Oral Histories

Interview of Ben Margolis

Z: Orphan Interviews pre 1999
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.
Bartley Crum and HUAC investigation--Charles Houston--Eric A. Johnston, head of the Motion Picture Producers Association of America, Inc., promises there won't be a blacklist--Major New York banks pressure the entertainment industry for a blacklist--Debates over position witnesses should take towards HUAC committee--Attorneys thoroughly prepare witnesses for questions from committee--Witnesses prepare written statements and distribute them to press--Meeting with Lee Pressman, general counsel for CIO--Bertolt Brecht's reaction to Lawson's testimony--Brecht testifies and leaves immediately for Germany--Howard Koch's ad in the Hollywood Reporter.
Hollywood Ten thoroughly prepared for committee's questions--General reactions to first day of testimony--Strategy session on first night--Role of Committee for the First Amendment--Support of Screen Writers Guild--Lawsuits against blacklist--Nine witnesses who weren't called not as strongly political as ten who were--Margolis meets in New York with Communist Party officials--Building public support for Hollywood Ten--Hollywood Ten case lost in trial and appellate courts--Denied hearing by United States Supreme Court--Decision to take only John Howard Lawson's and Dalton Trumbo's cases to trial.
- Strategy sessions on response to HUAC--Major arguments in pretrial motions all lost--Lawyers try to show Lawson's Blockade and Trumbo's Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo at trials--Difficulty in picking a fair jury--Margolis very hopeful for Supreme Court hearing until Justices Rutledge and Murphy die--Petition for rehearing denied--Defendants taken into custody--Edward Dmytryk's difficult position as a director--Defendants treated well in prisons--Martin Gang and the blacklist--The use of fronts to sell work.
Paul Jarrico, Herbert Biberman, and Michael Wilson decide that blacklisted people should make independent films--They produce Salt of the Earth --Simon Lazarus--Rosaura Revueltas, the film's female lead--Margolis sets up corporation and helps find money for film's budget--Red-baiting by Representative Donald Jackson of California and by Howard Hughes--Rosaura Revueltas deported--Roy Brewer orders union members not to work on Salt of the Earth --Producers must distribute film themselves--Margolis tries to file antitrust action against Howard Hughes--Records on antitrust action at New York federal court-- Salt of the Earth becomes an underground classic--Hanns Eisler--Charlie Chaplin--Unemployment insurance cases.
Margolis writes letters requesting parole for Hollywood Ten--Participates in civil suits concerning breach of contract for Lester Cole and Adrian Scott--Discusses morals clause--Edward Dmytryk names names--Larry Parks testifies before HUAC--Screenplays by blacklisted writers under fictitious names--Dalton Trumbo and Albert Maltz move to Mexico; Mike Wilson and Paul Jarrico move to Europe--Different approaches to breaking the blacklist--Joseph Welch and Wilson v. Loew 's case--Dalton Trumbo's controversial "there were only victims" speech to the Screen Writers Guild--Margolis's letter on motivations of the Hollywood Ten--Margolis's reactions to personal and political betrayals--Sterling Hayden.
Black market for writers: what producers knew--John Bright--Tenney Committee investigates the California Labor School--Margolis and John McTernan handle the Los Angeles Seventeen cases--Margolis and McTernan advise using the Fifth Amendment; Leo Gallagher disagrees--Contempt proceedings for the Los Angeles Seventeen--Judge Pierson M. Hall--Unusual case of Milt Newman--Margolis argues before Judge Hall over air crash and tax cases--Dorothy Healey.
Judge Hall holds Margolis in contempt--Hall drops contempt proceedings--Function of the federal grand jury--The Civil Rights Congress compared to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)--Working with A.L. Wirin--Relationship of Civil Rights Congress to Communist Party--Civil Rights Congress's emphasis on political cases--Anne Shore, executive secretary of Civil Rights Congress--David Brown, FBI informer within Civil Rights Congress.
More on David Brown--Communist Party precautions during the McCarthy period--Communist Party membership diminishes--Howard Fast and Dalton Trumbo--The National Lawyers Guild during the McCarthy period--Communist-registration ordinances--Margolis represents Henry Steinberg and LaRue McCormick.
More on communist-registration ordinances--LaRue McCormick--The American Bar Association (ABA)--Margolis receives request to join the ABA--Joins ABA, drops out, later rejoins to work in the civil liberties section--The State Bar of California and the State Bar Conference of Barristers.
Dennis v. United States --Behavior of Judge Harold R. Medina--Richard Gladstein, Abraham J. Isserman, David Scribner, and George William Crockett, Jr., work on Dennis case--Courts change their interpretation of protected free speech to strengthen case against communists--John McTernan--Margolis learns from Dorothy Healey that top-echelon communists in California have been arrested--Margolis draws up application for bail--Daniel G. Marshall speaks at hearing--Daniel G. Marshall's career ruined--Leo Gallagher's testimony harmful to defendants in bail hearing--Margolis petitions United States Supreme Court to lower bail.
Supreme Court decides that bail is excessive--Margolis crossexamines Leo Gallagher--A.L. Wirin's work on Smith Act cases--Paul Major--Judge William C. Mathes keeps bail at $100,000--United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit sets bail at $5,000--People providing bail testify before Judge Mathes-- Judge Mathes allows jailed defendants to meet with attorneys in federal building, Monday through Friday--Support group provides lunch for defendants and attorneys every workday--Deputy marshall at jail gives defendants special treatment--Judge Mathes threatens Margolis with contempt--Judge Mathes congratulates Margolis and other defense attorneys at end of trial.
Recruiting counsel for Yates v. United States (Los Angeles Smith Act case)--Differences between the defense strategy for the West Coast Smith Act case and for the trial of the national Communist Party leadership--Deciding how to present the Communist Party's positions--Groups which supported the Smith Act defendants--Pretrial preparations--Sam Rosenwein never admitted to the California bar.
FBI surveillance of defendants in the Los Angeles Smith Act case--Wiretapping of phone conversation between Margolis and Paul Jacobs--The Smith Act defendants--Communist Party's support for the Smith Act when first passed.
Judge William C. Mathes--Jury selection--Evidence brought against the defendants--Defense argument that the Communist Party did not advocate violent overthrow of democratic govern ments--Mathes's racist treatment of Leo Branton, Jr.--William Schneiderman's participation as counsel--Volunteer efforts in support of the Smith Act defendants.
Testimony by informers--One-sided press accounts of the trial--Leo Branton defends the Communist Party on the basis of its support for civil rights--The jury rules against the Smith Act defendants--Oleta O'Connor Yates ruled in contempt of court--Yates's jail sentences--United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit supports most of Judge Mathes's rulings--Robert W. Kenny and Augustin Donovan are recruited to help argue the appeal before the United States Supreme Court--Donovan's outrage at the government's disregard of First Amendment rights--The Supreme Court overturns lower court rulings--The Blau case--Grounds for Supreme Court's ruling.
Hernandez v. Stabach --Fishing industry cases--Black lawyers reject Margolis's proposed defense in In re Laws --Margolis subpoened by HUAC--State Bar of California repeatedly defeats anticommunist resolutions--On taking the Fifth Amendment as a defense before HUAC--Frank Belcher demands that Margolis be disbarred--Margolis works with Belcher in Wiener v. United Air Lines.
The Julius and Ethel Rosenberg trial--The Communist Party's refusal to mount a campaign or to provide a lawyer in defense of the Rosenbergs--Margolis's involvement in effort to get Eisenhower to grant last-minute clemency--Not enough evidence to convict the Rosenbergs--Defending Sidney Weinbaum of California Institute of Technology--Individuals who denounced Margolis as a communist.
The David Hyun deportation case--Works with Joseph Ball on appeal in defense of lawyer George Shibley--Denied passport in 1952--Gradual disassociation from the Communist Party-Khrushchev's disclosures concerning Stalin--Travels to Czechoslovakia two weeks before Soviet invasion--Chairs annual People's World banquet--Al Richmond expelled for criticizing invasion--Relationships with friends after leaving the Communist Party--The Samuel Margolis Foundation--Background on three sons--Depositions on violations of voting rights i n the South--Mississippi lawyers and reporters refuse to aid in deposition efforts.
Hostility of general public in Mississippi--Black reporter.takes Governor Ross Barnett's deposition--The National Lawyers Guild since the McCarthy era--Militant New Left lawyers cause divisions within the guild--Soviet and anti-Soviet split within the guild--Guild opposition to the Vietnam War--Guild lawsuit against the FBI--Continuing activities of the guild.
Firm of Katz, Gallagher, and Margolis founded in 1943--Firm's involvement in litigation in a variety of fields, beginning with labor and civil rights cases--Problems related to the firm's political reputation-- Gyerman v. U.S. Lines --Legal activities during the Watts riots--Challenging the legality of the Vietnam War--Effort to represent the Black Panther Party--Defense of Trinidad Iglesias.
The release of Trinidad Iglesias--Partial retirement in 1978--Current involvement in cases--Continued work as advisor to the firm.