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Reagan Friend : Blacklisting Figure Brewer Still Wields Influence

March 24, 1985|ALLAN JALON | Times Staff Writer

"I can tell in five minutes if a person is a Communist," Roy Brewer said, his eyes growing hard, his face taut, his voice soft. "I'm never wrong."

This kind of self-proclaimed insight made Brewer, once the top labor official in Hollywood, an extraordinarily powerful figure in the 1940s. During the anti-communist furor that swept the film industry, Brewer had a reputation for being able to ruin or redeem a career. His role in the blacklisting of suspected Communists in the film industry, his critics say, made Brewer one of the darkest figures of a dark age.

Now, Roy Brewer is getting attention again, thanks in part to an old colleague and admirer named Ronald Reagan. The two men worked closely when Reagan was president of the Screen Actors Guild, from 1947 to 1952. They remained good friends and Reagan took the 75-year-old Tarzana resident to Washington last year as chairman of the Federal Service Impasses Panel, the final arbiter between federal unions and their government employers.

The Federal Times, a Washington-based weekly newspaper for federal workers, welcomed Brewer in February with the headline: "Reagan Chooses Blacklist Expert for Labor Panel."

'Reaganmate of the Month'

Mother Jones, an ardently liberal monthly magazine, picked up the story and in June named Brewer its "Reaganmate of the Month."

Articles in both publications repeated charges from the past that Brewer had played a major part in helping studios and congressmen label actors, writers and directors as Communists. People who were close to the turmoil said that some of those named were Communists, but some were not. Civil libertarians charged that it didn't make any difference because the whole issue was unfair.

In 1947, when Congress convened the House Un-American Activities Committee to investigate the alleged Communist infiltration of the film industry, Brewer was the industry's top labor leader. As Hollywood representative of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, he bargained for thousands of people involved in all phases of the industry.

He also helped lead a group called the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, a vociferously anti-communist group that worked with the Un-American Activities Committee. Brewer said he doesn't pay much attention to critics who characterize him as a sort of boss among ideological bullies.

"The party position now is to get articles that hack away at the truth of what happened," he said. Those attacks, he said, won't weaken his resolve to make a contribution to public life.

At an age when many men would have slowed down, Brewer is still a busy man. Just days after Reagan appointed Brewer to the federal labor panel, Gov. George Deukmejian made him one of seven members of the state's Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board.

Once Roosevelt Liberal

Brewer, whose evolution from Roosevelt liberalism to conservatism in the late 1940s and early '50s paralleled Reagan's, said his state appointment did not stem from an involvement with the Republican Party. Although a member and a contributor to the Republican Party, he said he is not particularly active.

"They knew I was a labor leader and I am not part of the Democratic clique that has absorbed the labor movement in this town," he said.

Brewer also is a paid consultant to Local 695 of the International Sound Technicians, Cinetechnicians and Television Engineers of the Motion Picture and Television Industries. The Studio City-based local has 2,800 members.

His schedule in the past month took him to a local Navy base to iron out a labor dispute, to Sacramento to lobby, to a Los Angeles union hall where he keeps an office and, last week, to the White House.

In Washington, he discussed appointments to the labor panel with the White House personnel office. He said he has easy access to the President and has visited him regularly. A White House spokesman said Reagan considers Brewer "a longstanding personal friend."

Also on Pension Panel

The Reagan Administration also named Brewer to a Labor Department advisory panel that is recommending changes to federal laws governing private pension plans.

The jobs in Washington and Sacramento are part time, occupying several days a month. He is paid only for the days on the job. The largest per diem payment, for the labor panel chairmanship, is $200. He won't say how much he gets for his work for the sound technicians.

"I like to think I have some influence," he said, although he acknowledged that his grab bag of positions affords him but a shadow of his former stature.

Brewer's chairmanship of the impasses panel, if somewhat obscure, is an important job. Federal labor unions are prohibited by law from striking, so Brewer's job is to arbitrate any dispute that may arise.

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