He died “in harness” as it were, serving on the Los Angeles Local and AFTRA National boards until his death in 2004, and did not live long enough to see the merger he so desired between AFTRA and Screen Actors Guild come to pass in 2012. He was elected national president of AFTRA for five consecutive terms, serving from 1984 — 1989, and was president of the Los Angeles Local from 1982 — 1985. He was a trustee for the AFTRA Health & Retirement Fund and chairman of AFTRA’s Frank Nelson Sick & Benefit Fund. He also served as a vice president of Actors’ Equity and six consecutive terms on the national board of Screen Actors Guild from 1975 — 1993. He served on the board of the Television Authority before its merger with AFRA, creating AFTRA, in 1952.
Maxwell was a veteran in every sense of the word; a first lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force during World War II and a triple-threat talent who worked in Broadway, radio, television and movies for most of his 87 years. Starting as a dancer in the 1939 World’s Fair, some of his myriad credits include the feature Lonelyhearts, Broadway and London productions of Death of a Salesman and the co-starring role of Dan Rooney on the daytime drama General Hospital. Maxwell never shied away from a cause or a righteous fight, and he considered AFTRA members worth fighting for; he helped negotiate every contract in the AFTRA lexicon for decades, traveling tirelessly for the union with his activist wife, actress Rita Lynn, who served on the AFTRA board with him.
Maxwell completed his five years’ service as AFTRA national president in 1989, at the 52nd national convention in Boston, where he was awarded George Heller Memorial Gold Card No. 33. His parting address to delegates expressed his disappointment that merger was not achieved during his tenure: “This is my last time to stand here and do whatever it is I do. I’ve been standing here for five years, and I just read over my last four speeches. God have mercy on you all. In each of those speeches, I made a promise. In Miami, I promised you merger would be next year. In Dallas, I said next year for sure. In St. Louis, I at least gave you the history of the union. And most of you were in Seattle in 1988, so you know what I did there. It’s been five years of promises, promises, promises. That is my one regret as president of this union, that I was not able to fulfill that promise.” He concluded his speech on a more cheerful note: “I just want to say that I’ve [also] had fun in these five years. Fortunately, I have a wife who is loving and understanding and who can put up with the amount of time that I’ve spent as president of AFTRA. And thank God for both of us that she won’t have to put up with that so much anymore. We’re going to go out and have a few laughs for ourselves. And I want to tell you that without her, what little temper I’ve managed to keep in these five years — that would have been gone too … I am going to leave this podium tonight with a great sense of self-satisfaction for the friends I have made and for the enemies I have lost, and for my deep and abiding love for this union and its members. Thank you.”