OBITUARIES : Laurence W. Beilenson, 89; Unionist, Friend of Reagan

Times Staff Writer

An attorney who helped found four major Hollywood trade unions, and whose ideas about communism and nuclear diplomacy were quoted by President Reagan, has died.

Laurence W. Beilenson, who was 89, died June 27 after suffering a stroke.

Beilenson helped to found the Screen Actors Guild, the Writers Guild of America, the Directors Guild of America and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. As SAG’s legal counsel, he wrote its first constitution and bylaws, and in 1937 structured and negotiated SAG’s first contract with film producers.


On June 12, SAG had presented Beilenson with the Ralph Morgan Award for distinguished service. “SAG wouldn’t be here today without him,” guild President Patty Duke said.

Harvard Graduate

The Arkansas-born Beilenson, a graduate of Harvard University and Harvard Law School, was also a friend of Reagan, with whom he worked when Reagan was SAG president and Beilenson its attorney.

Beilenson at various times also served as personal attorney to Reagan, Harpo and Groucho Marx, Greta Garbo and Jimmy Stewart.

In three books on international diplomacy written after he retired, Beilenson warned of the likelihood of a nuclear clash with the Soviets and the need to prepare to meet and win such a conflict.

He and Reagan communicated “every few months or so,” Beilenson said in 1981, and in a speech early in his presidency, Reagan praised Beilenson’s “new, thought-provoking book,” titled “Survival and Peace in the Nuclear Age.”

Reagan also noted in his speech that another book by “my good friend Laurence Beilenson” declares that “no nation that placed its faith in parchment or paper, while at the same time it gave up its protective hardware, ever lasted long enough to write many pages in history.”

SAG Attorney

Beilenson served as SAG’s attorney from its founding in 1933 until 1949. In the 1940s, he accumulated evidence of an attempt by the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees to raid SAG’s jurisdiction with a puppet union for screen actors.

He went to the Treasury secretary with his evidence and brought a successful case against two underworld figures connected with IATSE at that time, according to SAG.

Beilenson, who briefly practiced law in Chicago and San Francisco before coming to Los Angeles in 1924, was an infantry veteran of both world wars, achieving the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Beilenson served two years of World War II as American commanding liaison officer with the Chinese Army. He won the Silver Star, Bronze Star with oak leaf cluster and several Chinese medals. He also helped to form the Hollywood Victory Committee, a clearinghouse for performers who entertained American troops.

MCA Legal Counsel

After he left SAG in 1949, he served as legal counsel for MCA Artists Ltd.

In 1961, he began his 15 years of research and writing, which resulted in three books on diplomacy and nuclear conflict, and articles in several newspapers and magazines.

SAG’s former executive director, Jack Dales, called Beilenson “the spark plug and the brains of the Screen Actors Guild. He irked a lot of studio heads, but his strength and vision were the salvation of the guild.”

Beilenson, a widower, is a distant cousin of Rep. Tony Beilenson (D-Los Angeles).

Memorial services will be held at 1 p.m. Friday, July 8, at the Little Church of the Flowers at Forest Lawn.