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Weavers of Dreams, Unite!

Actors' Unionism in Early Twentieth-Century America

Sean P. Holmes

Publication Year: 2013

Published to coincide with the centenary of the founding of the Actors' Equity Association in 1913, Weavers of Dreams, Unite! explores the history of actors' unionism in the United States from the late nineteenth century to the onset of the Great Depression. Drawing upon hitherto untapped archival resources in New York and Los Angeles, Sean P. Holmes documents how American stage actors used trade unionism to construct for themselves an occupational identity that foregrounded both their artistry and their respectability. In the process, he paints a vivid picture of life on the theatrical shop floor in an era in which economic, cultural, and technological changes were transforming the nature of acting as work. The engaging study offers important insights into the nature of cultural production in the early twentieth century, the role of class in the construction of cultural hierarchy, and the special problems that unionization posed for workers in the commercial entertainment industry.

Published by: University of Illinois Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

This book has been many years in the making, and in the process of researching and writing it, I have accumulated many debts both inside and outside academia. I’d like to begin by thanking Howell John Harris at the University of Durham for sparking my interest in American labor history; ...

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Introduction: Weavers of Dreams, Unite!

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pp. 1-10

Until quite recently, the history of the American theater was a neglected scholarly field. Though there were some fine overviews of the development of theatrical entertainment in the United States, relatively few works existed that set out to tackle the wider significance of the theater as a cultural institution. ...

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1. The Great Text in Our Economy Today: The American Theater in an Age of Organization

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pp. 11-32

“Nearly every trade, profession, and occupation has its organization,” actor Frank Gillmore observed in a speech to the small and exclusively male group of performers, playwrights, and producers in attendance at the inception of the Actors’ Equity Association (AEA) in early 1913. “Indeed,” he went on, “‘organization’ might be called the great text in our economy today.” ...

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2. The Sock and Buskin or the Artisan's Biretta: Reconciling Art and Labor in the Actors' Equity Association, 1913–1919

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pp. 33-57

“This is not a revolution but a renaissance,” actor Wilton Lackaye assured the theatrical community in March 1913 in a statement setting out the objectives of the recently founded Actors’ Equity Association. “We simply wish to return to the spirit that existed prior to about five years ago when the relation between actor and manager was one of cooperation.”1 ...

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3. All the World's a Stage!: The Actors' Strike of 1919

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pp. 58-86

For a group of workers whose sense of occupational distinctiveness hinged on their position in an increasingly unstable cultural hierarchy and who defined themselves in terms of a genteel individualism that was difficult to reconcile with collective action, the act of striking was fraught with problems. ...

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4. Protecting the High-Minded Actor and the High-Minded Manager in Equal Part: Occupational Unionism in the American Theater Industry, 1919–1929

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pp. 87-118

On the rare occasions that scholars have turned their attention to the organizational impulse that animated the acting community in the early twentieth century, they have tended to assume that the actors’ strike of 1919 marked a point of closure—the moment when art was finally reconciled with labor.1 ...

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5. For the Dignity and Honor of the Theatrical Profession: Respectability and Unrespectability in the Actors’ Equity Association, 1919–1929

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pp. 119-140

Though mediating the relationship between actors and their employers was central to the activities of the Actors’ Equity Association in its formative years, this was not its only function. Just as significant was its campaign to raise the status of acting as an occupation, a project that was entirely consonant with the principles of craft unionism ...

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6. Ain't No Peace in the Family Now: The Actors' Equity Association and the Movies, 1919-1929

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pp. 141-172

In the view of cultural theorist Walter Benjamin, the social significance of film “is inconceivable without its destructive, cathartic aspects, that is, the liquidation of the traditional cultural heritage.”1 For the American acting community, the advent of moving pictures brought destruction and catharsis in equal measure. ...

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pp. 173-178

In October 1929, less than two months after the rather undignified withdrawal of the Actors’ Equity Association from Hollywood, the Wall Street crash sounded the death knell for a theatrical economy that had already been fatally undermined by the cumulative effects of the decline of the road, overexpansion on Broadway, rising production costs, and competition from the talking pictures. ...


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pp. 190-195


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pp. 179-212


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pp. 213-222

About the Author, Production Notes, Back Cover

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pp. 240-242

E-ISBN-13: 9780252094682
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252037481

Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2013