December 1, 1945 p. 26
IN THE COURSE OF A WEEK at least three to four requests for benefit plans, plus actors, musicians and performers to perform in them come via phone, letter and in person to this desk. The causes run the gamut from testimonial dinners (because someone has had a promotion in a job) to patriotic, political and humane charities. And it is for this reason that I want to discuss benefits vs the entertainer this week.
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BENEFITS ARE NOTHING new to the performer, particularly to the night club performer and musician, because it was not too long ago that it was a neat little racket between some of the night club owners, agents and police sergeants. In those days (prohibition) if the boys in the police department wanted to throw a beef steak dinner for any reason at all and wanted entertainment, all he did was to see the club owner and pronto. He had all or as much of a show as they wanted.
Indeed, in the days of the 'ole Cotton Club, it was a known fact that a performer could not keep his job unless he played all benefits, which amounted to five or six each week. This practise [sic] was by no means confined to Harlem or to Negroes exclusively. Downtown was equally as guilty. The practise [sic] became so widespread that the actors themselves decided they would do something about it and they did by forming what is now known as Theatre Authority.
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THE FIRST OBJECTIVE of the 'Authority' is to collect 15 percent of all gross receipts of any affair where entertainers perform free of charge. This rule is hard and fast for all benefits with the exception of those for patriotic causes and the actor himself. This step was made necessary because of the advantage taken of the entertainer and the hesitancy on the part of social agencies to give aid to performers who needed such aid. They always ran into the attitude that the applicant had earned huge sums of money and therefore should have provided for the time when he was unable to get work or when he had lost his health. No one ever took into consideration the fact that, in many cases, entertainers ofttimes, despite their large salaries, work only a few months out of the year and also that they may have cut their careers short because they have overworked themselves for what they considered a good cause for others.
But getting back to Theatre Authority, it gets that name because it is made up of all of the actors', entertainers' and musicians' unions along with all of the actors' welfare guilds, the Negro Actors Guild included. There are no paying dues. Rather, the expenses involved in running the organization comes out of collections from benefits, with the remainder being evenly divided between those welfare organizations which do welfare work among entertainers and musicians.
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THEATRE AUTHORIT'S jurisdiction covers all of the entertainment spots in the country and it is for this reason that the entertainer now can go and get aid where his problems are understood and he meets with sympathetic understanding. There has been stiff resistance to the Authority from some benefit producers feeling that to turn over 15% of their gross receipts takes too big a chunk out of their net profits; but these people seem to forget that without the name performers to draw at the box office, their receipts would be almost negligible.
In line with this reasoning, look if you will at the tremendous amounts of money raised for the US Treasury and all of the allied war funds and agencies in these past hectic years by the use of name stars. And just what do you suppose is happening to the lives of these overworked benefit kings and queens in the meantime? Well, I'll take just one, for example. Not too many years back, there was an eemce [sic], dancer and comedian. His name was Danny Healy, and was well thought of by all who knew him and was a pretty big name at the box office. Danny was never known to say no to a request to appear at a benefit. He played hospitals, prisons, churches, testimonial dinners and what have you. Any time any one gave a benefit, Healy's name was the first to go on the list. Then things went bad for Dan. He found that he had been seen in so many different places free of charge that the patrons got so they were not particular about seeing him at the regular entertainment fee. I don't know what he is doing now, but I do know he is not in the upper brackets of the entertainment world where he should be. I'm wondering if those people who worked him so hard in the days when they needed him appreciate the tremendous contribution he has made?
Danny came along in the high riding days of the late twenties and I am led to wonder about say a person like Josh White, who today is called on by everybody to do benefits. Josh plays benefits before, between and after his regular shows at Cafe Society. I have seen him rush off the floor wet from perspiration, throw a coat over his shoulders into a waiting cab to play for this or that benefit. He works on his job until 3:30 am but yet you can find him on a tender at 9 in the morning serenading incoming war weary soldiers.
All of these things he does because he feels it [sic] his duty to do his part in the one way he knows how. But you ask yourself, when does he sleep, take care of his personal affairs or have time with his lovely wife and children?
The answer is he doesn't. He doesn't have the time. Josh is only one case of many. So all you folks who are running benefits, matter little how urgent or important the cause, *show the entertainer your appreciation for his efforts by turning over the 15% cheerfully. While the people appearing in your particular show may not need it, there are many of his colleagues who do.