Sunday, April 16, 2017

J.P. Stevens: Not a Person, Just a Mill

J.P. Stevens was one of many textile plants that formed from some of the assets of J.P. Stevens & Co., one of the leaders of the textile industry dating all the way back to 1813. In the mid-1980’s, the company ran 59 textile plants, employing 27,800, in the Carolina’s, South Carolina being it’s base of operations. Stevens had always been known as an opposer to unions and was so anti-union in fact that the company would buy out smaller unionized mills just to shut them down. The particular facility pertaining to our class resided in Roanoke Rapids, NC. It was there that Crystal Lee Sutton struggles incited union workings and those dramatized events later became the Academy Award-winning movie Norma Rae.
For decades, J.P. Stevens was a menace in Roanoke Rapids, paying poverty wages and offering deplorably unsafe working conditions. Workers would lose fingers, inhale cotton dust, and lose their hearing due to the deafening nature of the machinery used. Even though J.P. Stevens was anti-union and put a lot of effort into keeping workers in their place, Crystal Lee Sutton was determined to bring in a union to better the conditions for herself and her fellow workers.
Around the end of May after hearing some rumblings of unions, the management put up a letter addressed to the mill workers on the company bulletin board. Not only did the letter contain anti-union rhetoric, it implied that the union was a front for a black power movement that would take over the plant and the town. Management at the plant knew that the union could bring charges against them before the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for posting a racially inflammatory message on company property, so when Sutton tried to copy the letter they tried to stop her. Sutton was subsequently fired and they attempted to remover her from the property but only after she performed a famous act that can be seen in the film (I don’t want to spoil anything). Even though she was fired, Sutton's effort were not in vain and the union prevailed in the plant.

In 2003, the mill closed permanently after the labor force had declined steadily over the years. Some say the union was to blame for the closure of the mill, but that is considered speculation since most mills shut down in North Carolina over the course of the decade.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Ella Mae Wiggins Murder Solved

Ella Mae Wiggins was a textile worker and union organizer born in the mountains of Cherokee County. She began working in a nearby mill to help support her family after a tragic accident in a lumberyard, which killed her father. Later, she married a fellow mill employee, John Wiggins, and they left for Gaston County where they went to seek work in the rapidly growing industrial region. Everything was swell for around 10 years. They settled in Bessemer City and found jobs in the American Mill. Between the two of them, they had seven children. Johnny, one day, decided to desert his whole family, leaving his family struggling to survive. Ella Mae had to switch to the night shift to see her children during the day. Even with this switch, she was not able to make enough money for the eight of them to survive. Two of her children suffered from malnutrition, and this developed into rickets, causing them to die.
Wiggins lived in a very poor diverse area where she became a central figure in a network of family and friends who supported her through troubles. She grew ties with poor white and black families, which contradicted rigid racial mores of the twentieth century South. She realized that her future was bound to the collective destiny of those around her. 

In twenty years, the number of mills in the county doubled while the marking declined. Prices of materials grew, and manufacturers began to change operations. People began getting laid off, and a new system called the "stretch-out" was set in place. This was when they paid people low prices and while putting on more work. Increased hours and reduced pay. Ella Mae struggled to support her five children with only $9.00 a week.

She organized a union, and demanded a minimum weekly wage of $20 for a 40-hour week, equal pay for women, and abolition of the stretch out. These strikes got violent, and included the detainment of several union workers and people in charge began to notice Wiggin’s power in the union. One day, she found that the spring she used for water had been poisoned.

She continued to go to rallies and strike, but one day, she and a group of 22 unarmed union members traveled to a rally site and took a bloody turn. They were stopped at a roadblock, and they were given the option of turning around or die. They turned around as they were told, but several cars followed them. The truck stopped suddenly and Ella Mae fell out of the vehicle. She stood up, and the mob opened fire. 7 men were indicted, but even with over 50 eyewitnesses, the men were let off on no charges.

Her death caused pressure from local strikers and some mills changed their working hours and extended other benefits. She was a sort of martyr in the eyes of her community.

Eli Zivkovitch and the Textile Workers Union of America

Eli Zivkovitch was an American labor organizer and coal miner from West Virginia. He was Crystal Lee's inspiration for joining the labor movement in the 1970s. He inspired her to join the Textile Workers Union of America. This union has its origins in the early 1900s with the United Textile Workers of America, formed in 1901. The union went on strike in 1934, but was unsuccessful. UTW had its greatest support in the North, but it was largely unsuccessful in the South. The Textiles Workers Organizing Committee was formed in 1937 and merged with UTW in 1939 to form the Textile Workers Union of America. TWUA worked hard in the South and fought against the union-resistant government and shop owners. TWUA was concerned with gaining higher wages for textiles workers as well as benefits like health insurance. It was later a leader in Operation Dixie. This was an operation by the Congress of Industrial Organizations and affiliated labor unions to help unionize the South and included many industries, like paper manufacturing and textiles. It ran from 1945-1954 and was defeated by the South's conservative and more business-oriented politicians. In 1973, TWUA sent Zivkovitch to the J.P. Stevens textiles mill to unionize their workers where he met Crystal Lee Sutton, who later became an important figure in unionizing the textiles industry. Later, TWUA was not the only textiles union in the South and itself to be in competition with said unions, leading it to merge with other unions to form the Amalgamated Clothing and Textiles Workers Union in 1976. In 1978, after Sutton was fired from the J.P. Stevens, ACTWU began to represent workers at the mill.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Martin Ritt

Martin Ritt was born in New York City in 1914 to a Jewish immigrant family. He went to school in the Bronx and later, played college football at Elon College in North Carolina. His New York upbringing and depression era experience instilled on him a passion for expressing himself, his struggles, inequality. This brought him to theater, he worked for the Work Progress Administration as a playwright and later, for the Group Theater of New York City. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Army Air Force where he was an actor  Winged Victory.

Next thing, Ritt became a famous television director after an already successful career in theater. His connections and friendliness with the leftist movement and his keen with some Marxist principles got him, essentially, blacklisted. He was mentioned in an anti-communist letter published by a group made of former FBI agents called Counterattack. So, Martin returned theater for a little bit but in 1956, he turned into film and overall directed more than 25 films.
In the 1970s, Ritt received acclaim for a lot of his movies, including Norma Rae. He won the Technical Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival for Norma Rae. Martin Ritt died at 76 in California, in 1990. 

Fun fact: Actress Sally Field (who got an Oscar for Norma Rae) starred in his last three movies.

Harriet Frank Jr and Irving Ravitch

Harriet Frank Jr and Irving Ravitch married after meeting at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer young writer's training program in 1946. They wrote screenplays for multiple movies over the course of a few decades, and were nominated for an Academy Award for Hud. They worked on Conrack and The Cowboys before taking a break from screenwriting for a while. After the break, they wrote Norma Rae and won two Academy Awards for the work. They collaborated with director Martin Ritt seven times before he died in 1990. Ravitch died in 2010 at he age of 89, and Frank Jr is still alive today. The pair worked together on almost everything they produced during the second half of their careers, and received honors right as their works came out and long after. Both Frank Jr and Ravitch attended UCLA but met after their time there. They worked on adaptations of William Faulkner and Pat Conroy and wrote famous movies such as "Whiplash".

Frank Jr and Ravitch had a great working relationship that transcended their personal relationship. Interviews with them revealed moments that didn't come through in their products. Frank called Ravitch easy to work with, agreeable, and open to compromise, which is why they could work so well together. They always talked about their ideas together and then laid out individual scenes that they were interested in producing. The pair maintained both their personal and professional relationships throughout their lives and created beautiful works that were and are loved by many people.

Crystal Lee Sutton

Crystal Lee Sutton was born on December 31, 1940 in Roanoke Rapids, NC, to parents who worked in the textile mills, just as their parents before them had.  Although she had other aspirations, Sutton followed suit and took a job with J.P. Stevens when she turned seventeen.  She worked looms for two years, leaving the mill only when she became pregnant with her first child and married.  Within a year, however, she found herself widowed and with another baby on the way.  She would remarry after the birth of her second child and eventually have a third a few years later with her second husband Larry Jordan.  Dissatisfied with the life she led as a housewife thereafter, Sutton found work for a time in a hotel and then a diner before finally deciding to return to the textile mill.

Conditions at J.P. Stevens were just as bad as Sutton recalled.  A few months after returning to the mill, she attended her first union meeting.  Immediately drawn to the movement, she began collaborating with Textile Workers Union of America and organizer Eli Zivkovich.  Sutton quickly drew the ire of factory bosses for her outspokenness.  One anecdote in particular captures her staunch defiance and strength of will.  Zivkovich had gifted her a notebook entitled "What the Company Will Do for You"--a book full of blank pages.  Whenever she was called into supervisors’ offices to be reprimanded for miscellaneous, petty offenses like loitering in the bathroom or "talking too much," Sutton brought the book with her and, ever-attentive to their valid complaints, took notes in it.  This rendered management dumbstruck, astonished that anyone would have the gall to behave like this in the face of their authority.

Things came to a head when Sutton violated company policy to copy down an anti-union propaganda letter that had been posted on a bulletin board.  Knowing that they could get in trouble with National Labor Relations Board for the racist content of the letter and already looking for a reason to get rid of the rabble-rouser, factory bosses summoned the police to arrest Sutton.  Before she was taken away, however, Sutton seized the chance for one last show of resistance, climbing onto a worktable and holding up a makeshift cardboard sign on which she had scrawled the word “UNION."  This iconic moment of defiance would feature famously in the film Norma Rae, a work that she was the inspiration for.

Sutton continued her work in labor organizing and advocacy for the rest of her life, scoring a hard-fought victory in court against J.P. Stevens several years after she was fired.  Though she succumbed to cancer in 2009 at the age of 68, she has left her mark on labor history in the south and as portrayed on the silver screen.

Bruce Raynor

Image may contain: one or more people and people standingA native of New York, Bruce Raynor was raised in a blue-collar family, the son of a truck driver and a retail worker. In 1972, Raynor graduated from Cornell's School of Industrial and Labor Relations after years of student activism and involvement in the civil rights movement. (He gave up a biochemistry scholarship to work in labor organizing.) The following year, he began working for the Textile Workers Union of America, helping coordinate their seventeen-year battle against North Carolina textile magnate JP Stevens. Following the success of this campaign, he organized in several other Southern states, including Mississippi, and was elected as the leader of the 50,000-member union.

Raynor served as the second president of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial, and Textile Employees, or UNITE, a consolidation of two older unions. In 2004, it merged with the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union (HERE) to become UNITE HERE. However, after what Raynor called a "hostile takeover" of power by other union officials, whom he accused of diverting funds to their favorite locals, the two split up again, with Raynor becoming president of a new group called Workers United.

He also oversees the Sidney Hillman Foundation, named for the founder of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (one of the unions that comprised UNITE), which rewards journalists who cover social justice issues as well as previously serving as chairman of the Amalgamated Bank, the only union-owned institution in America.

Sally Field

Image result for sally field 1970sSally Field is an American actress, director, and activist. Born in Pasadena, California, to parents who divorced when she was three, Field entered acting when she landed a role in the short-lived TV series Gidget. Though the series wasn't success, Field's career took off, and she starred in several TV shows, made-for-TV movies, and one film (The Way of the West) before appearing in the hit movie Smokey and the Bandit in 1977. She continued to star in several hit movies, including Norma Rae, Steel Magnolias, Homeward Bound, Mrs. Doubtfire, Forrest Gump, and Lincoln. She also made her directorial debut for the movie Beautiful in 2000. Field is currently seventy years old.

Image result for sally field Trivia:

  • She's played Tom Hanks' lover and his mother in separate movies.
  • She turned down the lead in Friday the 13th.
  • When filming Norma Rae, she accidentally broke an extra's ribs.
  • She survived an airplane crash of her private plane.
  • Her Oscar speech from 1984 is the source of the popular misquote: "You like me. You really like me!" (Field's comment on the quote: “First of all, I was winning my second Oscar, so I’m allowed to say anything I fucking want.")
  • She has recently performed on Broadway as Amanda in Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Honors 399 - Long Paper Ideas

Honors 399 Students:

Here are some ideas for your longer paper:

- Race and stereotypes in film, as depicted in "Crossfire", "Do the Right Thing" and other movies
- Working class people and film
- Women and film: From the femme fatale to the labor leader
- HUAC and the Hollywood formula: What is an artist to do to get his or her vision on screen?
- Friendlies and unfriendlies before the HUAC
- A capitalist critique of Hollywood
- Hollywood's capitulation before the witch-hunters
- Hollywood heroes who stood up to HUAC and McCarthyism
- Independent film's challenge to the Big Studios
- Tensions among races even among those on the Left--film and beyond
-  A critical (analytic) profile of one of the directors, screenwriters or actors among the latter films we watched
- If "Salt of the Earth" were made today ...
- People doing the wrong thing in "Do the Right Thing", or not?
- Is there a case to be made on HUAC's side?
- Commies in Hollywood: Were there?
- Warner Brothers: socially conscious or not quite?
- A further take on Charlie Chaplin: Looking at but also beyond "Modern Tines"
- Spike Lee and social consciousness
- The obstacles "Salt" faced
- Just how did "Norma Rae" get made in Hollywood?
- The real "Norma Rae" versus the screen version

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Honors 399 - 2nd paper ideas

Here are some ideas for your second papers:

- Charlie Chaplin's independence in filmmaking
- Charlie Chaplin's critique of capitalism
- "Modern Times" and Taylorism
- "Modern Times" and the Great Depression
- Only United Artists could have produced "Modern Times"
- Charlie Chaplin's politics
- An analysis of "The Tramp"
- "Crossfire" in the noir world
- Gloria Grahame's noir life
- Anti-semitism: reality and "Crossfire"
- The race to get "Crossfire" into theaters
- The Hollywood formula and "Crossfire"
- Robert Ryan's life versus his characters
- Anti-semitism as portrayed in "Crossfire" and Charlie Chaplin's "The Great Dictator"
- Anti-semitism versus racism as a Hollywood issue
- Hollywood's Jewish moguls and anti-semitism
- HUAC and Hollywood---Dmytryk, etc.
- How would Hollywood treat capitalism and/or anti-semitism today?
- The revolutionary spirit behind "noir"
- Charlie Chaplin: Using humor to send a message
- The role of the gamin in "Modern Times"
- Cops in Charlie Chaplin's world

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

John Cromwell

John Cromwell was a both a stage and film actor, and director born in Toledo, Ohio in 1887. Theater caught his attention and he made his Broadway debut in Little Women (1912) a few years after high school. He directed several plays and by 1920s he had become a respected Broadway director.

In the 1930s he started directing films, debuting with The Dummy (1929) an early talkie, and became really successful in part because of his ability of getting great performances out actresses. He became a highly regarded film director and actor during the Golden Age of studios, from the early days of sound to 1950s film noir. His career was cut short in June of 1950 by the Hollywood Blacklist.

Dead Reckoning (1947) was Cromwell's departure from romantic films. It was his first film with a darker tone and is now considered a film noir classic. His crime drama The Rocket (1951) was one of his last film because in June of 1950 Cromwell's own life took a dark turn when he was falsely accused of being a Communist by producer Howard Hughes. He became a victim of the Hollywood blacklist for seven years from (until 1958). He later denied the allegation, saying "I was never anything that suggested a Red and there never was the slightest evidence with which to accuse me of being one." Unlike other Hollywood directors who fled to Europe to make films, Cromwell returned to the stage, winning a Tony Award in 1952 for playing Henry Fonda's father in Point of No Return.

Cromwell devoted the rest of his career primarily to theater back where he began and wrote three plays that were all staged in New York. Cromwell married four times. His first wife was Alice Lindahl, a stage actress who died of influenza in 1918, then married stage actress Marie Goff who he divorced, then married actress Kay Johnson who he also divorced. Finally, he married actress Ruth Nelson. He and Johnson had two sons. Cromwell died at age 91 in Santa Barbara, California.

  Image result for John cromwell

Edward Dmytryk

Edward Dmytryk was born in British Columbia, Canada and was the son of Ukrainian immigrants. After his mother’s death in 1913, the family moved to Los Angeles, California. In 1923, at the age of 14, he ran away from home and started working as a messenger boy at the Famous Players–Lasky studios (later Paramount). Dmytryk received a scholarship to study film and after trying out an education at the California Institute of Technology, he returned to Paramount. It was there he edited his first of more than 15 films starting in 1929. During this time he also made his directorial debut with the independently made The Hawk, in 1935, and spent the next eight years directing 23 other films. Dmytryk entered what some consider a Golden Age upon leaving Paramount studios for RKO. In 1943, Dmytryk directed the some propaganda pieces (Hitler’s Children and Behind the Rising Sun) that helped get him assigned to “A” productions, beginning with the Tender Comrade (1943). This drama starred Ginger Rogers as a pregnant woman and Robert Ryan as the husband off at war. It was eventually one of the pictures that the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) later cited as evidence of Dmytryk’s communism tendencies. In 1944, Dmytryk did in fact join the American Communist Party but later claimed it was because he wanted to end world poverty. During this time, he also made many politically charged films like,  Murder, My Sweet (1944) in which he helped to create the genre later known as "film noir". He then created his arguably best work, Crossfire (1947), which was one of the first Hollywood movies to address anti-Semitism. It won him four Academy Awards. Following the release of Crossfire, HUAC summoned Dmytryk to answer charges that he was a communist. He denied his involvement and was cited for contempt of Congress and was blacklisted in 1947. He later left for England, made two films, but ultimately returned to the United States. In 1951, he served several months in prison for contempt of Congress and then made the decision to cooperate with HUAC, becoming the only one of the Hollywood Ten to do so. Dmytryk admitted that he had been a member of the American Communist Party and he gave HUAC the names of other members. He later returned to Hollywood, and despite some backlash, he was given a series of low-budget productions to direct. After catching a break and receiving an oscar nomination for the movie The Caine Mutiny featuring Humphrey Bogart, Dmytryk was once again sought after but never quite returned to the creative height he had found prior to being blacklisted. Dmytryk went on to teach filmmaking at the University of Texas and at the University of Southern California. He wrote several books including Odd Man Out: A Memoir of the Hollywood Ten, in which he wrote of his involvement in the Communist Party and in the HUAC hearings. Dmytryk died in Encino, California, on July 1st, 1999.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Gloria Grahame

Gloria Grahame began her career in acting at a young age under the tutelage of her mother, who was herself a stage actress and acting coach.  Having little interest in academics, Grahame dedicated all of her time and energy to honing her craft and even ended up dropping out before she could graduate high school.  Fortunately, this gambit paid off.  She was discovered by MGM co-founder Louis B. Mayer during a stint on Broadway and offered a role in Blonde Fever, where she would make her feature film debut.

Not long after that, MGM sold her contract to RKO, where Grahame would spend most of her career before making a few films with Columbia Pictures.  Notable roles included Violet Bick in It’s a Wonderful Life, Ginny in Crossfire, and her defining turn as Debby Marsh in The Big Heat.  Usually cast in the type of the femme fatale, Grahame embodied the sensuality and fierce independence of the archetype.  Sexually uninhibited and with ulterior, oftentimes self-serving motivations, her persona captivated audiences--so much so, in fact, that she netted an Oscar win for her work in the 1952 film The Bad and the Beautiful, despite her time onscreen barely breaking nine minutes.

Though accounts vary as to the nature of Grahame’s life away from the silver screen, what is certain about her private life is that it was tumultuous.  Known to be overly critical of her own image, she underwent many plastic surgeries to change her appearance.  This had the unintended effect of altering her voice, which in turn affected the roles she was able to get later in her career and earned her the ire of some critics.  A string of abusive relationships, rumors of alcoholism, and her habit of making salacious statements with the intent to polarize also brought her personal life into the private eye. This intense scrutiny had an adverse effect on her emotional well-being and established her as a popular figure of controversy.  One scandal in particular that resulted in significant public outcry as well as led to Grahame’s divorce from her second husband Nicholas Ray was her affair with her teenage stepson Tony Ray--who would later become her fourth husband.

Toward the end of her career, Grahame shifted from film to the stage but with limited success due to her lackluster vocals.  Nonetheless, she remained persistent and continued acting, even after learning that she had stomach cancer.  She rejected the diagnosis and refused treatment, rather than abandon her passion--a decision that would prove fatal.  Her legacy, however, was cemented as a quintessential film noir actress, and she left an indelible mark on the genre by her audaciously bewitching performances.

Black Mask Magazine

In April 1920, H. L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan collaborated to create the Black Mask magazine. This magazine was a “pulp” magazine, which is a term originated from the type of paper to which these were printed. Pulp paper was cheap and was readily available, meaning this medium of writing was easy to release to the public in a timely manner.

Mencken, a well-known literary journalist and poet, and Nathan, a drama critic, set out to support the prestigious, though loss-making, literary magazine Smart Set. They were actually successful with another pulp called Parisienne, which was a money spinner of theirs; this was then followed by an erotic stablemate called Saucy Stories. Though they had a couple of pulps under their wing, keeping Smart Set afloat was one of their top priorities.

After some time, they found that keeping Smart Set solvent was not a sound financial investment, and soon, they scrapped the magazine and moved to the Black Mask. The Black Mask was completely a commercial venture in which the duo attempted to cater to the widest audience possible. The roots of the Black Mask were “Five magazines in one: the best stories available of adventure, the best mystery and detective stories, the best romances, the best love stories, and the best stories of the occult." 

While the early issues of this magazine were poor quality and had miniscule problems, Mencken and Nathan got their money back on their initial investment. After a successful startup, they were able to create eight more issues, in which they raised $12,500. The publishers soon bought out the magazine and moved the direction of the magazine to a more crime-focused pulp.

“Cap” Joseph Shaw was appointed the new editor of the Black Mask after existing for six years. During his writing career, he wrote editorials on controversial topics such as the jury system and gun control and believed that a good writer should create a vehicle for moral responsibility. He channeled this into his work. The Black Mask’s nature grew more violent and darker as Shaw ventured into exclusively detective fiction. By 1933, the magazine was purely crime stories and had doubled in popularity.

Image result for the black mask magazineImage result for the black mask magazine               Image result for the black mask magazine