Herbert Sorrell

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Herb Sorrell
Born Herbert Knott Sorrell
(1897-04-18)April 18, 1897
Died May 1973 (1973-06) (aged 76)
Burbank, California, United States
Nationality United States
Occupation Trade union organizer and activist

Herbert Knott "Herb" Sorrell (April 18, 1897 – May 1973) was a Hollywood union organizer and leader.[1] He headed the Conference of Studio Unions (CSU) in the late 1940s, and was the business manager of the Motion Picture Painters union, Local 644 until the 1950s.[2]

At age 12 he found employment in a sewer pipe factory in Oakland, California, and later in Oakland he worked with union leader Harry Bridges. At one point he tried boxing as a career. He moved to Los Angeles in 1925, became a scenery painter for the movie studios, and joined the local painters union.[3] In April 1937, his union local was one of those unaffiliated with IATSE which formed the Federation of Motion Picture Crafts (FMPC).[4] That same month, the FMPC went on strike against the major studios.[5] In the picket line at Warner Brothers, Sorrell's determination earned him the rank of "picket captain", and the attention of Blayney F. Mathews, head of Warner Brothers' security, who had him arrested. He was never charged and was released several days later.[6] This notoriety led to his subsequent position as the business representative for the painter's union[7] and as a result he became one of the major negotiators who settled the strike in June.[8]

In May 1941 Sorrell called for a strike against the Disney film studio.[9] The strike was supported by the newly formed Screen Cartoonists Guild, and the cooperation resulted in the organization of the Conference of Studio Unions (CSU), which Sorrell proceeded to lead.[10]

In 1945, Sorrell lead the CSU strike that led to Hollywood Black Friday. The strike originated from a dispute between two unions, CSU and IATSE, over which one of them had union authority over seventy-seven set decorators. After an NLRB vote and War Labor Board decision in favor of CSU, the studios refused to recognize CSU's bargaining authority, and the strike began. After the violence on Black Friday, the strike quickly settled.[11] However collusion between the IATSE leadership and the studios[12] resulted in another strike in September 1946, which the CSU did not have the financial strength to endure.[10] Sorrell was convicted of "contempt of court" and "failure to disperse" in connection with the 1945 strike, but acquitted of all the felony charges which included "inciting to riot" and "rioting".[12]

Communist Ties[edit]

In 1941 and again in 1946 Sorrell testified before the California Legislature's Joint Fact-Finding Committee on Un-American Activities (the Tenney Committee), but there was insufficient evidence that he was tied to the Communist Party.[13][14] The CSU strike of 1945 which Sorrell led was actively opposed by the American Communist Party.[10][12] In 1947, Walt Disney testified before the U.S. House Committee on Un-American Activities that he "believed at that time that Mr. Sorrell was a Communist because of all the things that I had heard and having seen his name appearing on a number of Commie front things".[15] In 1953, in an actor's lawsuit Sorrell testified that while he was never a communist, he did feel free to spend their money.[16]

According to author Peter Schweizer in his book Reagan's War: The Epic Story of His Forty-Year Struggle and Final Triumph Over Communism, archives released by the Russian government after the fall of the USSR show that Sorrell was a Soviet spy.[17] Schweizer also claims that the strikes led by Sorrell were secretly funded by the Communist Party, despite the fact that the Communist Party did not advocate strikes after the dissolution of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in June 1941.[17][18]


  1. ^ Klingaman, William K. (1996) "Sorrell, Herbert K." Encyclopedia of the McCarthy Era: Facts on File, New York, NY; ISBN 0-8160-3097-9
  2. ^ Screen Actors Guild biography at the Wayback Machine (archived September 27, 2007) accessed October 20, 2008
  3. ^ Pintar, Laurie C. (1996) "Herbert K. Sorrell as the grade-B hero: militancy and masculinity in the studios", Labor History 37(Summer): pp. 392-416.
  4. ^ Pintar (1996) p. 401.
  5. ^ "Step Made to End Hollywood Strike" The New York Times (May 14, 1937) p. 20.
  6. ^ Staff (December 21, 1939) "Movie Workers Win False Arrest Case" The Bakersfield Californian, p. 13, column 2
  7. ^ Pintar (1996) p. 402
  8. ^ Pintar (1996) pp. 404-405.
  9. ^ Denning, Michael (1997) Cultural Front: The Laboring of American Culture in the Twentieth Century Verso, London, ISBN 1-85984-170-8 ;
  10. ^ a b c Horne, Gerald (2001) Class Struggle In Hollywood, 1930-1950: Moguls, Mobsters, Stars, Reds, & Trade Unionists University of Texas Press, Austin, TX; 0-292-73137-X
  11. ^ [1], "The Treaty of Beverly Hills", Time Magazine
  12. ^ a b c Friedrich, Otto (1986) City of Nets: A Portrait of Hollywood in the 1940s Harper and Row, New York ISBN 0-06-015626-0
  13. ^ Cogley, John (1956) Report on Blacklisting, Volume I, Movies Fund for the Republic, New York, p. 34 OCLC 3794664; reprinted in 1972 by Arno Press, New York, NY; ISBN 0-405-03915-8
  14. ^ "Communist brochure" by Screen Actors Guild; accessed October 20, 2008.
  15. ^ "The Testimony of Walter E. Disney Before the House Committee on Un-American Activities", October 24, 1947; accessed October 20, 2008
  16. ^ Staff (1953) "Sorrell on Stand Denies Red Ties" Los Angeles Times (September 30, 1953), p. A-2
  17. ^ a b Schweizer, Peter (2002) Reagan's War: The Epic Story of His Forty-Year Struggle and Final Triumph Over Communism, Doubleday, New York, NY; ISBN 0-385-50471-3
  18. ^ Levenstein, Harvey A. (1981) Communism, Anticommunism and the CIO, Greenwood Press; ISBN 0-313-22072-7


  • Pintar, Laurie C. (1996) "Herbert K. Sorrell as the grade-B hero: militancy and masculinity in the studios" Labor History 37(Summer): pp. 392–416
  • "Painters Strengthen Labor Ties" in December 1941 Screen Actor Magazine.

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