Western New York Labor Leaders Mourn The Passing Of 97-Year-Old Union Activist, Author & Playwright Manny Fried
WNYLaborToday.com Editors’ Note: “I personally did not know Manny Fried very well, but his reputation in the Western New York Labor Community preceded him – no matter where you went. I had the pleasure of seeing his auto-biographical, one-man show entitled, ‘Boilermakers and Martinis,’ a couple of years back at the Road Less Traveled Theatre in Downtown Buffalo. It was an amazing look into the life of a Union Organizer who was the subject of government investigations for his beliefs and works. I’m glad that I had the chance to listen to Mr. Fried and value even more what he talked about now that he has passed. All of Western New York Labor Community will miss his experience, energy, compassion and involvement. There will never be another Manny Fried.” – Tom Campbell/Editor-Publisher
(BUFFALO) – Western New York Labor Leaders today mourned the passing of 97-Year-Old Union Activist, Author & Playwright Manny Fried, describing him as a “compassionate and smart man” who stands as an “icon whose influence was very significant”
“He was an icon to many local Labor Leaders over the years,” Western New York AFL-CIO Labor Federation Vice President Richard Lipsitz told WNYLaborToday.com this afternoon. “For more than seventy years, his influence has been very significant. We will all miss him greatly.”
Former WNYALF President Daniel Boody, who serves as Business Manager of Painters District Council 4 in Buffalo, told WNYLaborToday.com that Fried made an impression on him the first time the two met some 25 years at a Buffalo AFL-CIO Labor Council meeting.
“Just listening to him speak was an inspiration to all Labor Leaders. He was compassionate and smart and will truly be missed by all in Organized Labor across Western New York and the in the circles he traveled in. I will always remember him,” Boody said.
Buffalo AFL-CIO Central Labor Council President Michael Hoffert reacted when told of Fried’s passing: “What a loss.” “For everything he has been through and done, he was a tremendously admirable individual. Even when I saw him recently at the age of ninety-seven, he was extremely sharp (mentally). He was a walking Western New York Labor History book. He’s another Labor Historian that (Organized Labor) has lost,” Hoffert told WNYLaborToday.com.
The following obituary appeared in today’s Buffalo News:
Manny Fried, the actor, union organizer and prolific playwright who stood up to McCarthyism and served as an outspoken champion of the working class, died Thursday night in a Kenmore nursing home. He was 97.
Even until this year, Fried remained a guiding presence in Buffalo's theater, literary and social activist communities and was widely regarded as the most important figure on Buffalo's theater scene.
Once dubbed "the most dangerous man in Western New York" for his union organizing activities and association with the Communist Party, Fried was the subject of government investigations and public recriminations for much of his life.
Under the stage name Edward Mann, Fried appeared in many plays on Broadway in the 1930s, working the famed Group Theatre and alongside such luminaries as Elia Kazan and Clint Eastwood.
He later returned to Buffalo and began a long career as a union leader, organizing workers at factories and plants across Western New York. His career as playwright developed simultaneously, and was suffused with the same passion for the working class he brought to his union organizing activities.
Out of dozens of plays, Fried's best known include "Drop Hammer" and "The Dodo Bird," each of which has been frequently produced outside of Buffalo.
As an actor, Fried was most recently seen on the Road Less Traveled Theatre stage performing his autobiographical one-man show "Boilermakers and Martinis." His second memoir, "Most Dangerous Man," was published last year.
The following interview with Manny Fried appeared in ArtVoice in 2006:
Emmanuel “Manny” Fried is one of Buffalo’s best-known authors and playwrights. He’s also an actor and director, not to mention a social critic and university professor. He fought in the “Great War” and spent years as a labor organizer and suspected Communist while married to Buffalo’s upper crust. You might say Fried’s done it all, and you’d probably be right. A Renaissance man of the old order, Fried is a modern-day Mark Twain or Oscar Wilde, easily crossing genres and leaving a lasting impression on each of them. An on-and-off Buffalo resident since the age of five, he’s captured the courage and despair of Buffalo’s working class for 78 years in novels, short stories and plays that are largely autobiographical. Even today, at the ripe age of 93, Fried doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Along with continuing work on three novels, a memoir and a new play, he is teaching part-time at Buff State, conducting the WNY Playwrights Workshop, and acting in and directing local theatre productions. “Other than that I’m not doing much,” he says.
Next Wednesday, Sept. 13, Fried will share the stage with writer and playwright Gary Earl Ross, as they kick off Earth’s Daughters Magazine’s “Gray Hair Series” at Hallwalls. The reading, which starts at 7:30pm, is co-sponsored by Hallwalls, Just Buffalo and the UB Poetry Collection.
The following is excerpted from a recent interview with Fried about his life.
When did you first get involved with theater and writing? From the time I was a kid, and now I’m 93. I wrote my first play when I was 15 years old. I was living in Buffalo; I was born in Brooklyn and my family moved here when I was 5 years old. I was working as a bellhop at what was then the Ford Hotel, then the Richford Hotel, then it became subsidized housing for the elderly, and now it’s that hotel on the corner of Chippewa and Delaware, the Hampton Inn. I was a bellhop there in high school, and I wrote a play about a young, naive kid at 15 years old who learned that prostitutes are human beings. Any bellhop continually gets to know the prostitutes in the area.
Was it produced? No, what happened is I sent it to my brother, the academic. He was one of the older brothers, and he was at Harvard. He wrote to me and said, “It’s bad enough you’re a pimp without letting the whole world know, and I tore up your play.” Later on, though, he could see that I was a good playwright.
How much later on? Quite a bit later, when I won a contest sponsored by the Junior Chamber of Commerce. That’s a whole story in and of itself. Gary Tunmore, who was quite conservative, suggested that I participate in this contest. Well, I said I had just been called before the Un-American Committee and I didn’t have a chance of winning that. He said, “Come on, it’s not being judged by the Junior Chamber of Commerce, it’s being judged by the Duke University Theater Department.” So I submitted and they issued a statement that I’d won. The FBI asked them to rescind it. I called Gary and said, “I told you,” and he said, “Manny, wait.” The Junior Chamber had a meeting with the junior executive board and they issued a statement saying, “We held the contest and Mr. Fried won.” They stood up to the FBI.
That wasn’t the end of your FBI troubles, was it? No, the FBI was tailing me around the clock and putting the pressure on me. At one point Ed Kelly, who was a reporter for the Buffalo News, told me that I was the symbol of the Left that must be broken. So they went after me pretty hard. When they couldn’t get at me they went after my wife and kids hoping through them to get at me. My kids were dropped out of car pools, Sunday school, dance class and all that kind of stuff.
How did you initially get involved with labor unions? I went to work at Dupont’s in high school. That was my first contact really with factory life, and I became very much bonded with the guys I was working with. There I met a man who had gone to University of Iowa, a supervisor. I told him I was interested in theater and turned on to acting and playwriting by a high school teacher. He told me that the University of Iowa had one of the best theater departments in the country. I had been a good football player, so I sent my clippings out there and I got a scholarship. I went out and spent all my time in the theater department for a year. I wasn’t good enough as a quarterback so I didn’t get renewed on the scholarship. After a few years of acting in New York City, I returned to Buffalo to direct the Buffalo Contemporary Theatre. That fell apart with World War II. In 1941, I figured I was going to be drafted soon, so I went to work at Curtiss. I could talk, and I was very strong with pro-labor by then, and I began holding union meetings in the yard. I became chairperson of the Volunteer Organizing Committee for the United Auto Workers. The company tried to buy me off, they offered me my own radio program and all that stuff. Finally they decided I was getting too much support and they had to fire me. I was removed, with the excuse that I was being subversive, by one of the Air Corps representatives. I was hired as a union organizer by the United Electrical Workers. Two-and-a-half years later I was reinstated at Curtiss and I got my back pay for the time I was out, but I stayed on as an organizer. And that turned out good, I was taken under the wing of a guy named Charlie Cooper, who was a rank-and-file leader of the union on whom the Wagner Act was established for the Supreme Court. He taught me how to negotiate and how to organize, all that stuff. I was doing very well. We organized Wurlitzer, Otis Elevator, Pratt & Letchworth. By the time I finished my union career, I was the international representative of this area and we represented 30,000 factory workers. I was a real power by then and the establishment, the FBI, felt they had to get me out of there.
How’d you get back to writing plays? Well, I was in the Army for two and a half years. November ’46 I was discharged and got an offer to star in a movie called Boomerang. Anyway, I came back to Buffalo and my wife said she wasn’t going to New York, so if I wanted to go I could go. And then I went to see Charlie Cooper. Now Charlie had lost a leg in the merchant marine and he was in the hospital getting another piece of his leg cut off. So I went to see him and he said, “When you coming back to work, you redhead?” I said, “Charlie it’s all an accident, I’m really an actor. Just by accident I have been a union organizer here for a while and I have been offered this great opportunity to have my career made.” He said, “Don’t you abandon us you red-headed son of a bitch, we need you.” He dies that night, an embolism hits his heart. He dies, and I stayed on. I never regretted it. And when I was forced out of the union, I thought, “Well what’ll I do now, they blocked me here? I’m gonna write about it.” And the first play I wrote was The Dodo Bird. I wanted to capture what it was like to work in a factory where you are continually hitting lay-offs and strikes and getting shut down and what it does to your life, that kind of thing. And I captured it, I think. That play was done Off-Broadway originally in 1967, and received rave notice.
That must’ve been reassuring. Theater critic Dan Sullivan later wrote that I was the leading playwright in the world writing about labor from the inside. It said it was that I was because I was writing about individual people I knew, not ideology, not abstraction.
And your fame only fueled the FBI’s harassment? I’ve got thousands of pages of FBI files on me. My older daughter read them and said, “Dad, they spent $1 million on you!”
Do you know anybody who the FBI did “get to”? They destroyed Lyle Goldinger completely. There were several people who committed suicide under the pressure. At one point I contemplated it, and went to a session with a psychiatrist who pointed out why I was feeling that way.
Any advice for young artists? Don’t give up. Be stubborn. Have a day job, you need that. In the end, being honest in principle wins out, it does. Be true to yourself