Early Members: 1933

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Charles Lane
My association with Frank Capra is probably the source of my most loving memories. I did almost every picture of his. He was the biggest talent we ever had in this town. One time he wanted me in one of his films and simply said, "Charlie! I have this film, it might be fun, but I don't know if you want to do it." That's the way he cast. I also worked with John Barrymore on Twentieth Century (1934) and acting with the great legend, I thought I was going to pass out from terror. As we're getting ready for the opening shot I hear behind me, 'Psst, psst.' Barrymore was beckoning me. He takes me to the side and whispers, "Young man, in this scene we're about to do, be loud because if you're loud, then they won't notice me. I stink in this scene." He was a delight.
Dorothy Granger

Before SAG I remember that they would call you very early in the morning and if you said a word about it, you didn't work there anymore. It was scary because you had to pay your rent, you had to work. Sometimes when we worked, they'd give us box lunches that were just horrible: a dried up sandwich, a hard boiled egg, maybe a piece of fruit and a drink. Usually in those days, you did your own makeup and your hair and sometimes, furnished your own wardrobe. At one studio, I'd be in at 7:00 a.m., so they showed me where the key was and I'd have the coffee made when they came in. After the Guild started, you had a fighting chance. The working conditions definitely improved because the people in charge couldn't threaten you anymore.

Fay Wray
Whilewe were making King Kong in 1932, there was no Guild and the hours could behorrendous. There was one occasion when I worked 22 hours straight through. Itwas supposed to be test footage for the money-people back east to look at, butsubsequently, that material went into the film. I don't know whether I even gotpaid. This is how things were. There's an evening I remember when I went to ameeting at the Writers Club of Hollywood. The prelude to that event was the1933 earthquake in Long Beach. That really shook us all up a great deal! I recall that there were chandelierson the ceilings, and they moved a lot during that evening. The earth moving isfixed in my memory in connection with the start of the Guild. [Note: this meeting of actors was held March 10, 1933 to protest the 50% salary cuts, nearly four months before the Guild wasfounded].
George Golden
I'll never forget what a great man Clark Gable was. I was working as an extra on an MGM movie. There were 150 extras on the ballroom set wearing tuxedos and tails and I'm standing next to Gable and Carole Lombard. It's 5:48 p.m. and the director says I'm to take my partner and dance around Mr. Gable and Miss Lombard for the last scene of the day, but I can't keep my eyes off of my watch. I kept checking it, and suddenly, I felt a tap on my shoulder. It's Gable and he said, "Hey, son, why do you keep looking at your watch every few minutes?" I said, "Mr. Gable, in twelve minutes we go on quarter check and get paid more." He said, "You got it." He went out and screwed up his lines for twelve minutes on purpose so 150 extras could get more money. [Note: Golden was the son of George Fuller Golden, who founded the White Rats of America vaudeville union in 1900].
Ginger Rogers
Before SAG was organized, it was like I was working in a mine, trying to dig myself out. I worked so hard that I had little time to do anything. They'd make my call for the first thing in the morning. I'd rehearse the dances most of the day and then I'd continue all night. I'd ask what happened to Mr. Astaire and they'd say he'd been sent home. It's two o'clock in the morning and they'd want me to do close-ups and I had to be back at the studio at 6:00 a.m. I said to the director, "No, you can't do that." And he said, "Yes, I can. Ha-ha!" I remembered this great concept of a SAG and I thought, "Am I grateful I'm a member because this can't happen too much longer!" Could anyone wonder why I was interested in curtailing all that nonsense?
Gloria Stuart
I heard about the formation of SAG around the dinner table with the Marx Brothers. Harpo Marx was very much in favor of it, he and Groucho were among the earliest members, and I knew Joan Crawford and Eddie Robinson were interested in it too. We put in terribly long hours on the set, just brutal. When I worked on The Invisible Man (1933), we'd work all Saturday night and sometimes we'd be back on the set Sunday afternoon. On another film, I decided to quit at 6:00 p.m. and there was a great big brouhaha. I said, "I get up at 4:30 a.m., I'm in makeup at six and I work until six, eight, maybe ten o'clock at night and I'm tired." From the early 1930s on, Ralph Morgan, SAG's first president, continually fought for us and the conditions gradually improved.
Jerry James
In 1933, I was working as a dancer at the Chinese Theater in Hollywood and a chap by the name of Eddie Cantor was beating the drum for SAG. It was a great idea and I joined. They held secret meetings in homes, garages and local pubs. You had to keep it hush-hush because the studios were against actors unionizing. The pay was low and the hours long and if you didn't like it, why, don't let the door hit you on the way out. I worked as a dancer, an extra, anything. I was only 11 years old when I made my first movie. I played hookey and got a dollar a day and lunch. I met my wife of 45 years, who was also a dress extra, when the director asked us to pair-up in a ballroom dance, because he thought we looked good together. So the business has been good to me.
Lew Ayres

We were finally treated like human beings when the Guild got its contract. There was a big difference in our working conditions. Originally I played banjo and guitar with the first orchestra in the Beverly Wilshire Hotel at night and during the day I'd get some sleep then I'd go around to the studios all dressed up, stand around for fifteen minutes, then leave. I didn't know anybody, I only saw that there were doorways at the studios people were always going in and out of and they seemed to be actors. Then I had a break. I was playing the Blossom Room at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel and asked a lady for a dance. A man stepped in and asked if I was an actor. Turns out that she was a French movie star and he was her agent. He got me a test and my first job.

Lyle Talbot
I believe that I was put on a blacklist at Warner Bros. because as Guild Member 21, I was one of the first to be affiliated with the Guild. I never worked at that studio again, after I left it. I came to Hollywood around 1930 and had been trained in the theatre. Most of us were brought out because they were doing talkies. It was another world, especially dealing with directors who were from the silent era. They didn't know anything about dialogue. After 15 takes they'd say,"I don't know which one to print!" And Harry Warner used to say,"My God, who wants to hear actors talk? They're silent the way they should be!" I remember director Michael Curtiz worked us till midnight Saturdays.We used to say he must hate his wife because he never wants to go home! [Note: Talbot was the first Warner Bros. contract player to join the Guild]
Mary Brian
The Screen Actors Guild started out in secret. My first meeting was at the Dominoes Club, the women's branch of Masquers Club run by SAG founder Lucile Gleason. When I was doing Hard to Handle with Jimmy Cagney, he was very enthusiastic and fired up about the cause. All of our friends got involved: Frank McHugh, Pat O'Brien, Ralph Bellamy and the Gleasons were formative members and they didn't go at it lightly. They were bucking the system in a way. I can remember hearing stories of Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi recruiting fellow actors on the sets of their Universal horror movies. You can imagine the persuasive spectacle of Frankenstein's monster and Dracula in full make-up, bringing you an application and urging, "Join the Guild now!"
Robert Young
We met at night, in private homes, in the basement if there was one. It was a like a Communist cell for those of us who were involved in the formation of the SAG. We had to be very careful back then because the actors unionizing was verboten as far as the studios were concerned. It was risky for us. They had spies all over the place, so we were very secretive. If we were identified with the Guild, it could cost us our contracts. When our options came up for renewal, chances are, they would not renew us. The average person like myself, under contract to the studio with a family, was extremely scared. We were showing great bravery in those early days, but it was one of those things where our belief in the cause overcame our fear of the consequences.