Screen Writers Guild

The Screen Writers Guild was an organization of Hollywood screenplay authors, formed as a union in 1933. In 1954, it became two different organizations: Writers Guild of America, West and the Writers Guild of America, East.[1]


The Guild began as an informal club in 1920. Ten writers met in 1933 to establish the Guild as a union under the protection of laws governing unions under consideration by Congress and eventually embodied in the Wagner Act of 1935. They included Donald Ogden Stewart, Charles Brackett, John Bright, Philip Dunne, Dorothy Parker and Howard J. Green; the union's first president.[2] Others active in the 1930s included Lillian Hellman, Dashiell Hammett, Ogden Nash, Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, and Maurice Rapf.[3] It sought to establish criteria for crediting authors for creating or contributing to a screenplay, known as "screen credits."[4] The film studios responded by refusing to hire Guild members and forming a rival organization called the Screen Playwrights.[4] When the Guild appealed to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the NLRB certified the Guild as the "exclusive bargaining agency" for screenwriters employed by 13 of 18 Hollywood studios, based on elections in which writers chose the Guild over the Screen Playwrights.[5][4] The film producers acceded to the NLRB ruling in March 1939.[6]

Beginning in 1940, the Guild came under attack by the House Committee on Un-American Activities for the radical communist leanings of many of its members.[7] The attacks escalated in 1947, when more than a dozen writers were called to testify. Hellman responded with an essay in the Screen Writer, the Guild's publication, attacking the Committee for its investigation and the film industry's owners for submitting to the Committee's intimidation.[8] It described the Committee's hearings:[9]

A sickening, sickening, immoral and degraded week. And why did it take place? It took place because those who wish war have not the common touch. Highly placed gentlemen are often not really gentleman, and don't know how to go about these things. Remember that when it was needed, in Europe, they had to find the house painter and the gangster to make fear work and terror acceptable to the ignorant. Circuses will do it, and this was just such a circus; hide the invasion of the American Constitution with the faces of movie actors; pander to ignorance by telling people that ignorance is good, and lies even better; bring on the millionaire movie producer and show that he too is human, he too is frightened and cowardly. Take him away from his golden house and make him a betrayer and a fool and for those who like such shows and enjoy such moral degradation.

In 1954, the members of the Screen Writers Guild backed the formation of a national union of a broader organization of writers working in motion pictures, television and radio, divided into two geographical bodies: Writers Guild of America, West and the Writers Guild of America, East.[10]

See also


  1. New York Times: "Screen Writers Back New Union," May 21, 1954, accessed December 28, 2011
  2. "Howard J. Green papers". Retrieved 2018-12-10.
  3. Deborah Martinson, Lillian Hellman: A Life with Foxes and Scoundrels (Counterpoint, 2005), 125-6; William Wright, Lillian Hellman: The Image, the Woman (NY: Simon and Schuster, 1986), 116-8
  4. Martinson, 127-8; Wright, 116
  5. New York Times: "Screen Guild Wins Labor Board Vote," August 10, 1938, accessed December 28, 2011
  6. New York Times: "Screen Writers Guild Recognized," March 8, 1939, accessed December 28, 2011
  7. Martinson, 165
  8. Martinson, 217-9
  9. Wright, 212-4
  10. New York Times: "Screen Writers Back New Union," May 21, 1954, accessed December 28, 2011

Additional sources

  • Larry Ceplair and Steven Englund, The Inquisition in Hollywood: Politics in the Film Community, 1930-1960 (University of California Press, 1983)
  • David L. Goodrich, The Real Nick and Nora: Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, Writers of Stage and Screen Classics (Southern Illinois University Press 2004)
  • Victor S. Navasky, Naming Names (Macmillan, 2003)
  • Nancy Lynn Schwartz, The Hollywood Writers' War (NY: Knopf, 1982)
  • Colin Shindler, Hollywood in Crisis: Cinema and American Society, 1929-1939 (Psychology Press, 1996)
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