So there we were, on a Thursday mid-morning – Below the Line’s big giant head, Patrick Graham, and truly yours – libations already in hand, a plate of turkey, gravy and fixin’s in our near future. We were guests of IA Local 44 – Hollywood’s property craftspersons – at their annual Christmas party given for retirees.
No, not me; longtime readers of this space, who have charted the inexorable decline of the economy along with me will be unsurprised to learn I can’t actually afford to retire. But these folks have. There must be something to that whole “organizing” thing that ultimately yields benefits.
Anthony Pawluc, 44’s secretary/treasurer, noted that the local’s retirement fund has been providing such seasonal festivities for over 15 years, with not only the drinks and meal covered, but boxes of chocolates for the ladies, and a raft of prizes and goodies raffled off with business agent Ed Brown holding forth in merry M.C. mode.
Also holding forth were two of the more venerable retirees – Ed’s own father, Harold Brown, slated to turn 94 on New Year’s Eve, and the 98 year-old Mariano Tomasino, a recent birthday celebrant himself.
Tomasino was there with his wife of 76 years, Sugar (or “Mary,” for the less colorfully inclined). “My life has been a thrill,” he says, looking back over the years. He recounted how he started as a gofer in the ’40s, but says – in one of the great lines summarizing much of how Hollywood works – “they sent me on a lot of funny things.”
He declined to elaborate, but the funniness ran its course, and he shortly switched to being a property manager, which he did through the ’50s and beyond for TV, on shows ranging from Lassie to Red Skelton’s variety show, and later a series for Don Rickles.
Rickles invited him and Sugar to be his guest in Las Vegas – the older, cooler Vegas – and when Tomasino took his seats during the show, the spotlight swung on him, and Rickles introduced him as “a Mafia big shot,” then rattled off some jokes at his expense.
Tomasino grew nervous wondering if any rival – and real – Mafia figures were in the room. That, and the fact that one of his cousins, bearing the same name, was actually a made fella himself. “There were seven Marianos!” he says of his family.
But he was plainly having a great time with his IA family, too, as was Ron Hall, another retiree who has spent the last 17 years working one day a week as a “field steward,” for the local, which means he gives out rate cards and union info where he can. He happily noted that commercial shoots have recently been organized in L.A. county. With a contract agreement coming up next August, Hall notes that “the health plan is the big issue.”
He notes that television is doing well (as are, specifically, prop houses), though “features haven’t fully recovered,” since the economy’s plunge. And given the tax incentives in other states – and offshore – that might be a very long climb back. But he also says that Brown has been the local’s “most active business agent.”
And active he was, raffling off batches of CDs, bottles of wine, assortments of food and ultimately a flat screen TV, to lucky ticket holders. There was so much bounty, though, it felt as if nearly every other person came away with something. Many of the DVDs were in fact paired with the champagnes and wines: “It’ll make the movie better,” Brown joked,
As does, of course, the experience of being treated fairly, and getting paid a decent wage. The current retirees of IA 44 worked during the high season of unions in America. Making sure the holidays of their eventual predecessors at the retirees’ Christmas party enjoy equal merriment is the challenge in the years ahead.