SAG Timeline: 1940's

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SAG Timeline: 1940's


  • Guild merger plans : "1940 Goal: 'One Big Union'," do not happen
  • Special Committee on Un-American Activities, headed by Congressman Martin Dies, comes to Hollywood to expose alleged Communist influences in movies
  • Guild works on autonomy plan for extras
  • Equity, AFRA and SAG decide jurisdiction over development of television to be shared jointly
  • Central Casting re-organized after SAG investigation
  • Smith Act requires aliens to register, makes it illegal for any individual or organization to advocate overthrow of U.S. government by force
  • President Roosevelt signs Selective Service Act
  • Edward Arnold elected SAG President.
  • Guild's Board and Officers in board room, 7046 Hollywood Blvd.


  • USO (United Service Organization) formed
  • Guild fights four anti-labor bills in Sacramento
  • Ronald Reagan joins Guild Board as an alternate
  • Cartoonists Guild members walk out in strike against Walt Disney Studio
  • Japan moves into French Indochina
  • Roosevelt freezes Japan's U.S. assets and halts trade between the two
  • Jack Tenney, chair of the California Legislature's Joint Fact-Finding Committee on Un-American Activities opens brief hearings on "Reds" in Hollywood, with Herb Sorrell testifying
  • Sorrell organizes Conference of Studio Unions (CSU)
  • Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor
  • U.S. declares war on Japan, then Germany and Italy, and enters World War II.
  • Courageous and charismatic ex-boxer, Herbert Knott Sorrell was business manager of the Motion Picture Painters union, Local 644. A December 1941 Screen Actor magazine article: "Painters Strengthen Labor Ties" stated "...Sorrell's Painters long have been recognized for their straightforward, above board tactics." Sorrell had organized the successful strike against the Walt Disney Studios in 1941, resulting in creation of the Screen Cartoonists Guild, and followed it up with organizing the Conference of Studio Unions (CSU). Authors Larry Ceplair and Steve Englund in "The Inquisition in Hollywood" state the CSU "represented the only hope for a democratic labor union in Hollywood".


  • James Cagney elected Screen Actors Guild president in September
  • As anti-inflationary measure, Roosevelt signs executive order freezing wages & salaries, including ceiling of $25,000 on earnings
  • SAG Executive Secretary Kenneth Thomson becomes chair of the Hollywood Victory Committee.
  • 1942: WWII Hollywood Victory Caravan - Thomson, Arnaz, Groucho, etc.


  • Academy-Award winning actress Hattie McDaniel requests the Guild form a committee to discuss the problems faced by black performers in films
  • Olivia de Havilland sues Warner Bros. for extending her contract beyond its seven years
  • SAG President James Cagney offers "Class B" members (extras) choice of local charter or independent union to be known as the Motion Picture Extras Association
  • Extras vote to remain in the Guild
  • Group of extras desiring to break with SAG form Screen Players Union, request jurisdiction over extras who also do speaking bits, and petition National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for certification
  • Kenneth Thomson resigns as Executive Secretary, replaced by Jack Dales at year's end.


  • NLRB hearings for Screen Players Union in Washington, Kenneth Thomson testifies
  • D-Day invasion begins in France
  • George Murphy elected Guild president
  • James Cagney's entire presidential "farewell address" at membership meeting emphasizes extras issue as "one of the Guild's most serious internal problems"
  • Extras vote in NLRB hearing, choose Screen Players Union as bargaining agent over Screen Actors Guild.


  • Supreme Court hands down "de Havilland Decision", declaring studios may no longer hold contract players more than seven years
  • NLRB orders new hearing on Screen Players Union
  • Screen Extras Guild formed and applies to Associated Actors and Artistes of America for charter
  • Set Decorators align with Conference of Studio Unions (CSU), not IATSE, causing jurisdictional dispute
  • IATSE's Richard Walsh sends Roy Brewer to Hollywood to investigate CSU situation
  • In violation of unions' wartime "no strike" pledge, CSU strikes, under leadership of Herb Sorrell the day Brewer arrives–SAG declares CSU/IATSE conflict (with violent brawls and overturned vehicles outside studios) jurisdictional and will not honor CSU picket line
  • Screen Players Union supports CSU's cause
  • President Franklin Roosevelt dies in office, succeeded by Harry Truman
  • WWII ends as Germany surrenders in May, U.S. drops first atomic bombs, on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan surrenders in August.
  • 1945: TV-talk at SAG Annual meeting. Rex Ingram, John Garfield, Walter Abel


  • California Legislature's Joint Fact-Finding Committee on Un-American Activities attempts to prove Herb Sorrell Communist Party member
  • Winston Churchill makes "Iron Curtain" speech
  • Screen Extras Guild Certified by NLRB
  • CSU strikes three days in July
  • Guild adopts new conflict of interest by-law: those actors with a "primary and continuing interest" in film production may not serve on Board of Directors
  • CSU strikes again in September
  • Robert Montgomery elected SAG president
  • Ronald Reagan impresses Guild board with handling of CSU strike situation.
  • 1946: Annual Mtg. - Board members Boris Karloff and Louise Beavers confer.
  • Sep. 1946: Conference of Studio Unions (CSU) strikers
  • On September 15, 1946, the Guild membership voted in favor of adopting this "conflict of interest" resolution: "Whereas, the Screen Actors Guild is about to start negotiations with the producers for a new basic contract, [the 1937 contract was for 10 years, with modifications at intervals] and to forestall any reflections upon the good faith of the Guild negotiators, now therefore be it resolved that no actor or actress who becomes a motion picture producer or director and who, in the judgment of the Board of Directors after a hearing and full examination of the facts, is found to have primarily and continually the interest of an employer, rather than that of an actor, shall hold office in the Screen Actors Guild." Resolution is passed by 756 to 210. Before commencement of the '47 negotiations, seven of the Guild's most prominent board members submitted their resignations, due to this new by-law: President Robert Montgomery, and Board members James Cagney, Franchot Tone, Dick Powell, Harpo Marx, John Garfield, and Dennis O'Keefe. A "secret ballot" vote by the Board of Directors saw Ronald Reagan emerge as the choice to replace Montgomery.


  • Robert Montgomery resigns Presidency, due to by-laws change
  • Ronald Reagan replaces him
  • Edward G. Robinson and other stars appear on AFL radio show, opposing anti-union Taft-Hartley Law
  • Taft-Hartley passed, over labor opposition and Truman's veto
  • Guild officers sign non-Communist affidavits, as Taft-Hartley requirement
  • House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) hearings begin in Washington
  • S.A.G. Pres. Reagan, and former Presidents George Murphy and Montgomery testify as "friendly witnesses
  • SAG 1st VP Gene Kelly, Board members Marsha Hunt and Humphrey Bogart, and others fly to HUAC hearings in support of "Hollywood Ten"
  • Studio heads fire "Hollywood Ten" for refusing to cooperate with HUAC.
  • 1947: Movie star Edward G. Robinson opposes Taft-Hartley legislation
  • Originally dubbed the "Unfriendly 19," the group was whittled down to the "Hollywood Ten." All were current, or former members of the Communist Party: Alvah Bessie (screenwriter, drama critic for New Masses magazine); Herbert Biberman (playwright, screenwriter, director, a founder of the Screen Directors Guild, married to actress Gale Sondergaard. Both were Party members); Lester Cole (screenwriter, was running for re-election to executive board of Screen Writers Guild when subpoenaed); Edward Dmytryk (director, Tender Comrade, Murder My Sweet, Crossfire, who withdrew from the Party in 1945 after brief membership, married to actress Jean Porter); Ring Lardner, Jr. (screenwriter, son of writer Ring Lardner. Co-wrote Tracy/Hepburn classic Woman of the Year); John Howard Lawson (screenwriter, playwright; former president of Screen Writers Guild, head of Hollywood branch of Communist Party); Albert Maltz (writer, screenwriter, O. Henry Award winner for short stories, contributor to Marxist periodicals); Sam Ornitz (screenwriter, playwright, novelist); Adrian Scott (screenwriter-producer; produced Crossfire and Cornered, both with Dmytryk, and Murder My Sweet). Dalton Trumbo (screenwriter; novelist, Tender Comrade, Johnny Got his Gun; Kitty Foyle; Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, Our Vines Have Tender Grapes).


  • Television becomes major SAG issue
  • Soviets invade Czechoslovakia
  • Death of Hollywood "studio system" as Supreme Court "Paramount decision" orders the major studios to divest themselves of their theatre chains
  • Television broadcasting goes national
  • Studio contract players drop to 463 in 1948, 37% decline
  • Soviets blockade US-controlled West Berlin
  • SAG 1948 agreement with producers includes "stop-gap clause" (for negotiations on wage scales and working conditions on films made-for-TV, and eventually on residuals for feature films they may later license to TV)
  • Kenneth Thomson returns to SAG as TV Administrator.
  • UNITED STATES v. PARAMOUNT PICTURES, Inc., 334 U.S. 131 (1948), a Supreme Court case commonly referred to as the “Paramount Decision” or “Paramount Decree” was the culmination of over 20 years’ pursuit by the U.S. government to end various monopolistic practices in the motion picture industry. All major film producers and distributors were involved in this anti-trust suit in addition to Paramount, including Warner Bros., RKO (Radio-Keith-Orpheum), Universal, Twentieth Century-Fox, Columbia, United Artists, Loew’s Inc. (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer), and the American Theatres Association. The U.S v. PARAMOUNT PICTURES, Inc. case was decided May 3, 1948, and forced dismantling of the vertical integration of major motion picture studios, leading to the end of Hollywood’s “studio system.” RKO was the first to agree to divorce its film exhibition business from the production and distribution side, including the selling off of interest in over 200 theatres. Paramount acquiesced in 1949, and the others were forced to follow.


  • Ronald Reagan & Kenneth Thomson (for SAG), Roy Brewer & Dick Walsh (for IATSE) visit Harry Truman at White House to discuss Runaway Production
  • Filmed TV jurisdiction becomes major SAG issue, as it declines to join the Television Authority (TvA)
  • Soviets explode their first atomic bomb
  • Guild membership drops to lowest level since recognition: 6533
  • Communists led by Mao-Tse-tung (Zedong) declare victory in mainland China.
  • Runaway Production discussed at White House - Thomson, Reagan, Walsh.
  • C. 1949: Guild TV delegation to New York. Chandler, Abel, Holden.