Oral Histories

Interview of Seniel Ostrow

Civil rights activist and owner of the Sealy Mattress Company.
A Passion for Justice
Interviews not in a series, part one
Social Movements
Civil Liberties
Biographical Note:
Civil rights activist and owner of the Sealy Mattress Company.
Mischel, Florence D.
Ostrow, Seniel
Persons Present:
Ostrow and Mischel; Tape I, Side One: Ostrow, Mischel, and Ostrow's daughter Lucille Ostrow, his sister Esther Sokolow, his nephew David Nasatir, and his grandson-in-law Martin Widzer; Tape III and VI, Side One: Lucille Ostrow; Tape VI, Side Two: Lucille Ostrow, Ostrow's grandaughter Jo Anne Willens Widzer, and her husband Martin Widzer; and Tape VII, Side One and XIV, Side One: Lucille Ostrow.
Place Conducted:
Tapes I to VI: Ostrow's home in Malibu, California; Tapes VII to XIII: Ostrow's guest cottage in Malibu, California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library’s Center for Oral History Research.Florence Mischel edited portions of the interview into a book, Palimpsest, published in 1985 by Clef Press, Malibu, California.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Florence D. Mischel. J.D., University of San Francisco; writer, editor, and producer of audiotape programs for the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, 1961-1971; lawyer for the National Labor Relations Board, 1975-83.Mischel's original intent in conducting this interview was to create a "sound portrait" of Seniel Ostrow, suitable for broadcast and other distribution. She intended to edit out her own voice and to splice together Ostrow's reminiscences to give the sense of an uninterrupted monologue. It became clear that there were too many background voices to accomplish this; more importantly, Ostrow's responses were often not sufficiently full to carry his story without including interrogation by Mischel.Mischel did no formal research to prepare for the interview. Prior to the recording sessions, she asked Lucille Ostrow to provide background on several important events. Mischel also refreshed her memory by listening to tapes recorded on various occasions honoring Ostrow. In the main, she drew upon her thirty year friendship with Seniel Ostrow and upon the stories she had heard from almost every member of the family.
Processing of Interview:
Catherine de Pury, editorial assistant, 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. The final manuscript remains in the same order as the taped material.Ostrow with, with Mischel's assistance, reviewed the draft transcript shortly before his death. He made corrections to the transcript and Mischel and Ostrow reviewed the edited transcript and provided essential aid in verifying spellings and identities of many persons mentioned in the course of the interview.Teresa Barnett, editorial assistant, prepared the table of contents, biographical summary, and index.
14 hrs.
Interviewee Retained Copyright
Family origins in Russia; family emigrates to the United States; Ostrow's father ranches near San Diego; Ostrow's early business ventures: delivering milk from his father's dairy, collecting wastepaper, operating an autowrecking yard; invests in a mattress factory; survives 1922 depression by underselling the market; buys the Sealy Mattress franchise; labor relations; business strategies during the Depression; developing Sealy into leader of mattress industry; the Sealy "Posture-pedic" mattress; conflicts with the Federal Trade Commission; political discussions with Harry Braverman; involvement in Beverly West-wood Democratic Committee; Saul Alinsky; Carey McWilliams; support for Frontier magazine; support for Henry A. Wallace's 1948 presidential campaign; Robert M. Hutchins and the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions; Pacem in Terris convocation; visit with Ho Chi Minh; efforts to oppose McCarthy-era blacklisting in entertainment, education, and medical professions; Zero Mostel; Earl Warren; Linus Pauling; Richard Lippman; investment in Salt of the Earth; Simon Lazarus; Paul Robeson; investments in Israeli business ventures; development of El-Al Airlines; Frouderom; fund-raising for Israel; importance of Jewish identity; Lucille Ostrow's concert career; Alvin Wilder; National Citizens Action Committee; Hollywood Independent Committee for the Arts, Sciences, and Professions; Bart Litton; support for Adlai E. Stevenson and Wayne Morse; Pacifica Radio; support for Hollywood Ten; Martin Sobel; Ethel and Julius Rosenberg; Ben Zukor; establishing Consitutional Rights Foundation; William O. Douglas; programs initiated by the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions; Dorothy Ostrow's involvement in philanthropic activities; the civil rights movement; Laurie Ostrow and the American Civil Liberties Union; support for campaigns for voter registration; Community Service Organization; American society living beyond its means; support for literacy projects; Modern Forum; the Los Angeles Free Clinic; Central City Community Mental Health Center.