Oral Histories

Interview of Ben Margolis

Interviews not in a series, part one
Latina and Latino History
Social Movements
Civil Liberties
Sleepy Lagoon Case
Balter, Michael S.
Margolis, Ben
Persons Present:
Margolis and Balter.
Place Conducted:
Margolis's office in Los Angeles, California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library's Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Michael S. Balter, Interviewer/Editor, Oral History Program; B.A., biology, San Jose State University; M.A., biology, UCLA.Balter prepared for the interview by studying Margolis's cases, his FBI file, and the Los Angeles Times clipping file. In addition, he reviewed relevant Oral History Program interviews and consulted published sources on such topics as the Hollywood blacklist.
Processing of Interview:
Emma Gee, editor, edited the interview. She checked the verbatim transcript of the interview against the original tape recordings, edited for punctuation, paragraphing, and spelling, and verified proper names. Words and phrases inserted by the editor have been bracketed.In February 1987, the edited transcript was sent to Margolis who reviewed and approved it. He made some corrections and additions and returned the manuscript in the summer of the same year. Michael Balter provided invaluable assistance in verifying the many names and legal cases cited in the interview.Laura Schwimmer, Teresa Barnett, and Gary White, editors, prepared the table of contents and biographical summary. Richard Cándida Smith, principal editor, prepared the index.
24 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Margolis's parents, Samuel and Anna Gerwits Margolis--Parents' radical backgrounds--Why parents left Russia--Family moves to California--Sierra Madre--Family moves to Santa Barbara--Margolis's mother dies--Margolis graduates from Santa Barbara High School--Works as night clerk at Western Union Telegraph Company--Love of reading--Memories of childhood pranks.
Mother and father's relationship--Lack of religious training--Father's political beliefs--Trips to Los Angeles--Relationship with Gussom family--Prelegal studies at Santa Barbara State Teachers College and University of Southern California (USC)--Enters Hastings College of the Law--Fraternity life at USC--Friendships--Twentieth anniversary reunion of law school class.
Composition of Margolis's law school class--Influenced by professors Robert W. Harrison and Marcel E. Cerf--Desire to be a labor lawyer--Fellow law students' lack of social conscience--Enters the new field of labor law.
Margolis admitted to the bar--First personal injury case--Works with,,George T. Davis on Ex parte Mooney --Becomes good friends with Tom Mooney--International pressure to release Mooney--Culbert L. Olson pardons Mooney--Margolis works on Upton Sinclair and Culbert L. Olson gubernatorial campaigns--Differences between Sinclair and Olson--Works for Hiram W. Johnson, Jr.--Meets many labor people through the Mooney case--Joins Gladstein and Grossman--Firm's growth parallels growth of labor law.
The Wagner Act--Political differences between the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO)-- Cowell Portland Cement Co. v. NLRB ; Margolis meets John T. McTernan--Illegal employer tactics to keep employees from organizing--Split between AFL and CIO--Matthew O. Tobriner--Lawyers for AFL and CIO work well together--Margolis's relationship with Harry Bridges--The San Francisco General Strike and Bloody Thursday--The Harry Bridges deportation trial.
Carol Weiss King called in as lead defense counsel in the Bridges deportation trial--Margolis's role in handwriting analysis for the Bridges case--Estolv E. Ward--Margolis moves to Los Angeles.
Bridges v. California and Times Mirror Co. v. Superior Court --United States Supreme Court sets aside contempt proceedings against Bridges and the Los Angeles Times --Problems with Judge Ruben S. Schmidt--Terence B. Cosgrove, the Los Angeles Times regular counsel, works with A.L. Wirin--Margolis meets Wirin-- Pfeiffer v. Borun Brothers, E.H. Renzel Co. v. Warehousemen's Union, ILA , and injunctions against picketing--Internment of Japanese after Pearl Harbor--Margolis's relationship with Wirin--The National Lawyers Guild organizes in support of the New Deal.
George G. Olshausen, an early leader of the National Lawyers Guild on the West Coast--Red-baiting the guild--Guild works to end racial discrimination--Earl B. Dickerson, first black president of the National Lawyers Guild--Margolis works with Loren Miller, Sr., and John McTernan on In re Laws --Huge drop in National Lawyers Guild membership due to its resolution to oppose the Marshall Plan--The National Lawyers Guild supports formation of the United Nations--How Margolis met his wife, Valerie Charlotte Kayly--Margolis's three sons: Kenneth Richard, Roger Steven and Gregory Allen--Margolis's wife is very supportive of his work and political beliefs.
Margolis contributes to the Tom Mooney Labor School--Delegate to Labor's Non-Partisan League and to the Simon Lubin Society--Arthur Sarit, an FBI informant, reports on Margolis in 1937--FBI places a mail cover on Margolis's residence and later taps his phone--Margolis joins Gallagher, Wirin, and Johnson in Los Angeles--Milton Tyre--Victor Kaplan--Samuel Blum--Charles J. Katz-- Milton Tyre gives secret testimony to House Committee to Investigate Un-American Activities (HUAC)--John McTernan joins Margolis's law firm--Division of labor in Margolis's law firm--Margolis works with Alfred T. Gitelson on West v. Stainbach .
Margolis and John McTernan go from full-time labor cases to full-time political cases--Political people afraid to use Margolis and McTernan for their money cases--George Shibley, lead lawyer for the Sleepy Lagoon trial--Margolis works on Sleepy Lagoon appeal with Clore Warne and Carey McWilliams--George Shibley is the only trial attorney to leave a good record--Racial bias expressed by Judge Charles Fricke--Alice McGrath --Frank Lopez--Richard Ibanez--Bert Corona--Margolis gets support on the case from Anthony Quinn, Orson Welles, and Rita Hayworth--Guy Endore, LaRue McCormick, and Charlotta Bass--Sleepy Lagoon defendants' attitude towards Margolis--Henry Leyvas--Margolis's personal outrage over case--Unusual for minority defendants to get an appeal-- Zoot Suit , dramatization of Sleepy Lagoon case.
Margolis's firm represents the Screen Office Employees Guild, the Screen Cartoonists Union, Local 698 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), and the Screen Publicists Union in their strike against Warner Brothers Pictures--Warner Brothers gets a temporary restraining order against the strikers--The strikers get a restraining order against the police interfering with picketing--Charges filed against Margolis and other lawyers, but state bar drops them--Harassment of picketers--Herb Sorrell--Ronald Reagan--The Conference of Studio Unions (CSU)--FBI tapes Margolis's speech--The Hollywood Independent Citizens Committee of the Arts, Sciences, and Professions (HICCASP)--Struggle between CSU and IATSE--Police harder on CSU strikers than on IATSE strikers--Margolis thrown off the Warner Brothers lot during strikes--Margolis compares Herb Sorrell and Harry Bridges.
Margolis's involvement in 1946 CSU strike--Roy Brewer--The Communist Party and the CSU--The Hollywood Nineteen--Robert Kenny, Martin Popper, and Samuel Rosenwein work with Margolis on HUAC investigation--Bartley Crum's dramatic career--Strategy discussions for HUAC investigation: whether to use First or Fifth Amendment or both, and whether to emphasize the political or job-saving position--Decision to rely on First Amendment only--John Howard Lawson argues that political position is more important--Dalton Trumbo's position--Debate between Albert Maltz and Ring Lardner, Jr.