" when she returned to Los Angeles, seeking secretarial work, in the spring of 1933. Midge not only had the required secretarial skills, but she was "family." They could trust her.

Ken Thomson made an appointment to meet Midge in the lobby of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, where he apologized for his low salary offer of $17 a week (after all, it was the Depression, and times were tough). But Midge accepted (keeping from Ken the fact that it was a dollar more than her last job, at the Bank of Canada, in New York!) She was glad to see the one-room Guild office in Hollywood had a rented typewriter. But , no desk? Oops, no, there was no desk yet. So an orange crate was found (maybe in the alley?) to temporarily serve, and Midge got to work (she never revealed where she got a chair to sit on). In 1989, she stated "I've always worked for causes, all my life, and this was a cause and for actors, who had been my life anyway. I just thought [the Guild] was the greatest thing that had ever happened, and it was—it turned out to be one of the greatest experiences anyone could have." She would remain with the Guild 42 years.

Midge witnessed some of the Guild's most interesting and dramatic times: attempts by the then mob-controlled IATSE to take over performer unions in the 1930s; the first three strikes (1952, 1955, 1960); three wars (WWII, Korea, Vietnam); terms of 15 Guild presidents (Morgan, Cantor, Montgomery, Arnold, Cagney, Murphy, Reagan, Pidgeon, Ames, Keel, Chandler, Andrews, Heston, Gavin, Weaver); three Executive Secretaries (Kenneth Thomson, Jack Dales, Chet Migden); the "Red Scare" era, the battle for filmed television jurisdiction, and creation of residuals (all in the 1950s); and the implementation of the Guild's Pension & Health plan.

Retirement PartyOn December 11, 1975, Midge was honored with a splashy retirement party, attended by current and former Board members and officers, including Ronald & Nancy Reagan, Cary Grant, Dana Andrews, Leon Ames, Regis Toomey, Walter Pidgeon, John Gavin, Kathleen Nolan, George Chandler, Kathleen Freeman, Gil Perkins, and Karl Malden. Nearly 13 years later, on June 12, 1988, Midge and the Guild's first legal counsel, Larry Beilenson, were presented with the Guild's Ralph Morgan Award. In 1996, Midge made two visits to the Guild's Museum Square headquarters. She passed away at her North Hollywood home on August 4, 1997, aged 87.

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