Association of Theatrical Press Agents and Managers
(ATPAM), Union No.
18032, officially celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 1988, but the real
beginning of the Union is not so clear.
The labor organization from which todays Union evolved developed over several
turbulent decades. Although workers traditionally organize to redress the wrongs
of employers and to maintain employment in times of economic uncertainty, many
press agents and managers shared the belief that their professional status was
incompatible with union membership. The lengthy and often contentious formation
of ATPAM was as much a result of this ambivalence as of the reluctance of
employers to grant recognition to the Union.
For that reason, administrative personnel, unlike other
theatrical workers, were late to organize. The stagehands and musicians
organized in the late 19th century, forging an alliance of mutual
support that remains intact today. Box office treasurers had the fraternal
organization, The Treasurers Club of America, which provided benefits and jobs.
Even playwrights had formed The Dramatists Guild by 1912 as a division of the
Authors League of America. It was Actors Equity that gave direct impetus to
the start of what became ATPAM.
It was not until 1919, when AFL-affiliate Associated Actors
and Artistes of America (the Four As) was formed, that Actors Equity, now
the actors division of the Four As, developed some clout. The Union
decided to test its strength when management would not agree to limit the number
of paid performances in a week to eight or pay actors extra for matinees on
On August 7, 1919, with the support of the stagehands and
musicians, Equity called a strike. The strike lasted for 30 days, spreading to
eight cities, closing 37 plays and preventing the opening of 16 others. When the
strike was finally settled, the producers recognized Equity as the legal
bargaining agent for all actors, and membership increased from 2,700 to 14,000.
The settlement with Equity heralded a time of unparalleled financial prosperity
and creative activity in the . In 1920, there were 152 productions in New
York; just seven years later, during the 1927-28 season, there were 264.
Another important aspect
during this era was the proliferation of newspapers. There were 15 daily newspapers in Manhattan and Brooklyn,
each with a daily critic. George S. Kaufman was drama editor of The
New York Times until he was succeeded by Brooks Atkinson, and Robert
Benchley served as drama editor of Life magazine until 1929, when he
joined The New Yorker.
It was a good time for the New York-based Broadway press
agents and managers as well. Many earned salaries year-round working for
producer-managers who mounted several productions each season, closing only in
summer because s werent yet air-conditioned.
Although theatrical production on Broadway prospered during
the 1920s, production on the road steadily declined. In 1920, there were
about 1,500 legitimate s nationwide in which road and stock company
productions played. By 1930, there were fewer than 500. The road died as the
movie industry thrived, and, indeed, many s converted to motion picture
Responding to a rapidly deteriorating employment situation
and spurred by the success of the actors strike, a group of press agents
formed the Theatrical Press Representatives of America (TPROA). TPROA was a
fraternal organization comprised almost exclusively of road agents, which never
sought an AFL charter nor attempted to gain recognition form the League of New
York Theatres. The group met annually, addressing itself to issues concerning
the road, and published a magazine called The Quill on an irregular
Throughout the 1920s, TPROA functioned primarily as a
social organization, sporadically attempting to cope with the issues of the
rapidly dying road. Finally, in 1928, a dissident group headed by Theodore
Mitchell broke away from the TPROA and obtained a charter from the AFL as the
Association of Theatrical Agents and Managers (ATAM).
Aside from the initial flurry of activity around ATAMs
founding, very little was heard from either it or TPROA for the next few years.
TPROA limited its membership to those who worked in the legitimate theater and
continued to function as a fraternal organization, while ATAM regarded itself as
a labor organization.
The labor movement began in earnest with Franklin D.
Roosevelts election in the 1932 Democratic landslide. When Roosevelt assumed
office, the Depression was at its deepest, having a profound impact upon the theater. There had been 233 productions during the 1929-30 season, but the next
season only 187. Thousands of actors were out of work and many of the
producer-managers were bankrupt. Theater outside of New York was virtually
non-existent, its destruction from the rise of motion pictures hastened by the
The out-of-town situation was so bleak that the TPROA
revitalized itself for a brief time in 1931 after Judge Mitchell L. Erlanger,
President of the A.L. Erlanger Amusement Enterprises, Inc., (owners, with the
Shubert Organization, of the majority of road theaters) addressed its annual
meeting. Erlanger disputed the claim that "talkies" were the cause of
bad business on the road. Instead he claimed that stock market speculation had
left the theater-going public little money for live theatrical entertainment.
The road, he stated, would not be dead for good shows presented at reasonable
With the cooperation of Equity and the League of New York
Theaters, TPROA initiated a nationwide campaign to revitalize the road. In an
attempt to work with local business groups on subscription and guaranteed ticket
sales, TPROA offered to assure the quality of road attractions by creating a
board to judge shows sent out from New York.
The New York Times published an editorial urging TPROA to
follow through this time, pointing out that in the past, although articles underscoring the organizations
commitment to working on the road appeared in TPROAs magazine, The Quill, nothing concrete had ever happened.
Unfortunately, there was nothing that even a well-meaning
theatrical community could do on its own. President Roosevelt and his New Deal
began to rebuild the nations economy. In 1933, Roosevelt introduced his first
piece of legislation affecting labor, the National Recovery Act (NRA). Section
7a of this Act confirmed the right of workers to organize and to bargain
collectively through representatives of their own choosing. However, no
mechanism was set up to enforce that right.
appointed Senator Robert F. Wagner to head the National Labor Board,
created to settle the inevitable differences between employers and
employees which surfaced during the National Recovery Act. The Board,
although authorized to conduct elections and hear disputed, had no power
of enforcement and could only establish codes under which employers and
employees agreed to operate.
its limitations, the NRA had a profound impact. People were so eager for
leadership and relief that the NRA received overwhelming support despite
its relative powerlessness. It became a symbol of the nations rising
social consciousness and provided a focus for peoples hopes, linking
the organization of labor to the nations recovery.
July 21, 1933, the entire theatrical community united under the NRA,
agreeing upon a general code under which the legitimate theater was to
operate. This marked the first time in history that all factions in the theater
agreed to a general operating plan including prescribed salaries
and working conditions. Company managers and treasurers were to receive
$40 weekly (treasurers for a 44-hour week), while press agents received
$50 weekly if service was in one locality and $75 weekly for work on the
road. As is true now, there were no work hour requirements for press
agents or managers. Management agreed to give one weeks notice before
Code signatories included Theodore Mitchell for ATAM, Frank
C. Payne for the TPROA, and, representing what The New York Times
referred to as "an independent group of individual press agents and company
managers," Ralph Gervers.
On August 22, 1933, TPROA entered into an agreement with The
League of New York Theatres based on the conditions set forth in the NRA codes.
The producers finally seemed to be joining labors bandwagon, but it was
probably a more devious decision on their part. TPROAs competing Union,
had a membership far more aggressive than that of the gentlemanly TPROA. By
accepting NRAs codes, which were in fact legislated conditions, The League
had nothing to lose by recognizing the weak TPROA and protecting itself from the
possibility that the increasingly militant ATAM would claim recognition.
On May 27, 1935, the Supreme Court declared the NRA
unconstitutional. However, one month later Congress passed the Wagner Act. Often
referred to as the Magna Carta of labor, the Wagner Act outlawed company
dominated unions, declared traditional anti-union practices by employers
illegal, legalized union-organizing efforts and established the National Labor
Relations Board (NLRB) to administer all provisions of the Act. The Wagner Act
was upheld as constitutional by the Supreme Court in March, 1937. It was as if
the nation had undergone a peaceful revolution shifting substantial power from
business owners to employees.
The government even sponsored a relief program for the
unemployed of the theater under the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The
Federal Theatre was founded on August 27, 1935, under the direction of Hallie
Flanagan, then the director of the Vassar Experimental Theatre. At its founding,
Harry Hopkins, President Roosevelts personal assistant, said: "What we
want is free, adult, uncensored theater." Organized on a regional basis
with production units throughout the nation, the Federal Theatre gave employment
to more than 12,000 people. In New York, during a three-year period from 1936 to
1939, over 12 million people attended Federal Theatre productions.
Prompted by the New Deal, the AFL enjoyed a renaissance.
Although it had begun to recruit and organize among the mass production
industries, the AFL was still controlled by the skilled craft unions. The uneasy
peace between mass production industries and the craft unions finally broke down
when those favoring mass production broke away to become the Congress of
Industrial Organizations (CIO), and it was not until 1955 that the two groups
In reality, the decision was more than that of industrial
versus skilled trades. It was a question of class and the recurring issue of
white collar professional versus blue-collar workers. The Theater reflected both
this spurt of unionization and the class divisions within it. ATAM actively
began to recruit all box office treasurers and within a short time increased its
membership by 300 by picketing such events as the Bowling Congress at the New
York Armory and the annual automobile show at the Grand Central Palace. It then
focused on organizing Broadway box office personnel.
The legitimate theater treasurers were receptive. There wasnt
enough work in the theater, and most box office jobs were at sporting events and
trade shows -- the very places ATAM was gathering strength. After about 30
Broadway box office treasurers joined, ATAM changed its name to Theatrical
Managers, Agents and Treasurers (TMAT).
The Broadway press agents, affected by what was going on
around them, decided that the time had come to organize, spearheaded by what one
press agent referred to as "the aristocrats of the business": Richard
Maney, John Peter Toohey, Ray Henderson and Helene Deutsch.
Probably the most successful press agent on Broadway in his
day, Richard Maney was frequently published by the New York dailies and in Life
magazine. John Peter Toohey was a playwright and an original member of the
Algonquin Round Table, which, it is said, gave The New Yorker its name.
Ray Henderson was both personal advisor and press agent to actress Katherine
Cornell and her husband, Guthrie McClintock. "He came out of the Midwest
from somewhere," according to one press agent, "but everybody thought
he was an English lord or something like that. He was the smartest press agent I
Helene Deutsch founded the New York Drama Critics Circle in
1935, while she was representing Maxwell Andersons Winterset. Like
others in the theater, she shared a general dissatisfaction with the Pulitzer
Prizes, which seemed more attuned to literary tastes than theatrical
achievement. When the Pulitzer was awarded to a dramatization of Edith Whartons
The Old Maid, in a season in which Lillian Hellmans The Childrens
Hour, Robert E. Sherwoods The Petrified Forest, and Clifford
Odets' Awake and Sing! were first presented, Helene Deutsch organized New Yorks
leading critics, forming the Critics Circle, which today still awards a
prestigious annual critics prize.
These press agents decided to form a union for several
reasons. Most were friends, some former colleagues, or members of New Yorks
working press. Drama writers, editors, critics and press agents socialized
together, sharing meals and drinks at hangouts such as Bleeks, located down the
block from the Herald Tribune, and the Algonquin, whose manager Frank
Case provided free liquor and an available table to critics, journalists and
theatrical types. In addition, press agents usually delivered their material to
newsrooms in person, further cementing those relationships. "You made the
rounds everyday yourself," reminisced one press agent. "It wasnt
like today when you send material over by messenger or fax or e-mail it."
These theatrical press agents had followed the tumultuous
formation of the Newspaper Guild, and some had even participated in organizing
the strike against the Brooklyn Eagle. "It was time," says one
manager. "Unionism was in the air."
They also felt a responsibility toward members of their
profession who were not as successful. Pre-opening show salaries were not
mandated, and there was no mechanism in place for the recovery of expenses. Some
of their colleagues not only had little work but also labored in humiliating
circumstances. "In those days," recalled another press agent,
"producers paid cash. You might be told to go pick up your salary at 2 P.M.
on a Saturday afternoon, and then be told to wait. You could end up sitting
around for hours just waiting for the producer to decide to pay you."
Clearly there were inequities and the founding members sought
to redress them, but they were not without ambivalence. "There was a
certain reluctance on all our parts to form a union," says one press agent.
"We were professionals --- often producers, writers, newspaper people and
general managers ourselves. But we had a social consciousness. We figured that
the right thing to do was to give some of the less successful members the right
to make a fair living."
The movement to unionize wasnt based entirely on altruism
since TMAT was aggressively organizing the entertainment industry in New York.
In addition to the treasurers, its strength was further enhanced by its
affiliation with the Association of Yiddish Theatrical Agents and Treasurers.
The entire Yiddish Theater had been unionized early on.
Organized in 1899, the Hebrew Actors Union was the first, and by the early 1920s
there were Yiddish theatrical unions for musicians, ticket-takers, costumers and
stagehands. Yiddish theatrical unions operated under rigid work rules. These
were so restrictive at times that even Oliver M. Sayler, press agent to the
leading actor in the Yiddish Theater, Maurice Schwartz, and an ardent union man
himself (he later became business manager of ATPAM), questioned the Unions
influence on artistic endeavors. In his book, Our American Theatre,
published in 1923, Sayler wrote that "understudies are supplied by rotation
through the Union office, with
a bearded patriarch being sent to play Romeo,
or a dumpy dowager, Juliet.
The Yiddish Theatrical Agents and Treasurers were militant
and savvy and imparted much of this zeal and expertise to TMAT. The coterie of
Broadway press agents undoubtedly realized that TMAT would soon begin actively
organizing the rest of New Yorks legitimate theater as well.
The Broadway press agents made contact with the remains of
old TPROA, exploring the idea of a possible merger. But that organization was,
for all practical purposes, moribund, its few active members having transferred
their allegiance to TMAT.
Finally, on February 21, 1937, an organization was officially
formed to represent those "who exploit attractions in the legitimate
field." The new organization was called the New York Theatrical Press
Agents. Its purposes were, according to The New York Times of February
22, 1937, "to raise the standards of the profession, eradicate abuses and
establish a minimum wage."
Temporary officers were elected: Ray Henderson, President;
Helene Deutsch, Vice-President; Phyllis Perlman, Secretary and Charles Washburn,
Treasurer. The committee consisted of Bernard Simon, John Peter Toohey, Richard
Maney, Nat N. Dorfman and Ben H. Atwell. It was announced that the general
membership meeting would be held at the Algonquin in March, and that the new
organization would decide whether to remain autonomous or seek affiliation with
On March 7, 1937, the New York Theatrical Press Agents met
for the first time, and the newly formed organization ratified a constitution.
There was considerable discussion over membership requirements, and it was
finally agreed that anyone who had worked in the legitimate theater for 40 weeks
during the past five years would be admitted to senior membership. Newcomers
could join as associate members. The term "press agent" was also
defined as "an executive who handles one or more legitimate attractions for
producing managers and is responsible for the publicizing and exploitation of
The next day, under "Topics of the Times" on the
editorial page of The New York Times, appeared the following:
"The newly organized New York Theatrical Press
Agents are to be congratulated on their happy choice of a name. They did not
elect to call themselves the Associated Theater Counselors or the Drama
Education Guild or the Broadway Public Service League. In frank and
disarming fashion they announce themselves as press agents. Press
agentry is a profession whose subtle methods of approach are viewed by
newspaper editors with a cold eye. But nothing could be more straightforward
than the description of themselves put forth by the members of the new
organization. A press agent is defined as a person who handles legitimate
attractions for theatrical producers and who is responsible for the
publicizing and exploitation of such attractions. No attempt is made here
to describe the press agent as a person engaged in using the American drama
to educate the American people to new social horizons. People nowadays who
are not afraid to describe themselves as engaged in publicizing and
exploiting deserve a Carnegie hero medal."
The piece was unsigned, but it is believed that its author
was Brooks Atkinson.
TMAT did not take kindly to the formation of the New York
Theatrical Press Agents. TMAT claimed jurisdiction over all press agents and
said that it was the rightful bargaining agent for all front-of-house theatrical
In order to meet the threat of competition from this new
union head on, TMAT decided to investigate an affiliation with the stagehands
union, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE).
Meetings were held, and James J. Brennan, Vice-President of IATSE, addressed the
annual convention of TMAT pledging to support a closer affiliation between the
Meanwhile, the New York Theatrical Press Agents hadnt
decided whether to pursue an AFL charter, but it was agreed that the newly
formed unions first order of business would be to seek recognition form the
League of New York Theatres as the bargaining agent for press agents. The Union
and The League began negotiations on a two-year contract, the signing of which
would amount to recognition of the legitimacy of the press agents union.
However, according to Variety, at the last minute, The League refused to sign
the agreement when it received a telegram from George Browne, head of IATSE,
urging them not to recognize the New York Theatrical Press Agents.
That September, TMAT announced formal plans to merge with
IATSE as an independent division, to strengthen the position of front-office
employees. "The objective," TMAT head Mitchell said, "is to
remedy the system of one man holding three or four jobs. One man for one job is
Mitchell was probably referring more to the situation with
house managers than press agents. One of TMATs prime targets was the Shubert
Organization, then, as now, owner of the most Broadway theaters. TMAT wanted to
put an end to the Shubert practice of employing one house manager for several theaters instead of one per
For the press agents, however, this was an incendiary topic,
as the most successful press agents handled many shows at once. Since the new
Union had, in part, been founded in order to spread the work among more than
just a few press agents, union leaders knew the issue had to resolved carefully
to allow successful agents like Richard Maney to continue to flourish within the
Union while sharing some of the wealth with others. The New York Theatrical
Press Agents decided upon the principle of multiplicity and established the
senior and associate press agent system, which exists to this day.
On September 13, 1937, the dispute between the two Unions
became public when The New York Times published an account of the
struggle between TMAT and the New York Theatrical Press Agents. TMAT again
claimed jurisdiction over the press agents, saying that its membership actually
included working press agents, a claim the New York Theatrical Press Agents
In the midst of all this turmoil, tragedy struck. On October
1, 1937, the president of the New York Theatrical Press Agents, Ray Henderson,
and three other were killed when a British Imperial Airways plane crashed into
Greeces Phaaleron Bay. En route to Alexandria, Henderson had been on his way
around the world planning and organizing a world tour for Katherine Cornell. His
friend, Lillian Gish, formally requested the Department of State to send the
body back to the United States where it arrived aboard the SS Vulcania on
October 21. So prominent was Henderson in his own right that The New York
Times, in addition to a regular obituary, published a front page Sunday Arts
and Leisure memorial tribute to him.
TMAT continued to organize and increase its membership. In
November, 1937, the Union decided to focus on theater owner Sam H. Grisman and
the Theatre Guild, stating that these two organizations most thwarted their
aims. Union pickets appeared in front of the Hudson, Windsor, Forrest and
Belasco theaters, which were operated by Grisman, and the Broadhurst and the
Shubert, where Theatre Guild productions were housed.
In addition to the pickets, Grisman had to contend with the
staunchly pro-union Group Theatre, which had a play at the Belasco. Members of
The Group issued a statement supporting the union pickets and sent a delegation
to Grisman urging him to sign a recognition agreement with TMAT. Grisman got so
angry he threatened to tear up his contract with the Group Theatre.
Ultimately, Grisman had no choice but to tell his staff that
they could join the Union without fear of losing their jobs, but he continued to
state his belief that managers and treasurers were executives and confidential
employees and therefore not subject to unionization. TMAT, in turn, maintained
the pressure, pledging to keep pickets in front of the theaters until an
agreement recognizing the Union was signed.
In January, TMAT threw a picket line around the Guild
Theatre, where Father Malachys Miracle was preparing to move to the
St. James. The Teamsters honored the pickets and wouldnt move the sets or
costumes. The show went on anyway, without scenery and with costumes taken from
Theatre Guild storage trunks. The next day, Warren P. Munsell, Business Manager
for the Theatre Guild and Theodore Mitchell, President of TMAT, signed an
agreement which allowed the Guild treasurers to join TMAT. TMAT then took on the
New York Theatrical Press Agents and the Shubert Organization.
Two shows were changing theaters, and one was coming to New
York after a pre-Broadway tryout in Boston. The first, a farce called Brother
Rat, was moving from the National to the Ambassador. It was produced by
George Abbott, and its press agent was Charles Washburn, a member of the New
York Theatrical Press Agents.
The second was the Mercury Theatre production of
Caesar, which was moving from the Comedy to the National. The Mercury
Theatre had been founded by Orson Welles and John Houseman, both original
members of the Federal Theatre.
By 1938, the Federal Theatre was a source of great
controversy, the focus of attack by those who viewed the New Deal as a
burgeoning Communist conspiracy and the Federal Theatre productions embodiments
of this. In the spring of 1937, Welles started production of Marc Blitzsteins
The Cradle Will Rock, a musical drama depicting the workers and bosses of
a mythical Steeltown, U.S.A. The advance ticket sale was over $14,000, but two
hours before the first performance, the Washington administration of the Federal
Theatre closed the show. Welles and Houseman left and established the Mercury
Their first production was a controversial, modern dress
version of Julius Caesar. The press agent for the Mercury Theatre was
Henry Senber, who was also a member of the New York Theatrical Press Agents.
Meanwhile, in Boston, Thornton Wilders
staged and produced by Jed Harris, was preparing to move to Broadway. The show
had done so badly in Boston that Harris cut short the engagement, planning to
take his chances in New York where it was booked into the Henry Miller Theatre.
Its press agent was Robert Reud.
On January 22, 1938, TMAT, again supported by the Teamsters,
threatened to block the moves unless Washburn and Senber joined TMAT. Both press
agents refused and resigned from their shows. Both Carl Fischer, general manager
for George Abbott, and John Houseman, co-director of the Mercury Theatre, agreed
to deal with TMAT so that their shows could open on schedule. Just a few days
later Robert Reud also quit his show, while Sidney Hirsch, general manager for
Jed Harris, filed an application for TMAT membership for himself.
The New York Theatrical Press Agents were experiencing
tremendous pressure from TMAT. One press agent said, "Behind the scenes,
there was a lot of hanky-panky going on. They (TMAT) came to me and said, Come
and join us. You wont get into any trouble." I had worked for newspapers
and been around during the organizing of the Newspaper Guild and I understood
that one member crossing over would give them a claim before the NRLB. People
were under terrible emotional strain. Some were even in tears --- afraid that
their livelihood would be taken away from them. There were some very threatening
characters in that Union, and here we were, this bunch of intellectuals, being
sandbagged by gangster-like techniques."
When the New York Theatrical Press Agents heard that the
Teamsters had agreed to support TMAT, they called an emergency meeting for 11:00
P.M., at the Algonquin. According to one press agent who was there, "We
were discussing the situation and Washburn had just spoken up and said
"George Abbott will close the show before he fires me! at which point
there was a phone call from Carl Fischer, who said, Charlie, youre fired.
" Washburn resigned from the show immediately.
The next day, TMAT established pickets at five Shubert
houses, ordering its members out of the box offices of the Imperial, Winter
Garden, Broadhurst, Morosco and Golden Theatres. The Union threatened to act on
the Booth, Music Box and Alvin the following day. According to the New York
Times, "Girl clerks on the Shubert staff were sent in to sell
TMAT retained the support of the Teamsters throughout the
strike. However, although their sympathies were with TMAT, IATSE stagehands
crossed the picket lines because their contract with the League precluded
sympathetic strike action except on behalf of their old ally, the American
Federation of Musicians (AFM). Equity removed itself from the fray. Its
president, Burgess Meredith, issued a statement saying that "the whole
matter at present is between TMAT and the managers of the houses in
Lee Shubert issued a statement saying that the Shuberts had
always employed union labor. "All our treasurers are members of the
Union," he said. "But the Union wanted the managers and the press
agents to join. The press agents refused, desiring a union of their own. As to
the managers, they are direct representatives of employers and therefore cannot
be union men." Lawyers for press agents, the producers and TMAT attempted
to work out a peace plan. Milton Weinberger, representing the producers and with
the support of the New York Theatrical Press Agents, attacked the idea of a
blanket union for the press agents, managers and treasurers, saying: "There
is no solidarity of interest between them."
He suggested that there be separate units for treasurers,
press agents, and managers. However, TMAT, realizing that its strength lay in
numbers, which would be undermined by such a settlement, immediately rejected
the proposal and pledged to continue the strike.
The dispute then went to the State Mediation Board. The next
day, January 25, 1938, representatives of the League of New York Theatres, TMAT
and the New York Theatrical Press Agents signed an agreement, and the strike
ended. Box office personnel immediately returned to work. Pickets were
withdrawn, and Senber, Washburn and Reud returned to their shows.
The agreement provided for the New York Theatrical Press
Agents to join TMAT as a semi-autonomous chapter that would, for the most part,
determine its own working conditions. The press agents would elect their own
officers and committees, but would bargain with producers through a TMAT
committee, pay dues and assessments to TMAT and be subject to strike calls by
On the controversial topic of "one man in each
job," both sides backed off, issuing the following statement: "To the
fullest possible extent and at the earliest possible date, the chapter and
chapter alone will enact such rules and regulations as will further the
principle of sharing the work."
The League of New York Theatres agreed to recognize TMAT as
the sole collective bargaining agent for press agents and treasurers. While
house managers were included in this agreement, it was agreed that there would
be discussion on an individual basis about company and general managers, since
producers contended that they were confidential executives.
On February 1, 1938, representatives of TMAT and the New York
Theatrical Press Agents met to finalize the merger. It was agreed that the New
York Theatrical Press Agents would remain separate within TMAT. All other press
agents, including screen, radio, road and circus, would be grouped in another
chapter until such time as each specialty unit had 25 members and would then
become a separate chapter itself.
On February 9, 1938, the press agents officially ratified the
agreement whereby they were taken into TMAT. Practically all of the New York
Theatrical Press Agents signed applications for membership in TMAT and paid the
initiation fee of $50. Money remaining in the old treasury was used to pay
initiation fees for members who were unable to pay.
The League and TMAT met to discuss working conditions and
established minimum weekly salaries: $150 for Broadway press agents, $175 for
road agents, and $75-$100 for associates according to the number of shows in the
office. Company managers on tour were to get $150 for musicals and $125 for
straight shows. On Broadway, the weekly wage was $100 for either.
TMAT continued to organize. It called a box office strike at
Madison Square Garden, which agreed to recognize the Union before the day was
over. TMAT then moved to organize motion picture houses.
This was a direct challenge to IATSE, with whom TMAT had
considered merging just a year before. IATSE had received authorization from the
AFL to organize ticket-sellers, ticket-takers and ushers in motion picture
houses and claimed that it also had jurisdiction over all
"front-of-house" employees. TMAT disputed them, maintaining that it
had the right to organize the front of house, including managers, treasurers and
press agents in all places of entertainment.
For a brief moment, the threat of the power of IATSE brought
all the TMAT factions together. Press agents and managers joined TMAT treasurers
in picket lines at motion picture houses.
It was reported that TMAT was actually considering joining
the Four As, which would increase its strength. This was attractive to many
of the press agents and managers because the Four As was a white collar
organization comprised of Actors Equity, the Screen Actors Guild, the
American Federation of Radio Artists, the American Guild of Musical Artists, and
In April 1938, TMAT estimated that its membership would
exceed 5,000 by fall and possible 10,000 the following season. However, despite
occasional shows of unity, TMAT was not a cohesive Union. It continued to be
factionalized, with three very different constituencies: press agents, managers
Tensions were high at TMATs annual meeting that summer.
For one thing, it was so hot that the first session, held at the Claridge Hotel,
had to be suspended. Then, TMAT leaders, sensing a real threat from IATSE, which
was actively organizing throughout the country, particularly on the West Coast,
decided that TMAT would gain strength from unification and called for the
treasurers, press agents and managers to merge into one body. The press agents
made it clear that they had joined TMAT only under coercion and had no intention
of giving up any autonomy. They also distrusted the Unions Board of
Directors, raising questions about the use of Union funds and officers
salaries. The press agents, who had actually become a stronger working group by
getting the support of the powerful and active Yiddish chapter, decided to form
a steering committee to investigate ways in which they could protect their
rights. This group of dissidents was joined by many managers as well.
The new year began with an election on January 15, 1939, in
which Saul Abraham, general manager for producer Eddie Dowling, was elected
President and Dan Melnick Vice-President. J.J. Murphy was SecretaryTreasurer,
and Hal Olver and Murray Seaman were Business Agents. TMAT was no more cohesive
than it had been the prior summer, and the press agents were even more concerned
because they believed that there was a move afoot to challenge their right to
According to one manager: "A group of managers and press
agents formed a liberal group to try to get rid of some of the old-timers who
had no concept of what a modern trade union should really be. We couldnt
prove it, but we felt they were allied to gangsters, and we believed that the
Union would have become crooked if they had stayed in office. We felt that we
were operating without a democratic constitution and decided to change the
The dissidents decided to take over the Union. They began to
organize themselves following the January meeting, in anticipation of the June
1939 meeting. Led by the press agents, they created an opposition ticket and
adopted a platform. To recruit the managers and treasurers, the dissidents
claimed that the current TMAT leadership had failed to provide jobs for
treasurers and managers at the Worlds Fair and that the upcoming seasonal
jobs at ball parks and racetracks were not being secured by TMAT officers.
They courted the treasurers, the largest voting block in TMAT,
with particular energy. IATSE had begun to woo legitimate box office treasurers,
and in an attempt to counter this and to capitalize on the continuing treatment
of treasurers as third-class citizens by the often arrogant managers and press
agents, the dissidents implied that present TMAT officers were not sufficiently
concerned about their box office brethren. In a circular distributed throughout
TMAT, the dissidents stated: "We severely condemn the needless action of
other unions in attempting to dictate the conduct of the box office. We believe
that the treasurers, the poorest paid of the crafts and the most abused group
within the Union, are fully competent to solve their problems provided they have
the cooperation of the rest of the membership."
At the June elections, the independent faction won two out of
three contested posts. Abraham and Murphy, who had both been unopposed, were
returned to office. But Hal Olver lost the election as Business Manager,
replaced by Joseph Grossman of the Yiddish Group, and Dan Melnick was replaced
by press agent William Fields as Vice-President.
Not content with their electoral victory, some of the New
York press agents decided to get back at the road agents who had opposed them.
They falsely told producers that union rules didnt permit road agents to work
on shows in New York. TMAT rules clearly stated that members of any chapter
could hold jobs in any field within the Unions jurisdiction, however, the
result was increased animosity between the two chapters.
The turmoil within TMAT was nothing compared to the
inter-union warfare taking place during the summer of 1939, which ultimately
threatened TMATs very existence.
It began on July 1, 1939, when the Four As revoked the
charter of one of its member unions, the American Federation of Actors (AFA), headed by actress Sophie Tucker. Charging the AFAs leadership with
mismanagement and the misuse of funds, the Four As expelled the AFA and
issued a charter to the American Guild of Variety Artists (AGVA), headed by
IATSE, aggressively attempting to organize the entire
entertainment industry, took this opportunity to declare that it had decided to
organize performers as well and promptly issued a charter to the AFA.
The Four As issued a response to this act of provocation,
saying: "The unreasonable and disgraceful act of certain performers in
delivering their brethren to the stagehands will receive our immediate
attention. As for any actor who participates in this betrayal of his fellow
actors, we will take immediate action against him and his kind."
This was not an idle threat, because on August 24, Sophie
Tucker was scheduled to re-open in her show, Leave It to Me, a musical
comedy that fell under the jurisdiction of Actors Equity, the Four As
union for actors in the legitimate theater. If Tuckers AFA was still an IATSE
union, it was virtually certain that Equity would refuse to work with Tucker and
a strike would be called. The strike became inevitable when Equity suspended
Tucker for her "treasonable act" in condoning the IATSE adoption of
The AFL executive committee convened in Atlantic City that
August, in part to resolve the inter-union clash. In the meantime, there was a
groundswell of support for the Four As in their fight against IATSE.
Katharine Hepburn issued a statement saying: "Any
attempt on the part of the AFL to disregard the just claims of the Four As
will be regarded as a breach of faith not to be tolerated by the loyal members
of our Union." She was joined by Katherine Cornell and John Barrymore, who
both publicly criticized IATSE.
A Hollywood contingent including Joan Crawford, Olivia
deHavilland, Eddie Arnold and Ralph Morgan of the Screen Actors Guild traveled
to Atlantic City to support the Four As. This was no easy feat. Cross-country
air travel was arduous and the delegation left Burbank at 1:30 A.M., making
stops in Kansas City, Chicago and Pittsburgh before arriving in Newark at 5:29
P.M., 16 hours later.
Tallulah Bankhead and Frederic March, both of whom were
appearing on Broadway, also journeyed to Atlantic City. They carried their
make-up kits with them because there was little leeway between their return to New
York and the start of the evening performances.
Within TMAT, the old issue of affiliation with IATSE was
re-opened. There was an emergency meeting at which it became clear that the
majority of TMAT members remained opposed to a merger. Disregarding its
membership views, the executive board named a committee to travel to Atlantic
City to meet with George E. Browne, President of IATSE, who was there for the
AFL council meeting. The meeting created further turmoil within TMAT, and the
press agents considered withdrawing from TMAT to form their own union.
The AFL attempted to work out a compromise. It refused to
grant IATSE jurisdiction over the performers unions, but it also ruled that
the Four As would have to reinstate the AFA.
Neither union would accept the compromise. The Four As
threatened to close down Broadway, the Hollywood film studios, the major stage
attractions at the Worlds Fair, several live radio programs, burlesque houses
--- in short, all performing venues within their jurisdiction. IATSE countered
with the threat of a walk-out of their own and demanded that all performers join
their newly chartered performers union. Both sides focused on the projected
opening of Tuckers show, Leave It to Me. Equity refused to work with
Tucker and the IATSE stagehands countered that they would walk out on all shows
if that happened.
While the entire entertainment industry and the public
watched this widely publicized drama unfold, TMAT experienced its own upheaval.
On August 31, 1939, George E. Browne, President of IATSE, issued a charter to a
group of 14 TMAT treasurers at a meeting in the Gold Room of the Hotel Capitol.
By September 2, 1939, the newly chartered IATSE division of treasurers and
ticket sellers had over 200 members, including all Shubert box office personnel.
TMAT had "never fought for the interests of the
treasurers," said one IATSE official. According to one treasurer, "The
managers and press agents had never had any interest in the treasurers
problems. They were more attuned to management. For the treasurers in TMAT, it
had been like talking to your regular bosses."
TMAT immediately suspended its entire treasurers chapter,
including James Murphy, Secretary-Treasurer of the Union, and Morrie Seamon, its
Business Agent. The Union stated that all treasurers who proved
"loyal" to TMAT would be restored to full membership rights, and a
committee was named to investigate each individual case.
United in common cause against
IATSE, Equity and TMAT forged
an alliance, agreeing to support one another. Believing it now had some
strength, TMAT went after the Shuberts when it was reported that the leader of
the bolting treasurers, Walter OConnor, and J.J. Shubert had conferred before
the treasurers seceded from the Union. TMAT charged that Shubert had encouraged
his treasurers to join IATSE.
Just two days later, on September 3, 1939, Equity, the Four As
and IATSE reached an accord. Equity agreed to reinstate Sophie Tucker, and IATSE
and the Four As agreed to disband the AFA, consolidating its membership into
the Four As union, AGVA.
TMAT members were furious, claiming that they had been
double-crossed by their supposed allies, the actors. TMAT threatened to call a
strike in Shubert theaters in which the newly chartered IATSE treasurers now
worked. TMAT hoped to force Equity into the awkward position of having to choose
between crossing TMAT picket lines or refusing to work with their new friends,
the IATSE stagehands.
IATSE responded that the TMAT threat was merely a hollow
gesture before the Union was "finished."
True enough, TMAT had yet to prove its power and its very
existence was in jeopardy. As soon as IATSE notified The League of New York
Theatres that it was now the official bargaining agent for box office personnel,
the League suspended its ongoing negotiations with TMAT. Although Equity had,
just a few days before, "pledged its wholehearted support" to TMAT,
under the new IATSE-Equity agreement actors would have to cross TMAT picket
lines. To make matters even worse for TMAT, their old allies, the Teamsters,
came out in support of IATSE.
It appeared as if TMAT had hit bottom. The League refused to
re-open negotiations and J.J. Shubert refused to negotiate with a TMAT press
agent, Samuel M. Weller, who was seeking a position as an advance man. J.J.
Shubert stated that if Weller wanted a job, it would be on the Shuberts
terms, as the Shuberts had no contract with TMAT for press agents.
Finally the impasse was broken. The League of New York
Theatres and TMAT agreed in principle to a contract for press agents and
managers. On September 23, 1939, after another threatened strike, the new
contract was signed. Although the name was not officially changed until 1946,
this was essentially the beginning of ATPAM as we know it today. A month later,
the new IATSE treasurers union held its first formal meeting with The League,
and TMAT didnt protest. When TMAT met on April 13, 1940, to take nominations
for its annual election that June, The New York Times reported that the Unions
financial affairs were in better order than ever before and that there was
"complete harmony in its ranks." Following a 13-hour balloting
procedure on June 10, the proposed officers, who ran unopposed, were elected:
Saul Abraham, President; William G. Norton, Vice-President; and Louis Werba,
the first orders of business for the newly empowered union was
clarification of its jurisdiction. The Union continued to operate under
the federal charter it had received from the AFL in 1928 as the
Association of Theatrical Agents and Managers (ATAM). This meant that
technically the Union could only operate in New York, the venue in which
thew charter had been granted. A number of producers raised this issue in
order to prevent union members from servicing out-of-town attractions. The
Union petitioned the AFL Council to extend its jurisdiction to cover the
entire United States and Canada, and the request was granted. The Union,
now re-named the Association of Theatrical Press Agents and Managers (ATPAM),
was able to operate as a national union of press agents and managers in
the legitimate theater.
1948 ATPAM Benefit
1942, Milton Weintraub became Secretary-Treasurer, a post he held until
his death in 1968. Weintraub had been a manager in the Yiddish Theater and
had organized and led Yiddish theatrical unions. When the Yiddish group
joined ATAM, Weintraub became a leader in the Unions struggle to
organize the rest of the legitimate theater. Under Weintraubs
leadership, ATPAM achieved a visibility and stature far greater than the
size of its membership. He developed the first union pension and welfare
funds and established ATPAM as an active and respected organization in the
to be continued...