Produced by Cecil B. DeMille
This ten-minute film produced by and features the famous Hollywood Director Cecil B. DeMille. He discusses his personal experience with the heavy hand of forced unionism.
Here’s part of DeMille’s introduction of Showdown!
I am speaking as a private citizen who believes that every American must have the right to earn a living for himself and his family everyone whether he belongs to a labor union or not. Today in more than half the states, unions have the legalized power to force a man to join them, and support causes to which he may be conscientiously opposed.
Can you as a responsible citizen close your eyes to the fact that in your own state a man’s Right To Work can be taken away from him by the whim of a labor boss?
Can you afford to leave such power in any hands?
In 1944, because I refused a $1 (one dollar) assessment to support a political stand to which I was opposed I was suspended by that other union. As a result of that suspension, I lost my Right To Work in radio and television. The loss of my radio job did not bankrupt me.
But, it woke me up with a terrible jolt to my responsibility and your responsibility to work for legislation to protect men and women for whom a loss of a job might mean disaster.
You are going to be faced with a showdown… it is the admitted purpose of the Big Labor Bosses to organize every wage earner and every salaried employee in this nation.
That means you.
The Legacy of Cecil B. DeMille
The Ten Commandments, Feet of Clay, The Volga Boatman, The King of Kings, The Sign of the Cross, Cleopatra, The Plainsman, Sampson and Delilah, and The Greatest Show on Earth are but a few of the more than 70 films which left the mark of Cecil B. DeMille on an industry, an art, and generations of film critics and fans here and abroad. But a greater legacy, given just a single line in his biography in the Encyclopedia Britannica, was his fight for the Right to Work. Here is that story.
From Cecil B. DeMille’s book Autobiography of Cecil B. DeMille:
But those three years also coincided with the bursting and first reverberations of a bombshell, which gave me another reason to be grateful that Sidney Biddell was at my side. I have never made agreement with me, on politics or any other such subject, a condition of membership on my staff. When the present members of my studio staff are in a baiting mood, they like to remind me that three of the four men among them are Democrats; they particularly like to manifest this with satisfied smiles at luncheon the day after an election when the Democrats win, though I must say that they bear manfully with my smug smile when the Republicans win. I have never asked any member of my staff to do anything counter to his own personal convictions; but naturally I have been glad when their convictions enabled them to join wholeheartedly with mine.
I should have been handicapped indeed if Sidney Biddell, being closest to me, had not conscientiously and thoroughly agreed with me about a certain letter which reached me on August 16, 1944. But he did agree; and his support of the stand I took in response to that letter has never wavered.
The letter was from one of the two unions to which I belong, the American Federation of Radio Artists.* It informed me that the board of directors of the Los Angeles local of AFRA had voted to assess each member of the local the sum of one dollar, for a fund to be used in opposing a proposition scheduled to appear on the California ballot in the coming general election in November.**
The proposition in question, known as Proposition 1 2, would have abolished the closed shop in California and given to every Californian the right to get and hold a job whether or not he belonged to a union. The $1 assessment to fight this proposition my union informed me, was due and payable by September 1, under pain of suspension from membership in the union. Since AFRA had a form of closed shop contract with the radio industry, suspension of an AFRA member meant that he could no longer work in radio.
When I received the letter, 1 knew very little about Proposition 12. But I knew, or thought I knew, something about an American citizen’s right to political freedom.
When I studied Proposition 12, I decided to vote for it. And here my union was demanding that I pay $1 into a political campaign fund to persuade other citizens to vote against Proposition 12: was demanding, in a word, that I cancel my vote with my dollar. Even if I were opposed to Proposition 12, I asked myself, did my union, did any organization, have the right to impose a compulsory political assessment upon any citizen, under pain of the loss of his right to work?
To me, the issue was clear from the first time I read the letter. What was at stake, as, far as I personally was concerned? My job with the Lux Radio Theatre, which paid me approximately$100,000 a year and which, because of its contact with the American people, meant much more to me than could be measured in money. On the other side of the scale was $1—with my political freedom pinned to it. There are very few men who lightly toss away $100,000 a year; I am not one. I took advice. Most of it was the advice of appeasement. “Pay the dollar. Don’t give up the Lux show. Fight the thing some other way if you want to—but pay the dollar.”
I saw, moreover, that if I did not pay the dollar, my refusal would become a national issue. That was no exaggerated self-esteem: if a voice that had been listened to by 20- to 30,000,000 people every Monday evening for nine years was suddenly banned from the air, some of those people would undoubtedly ask why. I was certain that the answer to that question would hurt the union in the public mind; and I had no wish to hurt my union.
I therefore invited some of its officers to a conference with Neil McCarthy and me, told them I thought they had made a great mistake in imposing this compulsory political assessment, and offered to contribute to the union, as a voluntary gift, a number of dollars equal to the number of members in the Los Angeles local, if they would rescind the assessment and return their dollars to the members who had paid them under compulsion. The union refused. I saw then that the fundamental issue was not Proposition 1 2. It was an issue of union power: the power to control the individual member’s political freedom through control of his right to work.
It was not until several years later, when Louis F. Budenz visited me shortly after his defection from the Communist party, that I learned how the high councils of that party had marked two men on the American radio for silencing: Fulton Lewis, Jr., and Cecil B. deMille. As Louis Budenz put it to me, “We never could get Fulton Lewis; but we got you.” I do not maintain that the officers of AFRA were Communists. The Communists always score their best victories when non-Communists do their work for them.
When the issue was finally drawn, when the deadline and the extended deadline for paying the assessment passed and the union remained adamant, I sat down for one last discussion of it with Mrs. deMille. Not since 1913 had we had so serious a decision to make together. I told her again what refusal to pay the assessment would mean to us: the loss of the $100,000 a year, the loss of my radio program, the likelihood that I would be pilloried as anti-labor and drawn into a controversy that might last for years, with what effect upon our work and our lives no one could say; and on the other side, the simple solution of paying $1 to a cause in which I did not believe.
“Which,” I asked her, “should I choose?”
Generations of Adamses, reaching back to the Revolution, spoke in her answer: “You have no choice.”
I conducted the Lux Radio Theatre of the Air for the last time on January 22, 1945. AFRA has since become AFTRA, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. Its ban still holds. Television, as a medium of general entertainment, was almost unknown in 1945; but I am banned as completely from television as from radio.
Since the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947, no one can be denied the right to work for refusal to pay a political assessment. Not being retroactive, that law is of no benefit to me; but Senator Taft told me that the law would not have been enacted if my refusal to pay the dollar had not drawn public attention to the abuse of union power.
For sounding the first tocsin of what was to become for him and for many thousands a crusade, the credit must go to William M. Jeffers, my old friend of Union Pacific days. Supporting my stand, he invited me to come to Omaha again, on a day dear to his good Irish-American heart, March 17, 1945, and over a nationwide broadcast, which he would arrange, put before the American people the case of political freedom and the right to work. I had lost the right to work in radio; but I still had the right of free speech. I accepted Bill Jeffer’s invitation.
The response was overwhelming. No motion picture, with the exception of The King of Kings and The Ten Commandments (1956), has brought me so many letters. They came from every part of the country and from every fighting front where Americans were still at war. They were from Democrats and Republicans, rich and poor, men, women, and even children in all walks of life. Many of the most touching of them came from union members or their wives. The gist of them all was much the same: “Do something to keep what has happened to you from happening to the rest of us.”
That it was happening to others, as well as to a rich producer who could afford to lose $100,000 a year and not starve, was brought home to us in Hollywood when six members of the Screen Office Employees Guild, clerical workers at Metro- Goldwyn-Mayer, were dropped from their union and lost their jobs because they opposed political assessments; and what was happening in Hollywood was happening throughout the nation.
The letters I received, in their numbers and their warmth of sympathy and approbation, went far to make up for the excoriation and abuse in which union publications and the then flourishing Communist press joined in a strange and alarming chorus.
But the letters also created a problem. Many of them had money in them. To those who sent dollar bills, asking me to pay the assessment with them and return to the air, I returned their money, explaining that if I could not in good conscience pay the dollar myself, I could not let anyone pay it for me. But others sent money—$1, $5, $10, in some instances as little as a dime, all they could afford—for me to use to fight the power that could cut off a man’s livelihood if he refused to obey its dictates. This money was a sacred trust. I opened a special account in the little branch of the Bank of America a block from the studio; and, as it grew to hundreds of dollars, wondered how I could discharge that trust.
Since 1955, The Right To Work Committee and later The Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation have continued DeMille’s fight.
*The other union to which Mr. deMille belonged until his death, and on whose board of directors he served, was the Screen Directors’ Guild of America. (Ed.)
**In California, amendments to the state constitution and certain other legislative measures are submitted to the direct vote of the people: such measures appear, as numbered “propositions,” on the same ballot with the names of candidates for public office. (Ed.)
Reprinted by Permission from the book, Autobiography of Cecil B. DeMille, by Cecil B. DeMille Copyright 1959 by Cecil B. DeMille Trust Published by Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, N. J.