Thomas Hanley, a performer from the 1954 Academy Award-winning film On the Waterfront, received honorary membership into SAG-AFTRA during a special ceremony at the SAG-AFTRA Foundation’s Robin Williams Center in New York on May 18. Executive Vice President and New York Local President Rebecca Damon emceed the event, which included a screening of the film, Hanley formally being awarded his honorary union card and a Q&A panel with Hanley and National and New York Local Board member Adrian Martinez. Among event attendees were Hanley’s family, including his daughter and granddaughter; representatives of the Fort Lee Film Commission/Barrymore Film Center; and members of the New York Local.
On the Waterfront stars Marlon Brando as Terry Malloy a disgraced boxer-turned-dockworker fighting against systematic union violence and corruption among the longshoremen in Hoboken, New Jersey. Hanley, then 14 years old, was discovered by director Elia Kazan on the rooftop of his apartment building where shooting took place. Despite having no acting experience, he was invited to audition and scored the role of Tommy Collins, a young boy who takes care of the rooftop pigeons and befriends Brando’s Terry. Hanley worked on set for two weeks, earning a total wage of $500.
Although the film gained great commercial and critical acclaim and earned Brando his first Academy Award for Best Actor in 1955, Hanley did not see the same levels of success in the industry. The payment he received for his work went towards providing for his family, and he was thus unable to pay to join the Screen Actors Guild.
Unable to land more acting roles, Hanley became a longshoreman at age 16, following in the footsteps of his father, who disappeared when Hanley was 4 months old and is believed to have been murdered by a gang that ran the West Side piers. Over his 52 years of work, he became a lifelong advocate of unions and fought to reform the shipping industry. His advocacy included service as the recording secretary for Local 1558 of the International Longshoremen’s Association.
SAG-AFTRA is proud and honored to have a steadfast union advocate and performer among its membership. Congratulations to Thomas Hanley!
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