The First Board (1933)

days since last accident 182
First Board of Officers
President: Ralph Morgan #19
By June, 1933, this Actors' Equity Council member, and Fox Films contract player, had been in Hollywood 18 months, enjoying a successful career in films like "Charlie Chan's Chance", "Strange Interlude" and "Rasputin and the Empress" for MGM, and Fox's just-released "Trick for Trick" in which he starred as Azrah the Magician. Never a coward, nearly 30 years had passed since young Ralph bravely twirled onto the Carnegie Lyceum stage in the 1904 Columbia University Varsity Show, wearing a long wig, tutu, and tights as "Genevieve de Vou--a Broadway Queen of the Ballet!" By mid-1908, he had the guts to tell the wealthy parents who put him through law school that he had to give up his practice – to embark on the perilous path of professional actor. He paid his dues in traveling stock companies, married an actress, and had become a popular young Broadway leading man when Actors' Equity called its 1919 strike: Ralph, and fellow cast members James and Lucile Gleason, walked off "The Five Million" and joined in. In 1920, Ralph was elected to the Equity Council, which became his "training" for taking on the movie producers 13 years later.
Vice President: Alan Mowbray #4
Alan Mowbray arrived in Hollywood in 1931, and played numerous British character roles over the next two years, from butlers to aristocrats. He socialized with fellow Guild-founders Boris Karloff, Claude King, Ivan Simpson, and C. Aubrey Smith at the Hollywood Cricket Club and Masquers Club. He played in two of MasquersClub' short comedy films in 1932, parodies of melodramas with titles like "Two Lips and Juleps" and "The Bride's Bereavement." On July 10, 1933, Mowbray had $60 in his checking account, yet wrote a check for $50 as a retainer fee for the Guild's legal counsel, Larry Beilenson. Two days later, Mowbray became the first Vice-President of the Screen Actors Guild (which put not a dime of that $50 back in his account!). Later that summer, he found himself working with future Guild presidents Eddie Cantor and Edward Arnold, neither yet Guild members, on the set of "Roman Scandals" - perhaps he whispered a word or two to them about this new actors union that could use additional members...
Secretary Kenneth Thomson #17
1926 brought the tall, brown-eyed actor a one-year silent film contract with Cecil B. DeMille’s company--and he left Broadway to take it. But the year's end saw him a young widower after the death of his wife, popular stage actress Lola Fisher (who'd played opposite Ralph Morgan in "Under Cover" in 1914.) A 1927 Variety reviewer wrote: “Kenneth Thomson...reminds of Wallace Reid and may be somebody’s ‘find’ along similar lines...” but although he played leads with popular actresses like Jetta Goudal, Bebe Daniels, Pola Negri, and Billie Dove, Ken never rose to stardom. Increasingly cast as a lascivious playboy in the talkies, the Los Angeles Times ran an interview with him in September 1929: “Smiling Villainy Pays.” In March 1928, he ran for the new West Coast advisory board of Actors’ Equity: against a large field of candidates, he was not chosen. At the time, he was rehearsing a play in Los Angeles called “The Captive,” which he knew ran the risk of being raided for “indecency,” once it opened. Ken and the cast were hauled off to jail several times, and the show closed. But actress Alden Gay agreed to marry lonely Ken two months later--and the two of them would provide a safe home base for starting the Screen Actors Guild, with Ken as its first Secretary.
Treasurer Lucile Gleason #14
This confident, determined lady was the first treasurer the Screen Actors Guild ever had. Born Lucile Webster in Pasadena, California, she met future husband James "Jimmie" Gleason, after moving to Oakland with her family-his parents ran Oakland's Liberty Theater. They married in 1906 and had one child, actor Russell Gleason, in 1908. Joining Actors' Equity while in the Broadway production "The Five Million" just days before the 1919 strike, she walked off the show with fellow cast members including her husband Jimmie, and Ralph Morgan. Lucile generally played small character roles in the theatre, until Jimmie wrote a play for them both in 1927, which proved a hit: "The Shannons of Broadway." In 1929, they came to Hollywood to make movie version, and were also put under contract to Pathe. They made numerous short comedy films, as a team in the early 1930's. When the Guild was founded, Lucile was president of the Dominos club, the feminine counterpart to the all-male Masquers, to which Jimmie and Russell belonged. After Lucile died of a sudden heart attack in 1947, Ralph Morgan eulogized her for setting "an example of faith in ideals I pray God we may all follow."
First Board of Directors
Richard Tucker #1
Someone had to be first, and Richard Tucker (NOT to be confused with the famous opera singer) holds the distinction of being Screen Actors Guild Member number ONE. The Guild founders drew their numbers from Jimmie Gleason's hat, and Tucker attempted to surrender his #1 to Guild's first president, Ralph Morgan, and exchange it for the high #19 that Ralph drew. But Ralph wouldn't hear of such a thing, and that was that! Coincidentally, Tucker and Morgan were accepted into the year-old Actors' Equity Association together in April, 1914, and here they were again, nearly 20 years later, at the creation of yet another actors union. Veterans of the union struggle, Tucker and Morgan were also two of 185 actors named in a mass lawsuit in 1919 by the producers association for their roles in the Equity strike. Throughout the 1920's, Tucker was in Hollywood, as a well-known actor in silent films, and became a Guild founder after learning from Equity's repeated failures to be recognized by the film producers.
Clay Clement #2

Often confused with his actor-father of the same name, Clay Clement junior was christened Claudius Geiger at birth, in honor of the role his father was playing at the time. His mother, Matti Marshall, was also an actress. Clay Sr. was born Clement Laird Geiger, but took a stage name to avoid "shame" to the family for embarking on a theatrical career! He died in 1910. Clay Jr. continued the stage tradition by adopting the same name when he began his theatrical career in 1907, aged 19. He later married actress Mary Frey. After a long stage career, he and Mary arrived in Hollywood in 1932, and he soon became disgusted by how the movie-making business treated actors, in contrast to the civilized working hours of a Broadway show. Lyle Talbot, who credited Clay with bringing him into the Guild in 1933, recalled Clay's anger after working in perhaps a half-dozen films, telling Lyle: "Look, we have no time to ourselves, I'm getting out of Hollywood-to hell with this place. I'm going back to New York." Easier said than done in the Depression years--so Clay and Mary remained in Hollywood.

Morgan Wallace #3
Best-known to W.C. Fields fans for repeatedly demanding "I want my kumquats" in Fields' 1934 comedy It's a Gift. He never does get those kumquats. Wallace was born Meyer Weill in Lompoc, California, and was orphaned at an early age. His first stage appearance was in a college production, with the legendary French actress, Sarah Bernhardt. On October 17,1904, he made his Broadway debut in Romeo and Juliet with the E.H. Sothern-Julia Marlowe Company. He became lead juvenile for the Morosco Stock Company, and kept busy for years managing and performing in his own theatrical stock company and in vaudeville. From the early through mid 1920's, he appeared on both the stage and in silent films, even directing some Keystone Comedies. As the Marquis de Praille in D.W. Griffith's 1921 silent drama of the French Revolution, Orphans of the Storm he was no doubt hissed for his lustful aspersions towards Lillian Gish who played the virtuous Henriette. He began appearing in talking pictures in 1930, in supporting roles of varying size, including President James Monroe in Alexander Hamilton and as Prosecutor Black in Smart Money.
Noel Madison #5
Born in New York City, Noel was the son of actor Maurice Moscovitch a star of Yiddish theatre in America. He was educated in England and made his stage debut there as a teenager in 1915. He completed his University education in Switzerland, and resumed performing in England for 16 years, acting in everything from Shakespeare's plays to musical comedy. He returned to America in 1930, where, with his international background, he might have expected to land sophisticated roles. But, Hollywood saw his potential differently, and Madison was most frequently cast as thugs, crooks, and Italian gangsters. Strong and outspoken, he was never afraid to fight for actor's rights. His personality shines in this excerpt from an April 2, 1937 letter to Kenneth Thomson, when Madison was working on films in England: "You ought to see conditions over here in studios. British Actors Equity has no authority whatsoever in films...nobody cares and nobody wants to do anything. No standard contract, no definite pay-day, no weather-permitting clause, no 12 hours rest period (except for Madison because I wouldn't come back) no nothing. A few of those bastards in Hollywood who refuse to join the Guild ought to work over here for awhile."
Reginald Mason #6
Perhaps Reggie was thinking “Here I go again” as he affixed his signature to the July 10, 1933 group application for membership in the new Screen Actors Guild. Had 20 years really passed since that May 26, 1913 meeting at the Pabst Grand Circle Hotel in New York when he joined 110 others in organizing the new Actors’ Equity Association? But, his signature looked a little “lonely” today, on this Guild application, joined by a mere 16 others. More would have signed, like Karloff, Madison, and Talbot, but couldn't make it that day. Reggie had extensive Broadway credits, and had worked with some of his fellow Guild-founders there too: "Becky Sharp" in 1911, with Ivan Simpson, and "The Fall of Eve" in 1925, with Claude King. The Theatre Guild’s 1926 revival of “Pygmalion” found him in the plum role of “Henry Higgins” to Lynn Fontanne’s “Eliza Doolittle. Since his recent arrival in Hollywood, he’d won a good-sized part as “Baron Philippe de La Tour-La Tour” in “Topaze” starring the legendary John Barrymore. But his film credits were few--under a dozen, and most of his roles modest-sized, like the Judge in director James Whale’s “The Kiss Before the Mirror.”
James Gleason #7
A smash comedy hit of the 1925 Broadway season was "Is Zat So," co-written by a wiry, fast-talkin' wise-crackin' writer-actor with a little moustache, who'd been on stage since infancy: James Austin Gleason -- "Jimmie" to his pals. He and buddy Robert Armstrong co-starred. Jimmie's parents were actors, and he grew up and thrived in the theatre as an actor, writer, and sometime director. On July 28, 1915, he joined the 2 year-old Actors' Equity Association. In 1919, his wife Lucile joined Equity and both were enthusiastic Equity Strike participants. In December 1925, Jimmie became a founder of the Dramatists Guild. The Gleasons and their actor son, Russell, came to Hollywood in 1928, where Jimmie thrived as an actor/screenwriter, and they moved into their longtime Beverly Hills residence. The Gleasons co-starred in the film version of their Broadway success "The Shannons of Broadway" in 1929. In March 1933, the 3 Gleasons and their old pal, Boris Karloff, found themselves together on an ocean liner, bound for film work in England: Karloff on "The Ghoul" and Jimmie on "Orders is Orders." They returned in a few months--just in time to found the Screen Actors Guild in June.
Boris Karloff #9
He was a renowned name in horror films by June 1933, and had just walked away from his Universal Studios contract after being informed his $1,000 a week salary would be lowered. Since his breakthrough performance in Frankenstein (1931), he’d continued in 1932 films like The Old Dark House (with Gloria Stuart), The Mask of Fu Manchu (with Charles Starrett), and The Mummy. One day filming Frankenstein, (September 28-29, 1931), he was worked 25 hours straight in his heavy costume and makeup—an unforgettable lesson in abuse without union rules and protections. Kenneth Thomson recruited Boris (an avid cricket-player) for the Guild at a May, 1933 Hollywood Cricket Club dance. Boris recalled it “ the evening advanced and I was circumnavigating the floor in my customary slow and stately manner, Ken dropped anchor alongside me and muttered in my ear the magic words: ‘Would you be interested in an autonomous organization for film actors with an affiliation with Actors’ Equity?’ Hastily scrambling off my unfortunate partner’s foot, I practically yelled ‘How...when...where?’ At which he hissed ‘Next Thursday, 8:00 p.m. my house...don’t park too close to the house,’ and practically vanished in a puff of smoke...”
Charles Starrett #10
This handsome young leading man was under contract to Paramount between 1930 and 1932, cast opposite the likes of Miriam Hopkins, Carole Lombard, Billie Dove, But he was out of his contract, free-lancing, when he became member #10 of the Screen Actors Guild. While on the football team at Dartmouth College, Starrett made his first screen appearance, as an extra in the silent film "The Quarterback." In 1932 and early 1933, filmgoers could see him play opposite several of his fellow future Guild-founders: Jimmie Gleason was his father in the boxing feature "Lady and Gent", Boris Karloff menaced him in the thriller "The Mask of Fu Manchu," and Kenneth Thomson was his romantic rival for the affections of Anita Page in the low-budget feature "The Jungle Bride." Columbia signed him to a contract in 1935 and he became their western film star, known as "The Durango Kid."
Ivan Simpson #11
Scottish-born "Simmy" was no slacker! His theatrical career began in England, with Henry Irving, touring the provinces in "melodramas and Shakespearean repertoire," before coming to America in 1905. Decades of work followed, often with the British-born star of stage and screen, George Arliss. Simmy attended the March 10, 1933 mass meeting at the Writers Club of Hollywood, called to discuss the proposed, temporary "50 percent cut" in studio workers' salaries (the catalyst for founding the Screen Actors Guild). He was NOT silent: in "Actors in Heated Meeting Fail to Approve the Cut" The Hollywood Reporter praised him thus: "Some enthusiasm was aroused by Ivan Simpson, who declared that the 50 per cent plan was unfair and advocated a sliding scale of cuts so the little fellow wouldn't be hurt so badly." And he was full of "firsts" for the Guild in 1933: writing the first dues check, on July 10; designing our first "logo" (a torch topped with a laurel wreath and the "S.A.G." initials); creating our first, and only motto: "He best serves himself who serves others"; and then, with Kenneth Thomson, devising the first "Statement of Aims and Purposes of the Screen Actors Guild."
Arthur Vinton #12
Career worries and doubts were no strangers to the Guild founders. The last week of May, 1932, found Arthur Vinton on a train to Hollywood with the Broadway company of "Whistling in the Dark." Approaching Los Angeles, Vinton shared thoughts with fellow cast-member, the charismatic Edward Arnold: "Eddie, I'd like to feel about myself the way I feel about you. You're going to bowl them over." Vinton was correct: Arnold went on to a sensational movie career. Vinton's remained more modest. Upon the Guild's founding, Vinton chaired the membership committee and reminded his fellow-Guilders if they "contact actors or actresses who are important, or semi-important, I will be very glad to arrange a get-together at Ralph Morgan's home." Vinton's tenacity was so effective that he was the first member to get the entire cast of a film to join the Guild. Two days later, on November 6, 1933, Guild Secretary Kenneth Thomson dashed off an eager note to him: "Dear Arthur-I have just been informed that Fay Wray is on Stage 12 at Universal, and that she wants to join the do your stuff!" He did, and Fay Wray became the Guild's 1,475th member.
Leon Waycoff Ames #15
By 1933, he'd spent 2 years in Hollywood as a young leading man in small to medium-sized roles under his birth name of Leon Waycoff. In Universal's "Murders in the Rue Morgue"(1932) with Bela Lugosi, he played the handsome young medical student, Pierre Dupin, who exposes the diabolical scheme of Lugosi's character, Dr. Mirakle! That same year, he would film a fight scene in "The Famous Ferguson Case" opposite an actor named Kenneth Thomson. The next year, 1933, Thomson would lure Leon into what would become the Guild--enticing him one night at Masquers Club club with the ol "Come to my house" invitation he'd use on Boris Karloff and others. Leon recalled in later years: "The meetings we had at Ken Thomson's house were secret meetings. I remember one night taking a girl out on a date in the open-topped car of mine. I said 'I have to drop by this address up here for a very important reason. I won't be but a minute'...and she said 'That's all right.' I came out three hours later. She was asleep and very skeptical of what was going on in that house!"
Bradley Page #16
As a seventeen-year-old in 1919, Bradley Page showed youthful courage spending a few years learning stagecraft in the tough world of vaudeville. He worked in radio and stage, including Broadway, before arriving in Hollywood in 1931, where he played mostly small roles like "Nick Quinn" in Columbia's "Attorney for the Defense" with Edmund Lowe. Bradley looked to the future in July of '33, writing Ralph Morgan: "When Equity was organized, the talking picture was only dreamed of - so we could not be blamed for not looking ahead to its potentialities and doing something about it; which resulted in that organization's failure in California some years ago and our work of organizing the Actors Guild at the present time. Radio and its ally - television - are an actuality however, now...[and] we should not overlook the possibility of radio and television absorbing the picture industry a few years from now, as the talking picture did the legitimate theatre... circumstances, and perhaps good fortune, have placed us in a spot where we can benefit by mistakes made by other organizations and I beg of you all to consider - and remember that things happen awfully fast these days."
Willard Robertson #18
Unlike his fellow Guild-founder, Ralph Morgan, who abandoned a law practice for acting, young Robertson did the reverse: he left professional acting for over six years to become a lawyer. In 1907, at 21 years of age, he landed a small role in David Belasco's huge Broadway hit The Warrens of Virginia, with future film director Cecil B. De Mille, starring future movie star Mary Pickford. Robertson remained in the theatre through 1912, then left to study law in Washington, D.C., passed the bar exam, and began practicing as a criminal lawyer for the government. The short-lived career proved invaluable training for his future screen appearances as lawyers, politicians, and various law enforcement agents. By 1920, he was back in the theatre, and would remain until 1930 as actor, playwright, and silent screenwriter – four of his plays were produced on Broadway over that decade, one of which he directed. The Pasadena Playhouse presented his play Desire in 1925. His Hollywood film career commenced in 1930 and he had appeared in supporting roles in three-dozen films by 1933, most noticeably as child star Jackie Cooper's father in the 1931 films Skippy and Sooky.
Alden Gay Thomson #19
Tall, slender, and stylish, she graced many a cover of Vogue and Vanity Fair as a model in the 1920's, and took to the stage, appearing in Broadway productions like "Fashions of 1924," "House of Shadows," and "So This is London." Alden made headlines in March, 1928 when the British Ministry of Labor refused her a permit to perform a role she'd signed for in an experimental London theatre (because it would deprive an English actress of the opportunity), and Actors' Equity publicly rallied to her defense. The case made such good "copy" that, when engaged to Kenneth Thomson in May, 1928, the Los Angeles Times ran a photo of the couple, sensationally and inaccurately captioned "Bride to Be Once Banned in England." In Hollywood, Alden was an active member of the Dominos club (the all female counterpart to the all-male Masquers club), participating in many of their stage productions. In March, 1933, she and Ken would offer their home as the main "secret" location for the earliest pre-Guild meetings. Later that year, Alden appeared in an independent feature film "The Big Bluff", starring Reginald Denny, and this is the one and only motion picture credit we have found for her.
Lyle Talbot #21
Lyle Talbot was the first Warner Bros. contract player to join the Screen Actors Guild. James Cagney, Bette Davis, William Powell, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson and Loretta Young were among his fellow Warners contract players who would join in later months! Like James Gleason and Clay Clement (who recruited him to join the Guild), Lyle was a "child of the theatre." His father and step-mother were actors, and Lyle's father convinced him early of "...the principle of having unions, some way to back you if a manager was going to skip out and not pay your salary." Lyle began as a magician, but turned to acting and established his own company in Memphis, the Talbot Players. In 1928, he made an early 2-reeler "talkie" at Warner Bros. studio in Brooklyn with Pat O'Brien. In 1930, Warner Bros. signed him to a seven-year contract, beginning at $300 a week. Appreciating the salary and security of a contract player, but suffering first-hand the long, exhausting hours and work-week it entailed, this young leading man (who'd already played opposite Ginger Rogers, Carole Lombard, Thelma Todd, and Loretta Young) needed little convincing from Clay Clement to join the small group of Guild founders.
Claude King #8
"Claude King's dalmatian is the quietest and most regular attender of Board meetings", the Guild's magazine would declare in 1934. Not much exaggeration--this founder took his beloved canine friend, named "Piper," everywhere he could (Piper's the pup in Claude's head shot!) Trained as an artist before taking to the stage, Claude accumulated over 20 years' theatrical experience before World War I broke, and he enlisted in the Royal Field Artillery in 1914, earning the rank which resulted in his nickname, "The Major." After the war, he came to America in 1920, opening on Broadway with Ethel Barrymore in the hit "Déclassé." A true man of the theatre, his article, "The Place of the Actor in the New Movement" appeared in The Theatre magazine of July 1922. Between stage work, he appeared in several silent films between 1922 and 1925. At 51 years old, in July 1926, he came to Hollywood permanently, playing supporting parts in dozens of silents and talkies. During the summer of 1933, he and Boris Karloff were named to the "Special Committee on Working Conditions" of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.