Obituary: Martin Gang

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The Independent Online
MARTIN GANG acted as legal adviser to such stars as Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Olivia De Havilland, George Burns, Lucille Ball, Paulette Goddard and Myrna Loy. In the 1940s he helped win a pioneer lawsuit that ended forever the abuses of the old Hollywood "seven-year contract" system. In the 1950s, when anti-Red paranoia was the order of the day, Gang specialised in getting his clients off the blacklist.

A graduate of Harvard and the Boalt Law School and passionately left- wing, he set up the liberal law firm of Gang, Tyre, Ramer and Brown in the early 1930s. One of his long-time clients was, curiously, the right- wing comedian, Bob Hope. Near the end of the Second World War, Hope told the Los Angeles Times, "I asked my lawyer, Martin Gang, how I could hold on to some of the money I was earning, instead of seeing it all going to finance all those B-17s and battleships."

Gang suggested Hope form his own production company and make films in partnership with Paramount studios, a capital gains ploy that is now common practice in the film world, but which was rare at the time. It was Gang too who drew up the iron-clad contracts that required Hope's platoon of young writers to be at the comedian's disposal around the clock in exchange for minuscule salaries.

In 1943 Gang and Olivia De Havilland sued Warner Brothers; the studio had refused to release her when the seven years stipulated in her contract ended, claiming she still owed them six months for six times she had been on suspension. Gang invoked an obscure anti-peonage law, and Warners lost the suit. An actor's film contract is, to this day limited to seven years, including time spent on suspension.

In 1946 Gang and Myrna Loy sued the Hollywood Reporter for calling her "part of the Communist fifth column". Eventually, the Reporter issued a front-page retraction. The Loy suit was just a dress rehearsal for the most intense period of Gang's life; the following year saw the birth of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, and he soon became known as the "Clearance Specialist" crusading tirelessly (often, apparently, without remuneration) to restore blacklisted people to employment. One of his clients, a screenwriter named Louis Pollock, spent a distressing period on the blacklist before learning that he had been confused with a San Diego clothing-store owner named Louis Pollack.

Although he found the ritual of "naming names" distasteful, Gang usually advised his clients to testify fully to the committee. Between 1951 and 1956 he represented 50 victims of the blacklist, including the composer David Raksin (who named 11 people), the actor Lee J. Cobb (who named 20 people), the the screenwriter Richard Collins (who named 23 people), and his fellow Roland Kibbee (who named 17 people, including Collins). In 1951, Gang represented the actor and ex-Communist Sterling Hayden, advising him to inform. Hayden did so, and was warmly praised by the committee for "speaking out as an intensely loyal citizen". Hayden later wrote, "Not often does a man find himself eulogised for having behaved in a manner that he himself despises."

The Casablanca screenwriter Howard Koch, after being subpoenaed by the committee, was advised by Gang to name names. Morally disinclined to "walk the Gang plank", Koch wrote of the Clearance Specialist, "I felt as if I were talking to two people - one identifiable with a progressive past, the other committed to an unprogressive present and future." However, to the end of his long life, Gang expressed pride in his actions, during the blacklist era.

Victor S. Navasky's book Naming Names (1980) describes a party Gang attended in the 1970s with a friend, the writer Allen Rivkin. "I saw Martin smiling," recalled Rivkin. "So I said `What's the matter?' He said, `You know, I was looking around. I got every son of a bitch here off the hook.' "

Martin Gang, lawyer: born 1902; married (two sons, one daughter); died Santa Monica, California 26 January 1998.

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