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George Slaff, 83; Longtime Advocate of Liberal Causes

March 26, 1989|MICHAEL YBARRA | Times Staff Writer

George Slaff, a tireless advocate for liberal causes who helped secure one of the triumphs of the New Deal, and later served two terms as mayor of Beverly Hills, has died of cancer. He was 83.

The prominent entertainment attorney had been at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center for a week before he died Friday night.

Longtime friend David Golding said Slaff had been somewhat frail in recent years, but still never gave up the abiding vim with which he fought "barons."

"He was always a champion of liberal causes," Golding said. "He never changed his stance."

Love for Underdog

An attorney with a love for the underdog, Slaff was president of the Southern California branch of the American Civil Liberties Union for six years beginning in 1965.

Slaff's liberalism was rooted in the experiences of his family, which fled czarist Russia in the 19th Century. Slaff had said that the family home in Passaic, N.J., was a meeting place for socialist Russian emigres. As a boy of 10, Slaff carried around a soapbox for members of the Young People's Socialist League.

Slaff, who attended Harvard and Stanford universities, began his law career representing evicted tenants. He developed an interest in the regulation of gas and electric companies, earning a reputation as a "utilities rate-buster" in several states.

At age 38, he went to Washington to lend his talents to the New Deal. As chief counsel to the Federal Power Commission in the 1930s and 1940s, he helped establish the government's right to regulate utility rates.

Later, Slaff moved to Beverly Hills. He was a friend of Samuel Goldwyn and chief counsel and personal attorney for the producer for 20 years. His clients also included Raquel Welch and the Smothers brothers.

Sued Beverly Hills

He served 12 years on the Beverly Hills City Council, and was mayor in 1968-69 and 1975-76. Three years ago, he sued the city for violating the constitutional requirement for separation of church and state by allowing the lighting of a 27-foot menorah at a city park during Hanukkah in 1986.

Slaff was not afraid of being called a "liberal." In remarks to an interviewer four years ago, he said: "Many people in the Democratic Party don't want to be known as liberals. There seems to be some intellectual stigma in today's climate about being 'too liberal.' But I don't think liberalism can be considered excessive. To me, it's simply a matter of recognizing equal rights for all."

He is survived by his wife Eve, a sister, May Miller, a daughter, Nora Ross, and a grandson.

Final arrangements are pending. Instead of flowers, the family said that donations can be sent to the George Slaff First Amendment Fund at the ACLU or to Planned Parenthood.

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