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Actors' Equity Association Records

Call Number



1913-2007, inclusive
; 1913-1991, bulk


Actors' Equity Association
Actors' Equity Association (Role: Donor)
Bruyr, Robert J. (Role: Donor)


369.25 Linear Feet
in 378 boxes


1 videocassette


8 websites
in 8 archived websites.

Language of Materials

Materials are in English.


The Actors' Equity Association (AEA) is the labor union of professional theatrical performers and stage managers. It was founded in 1913 but did not gain full recognition as the bargaining agent for actors until the historic strike of 1919. The AEA negotiates contracts and agreements, arbitrates contract disputes, regulates the importation of alien actors, regulates charges by theatrical agents, provides a pension plan and welfare fund, and otherwise assists the theatrical industry. The Actors' Equity records contain materials for the period 1913-2007. This guide describes records covering the first seventy-six years of the union's history, including constitutions, by-laws and rule books; early records, general files, membership files, contract files, claims files, photographs, ephemera, correspondence with other unions, guilds and federations, websites, and one videocassette.

Historical Note

The Actors' Equity Association collection is the largest of several collections at the Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives devoted to labor unionism in the performing arts. Taken together, these materials comprise the largest archival resource on this subject in the nation. This body of material provides a wealth of information on the history of the American commercial stage and on labor relations in many branches of the entertainment industry.

The Actors' Equity Association is the union of professional legitimate stage actors and stage managers. It was founded in New York City in May 1913, by 112 actors committed to fighting the arbitrary work rules and low wages then prevalent in the American theatre. In July 1919, the American Federation of Labor chartered the Associated Actors and Artistes of America (known as the 4A's). Equity, with a membership of 2,700 was its largest component. With the support of the musicians' and stagehands' unions, a major strike for recognition followed in August 1919. The strike occurred in eight cities and closed thirty-seven productions while preventing sixteen others from opening. This "revolt of the actors" swelled Equity's membership, instigated the formation of the Chorus Equity Association (CEA), and won a strong five-year contract between the union and the Producing Managers Association. From the beginning, Equity fought for the principal of arbitration of contractual disputes. From the beginning, Equity's headquarters have been in New York City; it also maintains branch offices in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago. Equity is governed by its delegate Council, elected by the membership.

In 1924, Equity achieved its goal of closed shop agreements and continued to make basic improvements in actors' contracts. Bonding provisions guaranteed salaries and transportation (1924); restrictions were placed on alien actors' activity in American theatres (1928); franchising of agents was established (1929); a minimum wage was guaranteed (1933); and minimum rehearsal expenses were paid (1935). Under the auspices of the 4A's, Equity-affiliated screen actors attempted to organize the burgeoning motion picture industry in the 1920s, but were frustrated in their efforts. In 1934, the 4A's jurisdiction over screen actors was handed over to the newly formed Screen Actors Guild.

From 1950 on, Equity began to organize the industrial shows field and subsequently regional, children's and dinner theatres. Chorus and Actors' Equity merged in 1955. A safe and sanitary code for backstage working conditions was established, and minimum rehearsal payments were established. The Pension and Welfare Plan was achieved only after a strike -- the twelve-day Broadway Blackout of 1960.

In the field of civil rights, the union initiated a boycott of segregated theatres in 1947, targeting the National Theatre in Washington, DC. Subsequently Equity's policies against segregation were extended to all theatres which discriminated against either performers or patrons with regard to race, color or creed. In recent years this principle has been extended to include discrimination on sexual preference or political persuasion or belief. In 1982, Equity adopted an affirmative action policy to increase employment opportunities for ethnic minorities and women.

Equity's uncompromising support of its members who were affected by blacklisting and other forms of official and informal persecution during the McCarthy era was almost unique in the entertainment industry and among labor unions in general. On September 28, 1951, after several members had been blacklisted and denied the opportunity to work in television, Equity's Council passed a resolution stating that blacklisting was "hostile to the fundamental purposes of this Association, and that Actors' Equity will act to the fullest of its capacities in defense of its members."

Equity's union work has always extended beyond contractual jurisdiction in actors' lives. Benevolent projects are at the heart of much of the union's functions. Actors' Equity Foundation has a theatre grants program, while a credit union provides credit and financial services to members. The Foundation also aids theatres suffering unforeseen catastrophes, contributes to the Actors' Fund of America, the charitable arm of the theatrical unions, and funds certain worthy theatrical projects. Equity also assists Save the Theatres, Inc., a not-for-profit body whose purpose is the preservation of important old theatre houses.

Sources: Alfred Harding, The Revolt of the Actors(New York: William Morrow and Co., 1929).


The collection consists of ten series:

  1. I. Constitutions, By-laws and Rule Books, 1914-1979
  2. II. Foundations of Actors' Equity, 1913-1929
  3. III. General Files
  4. IV. Membership Files, Dec. 1913-1978
  5. V. Contracts/Agreements/Codes
  6. VI. Claims, 1915-1986
  7. VII. Other Unions/Guilds/Federations
  8. VIII: Oversize/Scrapbooks
  9. IX: Archived Website
  10. X: Photographs and Ephemera

Scope and Content Note

The Actors' Equity Association records consists of all of the earliest records of the organization (1913-1929), as well as general files, membership records, contract files, claims, correspondence with other unions, guilds and federations, photographs, ephemera, websites, and one vidocassette. The date range for these materilas is 1913-2007.

The early records of Actors' Equity include materials created by or relating to a number of luminaries of the theatre, including W.C. Fields, Helen Hayes, Fanny Brice, Eddie Cantor, Florenz Ziegfeld, Basil Rathbone, Maurice Evans, Anita Loos and many others. These famous names constitute only a few of the actors, directors, producers, agents, and other theatrical personalities whose work is chronicled in the Equity collection. This material offers a vivid glimpse into the lives and stage careers that have made up twentieth-century American theatre. The General Files series includes documentation of the presidencies of Ralph Bellamy, Frederick O'Neal and Theodore Bikel, as well as the issues of agents' commissions, pensions, health benefits and housing.

Conditions Governing Access

Series IV: Membership Files is closed to patrons until 2028. The remainder of the collection is open without restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright (or related rights to publicity and privacy) for materials in this collection, created by the Actors' Equity Association was not transferred to New York University. Permission to use materials must be secured from the copyright holder.

Preferred Citation

Identification of item, date; Actors' Equity Association Records; WAG 011; box number; folder number; Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University.

To cite the archived website in this collection: Identification of item, date; Actors' Equity Association Records; WAG 011; Wayback URL; Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University.

Location of Materials

Materials are stored offsite and advance notice is required for use. Please request materials at least two business days prior to your research visit to coordinate access.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by the Actors' Equity Association, 1982. The accession number associated with this gift is 1982.007.

One VHS tapes was donated by Robert J. Bruyr, 1998. The accession number associated with this item is 2018.052.

The thesis in Box 363 was found in the repository in 2014. The accession number associated with this item is 2014.037.

Websites were initially selected by curators and captured through the use of The California Digital Library's Web Archiving Service in 2007 as part of the Labor Unions and Organizations (U.S.) Web Archive. In 2015, these websites were migrated to Archive-It. Archive-It uses web crawling technology to capture websites at a scheduled time and displays only an archived copy, from the resulting WARC file, of the website. In circa 2017, the original URL associated with this collection,, became defunct. In 2018, the new URL,, was added to the web archive. The accession number associated with this website is 2019.095.,,, and were added to the web archive in 2019. The accession number associated with these websites are 2020.015. In 2022, and were added. The accession number associated with these websites is 2023.001.

Audiovisual Access Policies and Procedures

Audiovisual materials have not been preserved and may not be available to researchers. Materials not yet digitized will need to have access copies made before they can be used. To request an access copy, or if you are unsure if an item has been digitized, please contact with the collection name, collection number, and a description of the item(s) requested. A staff member will respond to you with further information.

Take Down Policy

Archived websites are made accessible for purposes of education and research. NYU Libraries have given attribution to rights holders when possible; however, due to the nature of archival collections, we are not always able to identify this information.

If you hold the rights to materials in our archived websites that are unattributed, please let us know so that we may maintain accurate information about these materials.

If you are a rights holder and are concerned that you have found material on this website for which you have not granted permission (or is not covered by a copyright exception under US copyright laws), you may request the removal of the material from our site by submitting a notice, with the elements described below, to the

Please include the following in your notice: Identification of the material that you believe to be infringing and information sufficient to permit us to locate the material; your contact information, such as an address, telephone number, and email address; a statement that you are the owner, or authorized to act on behalf of the owner, of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed and that you have a good-faith belief that use of the material in the manner complained of is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law; a statement that the information in the notification is accurate and made under penalty of perjury; and your physical or electronic signature. Upon receiving a notice that includes the details listed above, we will remove the allegedly infringing material from public view while we assess the issues identified in your notice.

Related Material at the Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives

American Guild of Variety Artists Records (WAG 95)
Actors' Fund Records (WAG 36)
Associated Actors and Artistes of America Records (WAG 110)

Collection processed by

K. Kevyne Baar, 2003-2006. Preliminary processing by Martha S. Lo Monaco and Miriam Frank, 1987.

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2024-02-06 14:05:05 -0500.
Using Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language: Finding aid written in English

Processing Information

In 2014, the archived websites were added as Series IX. Addtional websites were added to the finding aid in 2019-2022.

Also in 2014, the thesis in Box 363 was discovered in the repository and added to the collection.

In August 2017, Jasmine Larkin processed Series X: Unprocessed Materials. Loose materials found in the boxes were housed in archival folders. Overstuffed or damaged folders were replaced with archival folders. No attempt has been made to rearrange folders or materials within the boxes. Dates for the materials were added to the finding aid. Materials in Series X were intellectually added to pre-existing series within the finding aid as appropriate. Series X: Unprocessed Materials was then renamed Series X: Photographs and Ephemera.

Revisions to this Guide

2012: Edited by Hillel Arnold for compliance with DACS and Tamiment Required Elements for Archival Description
October 2017: Jasmine Larkin edited Series X. Unprocessed Materials. In addition, the finding aid was edited for compliance with DACS and ACM Required Elements for Archival Description
January 2023: Edited by Nicole Greenhouse for updated administrative information and archived websites

Edition of this Guide

This version was derived from Actors' Equity 2nd version.doc


Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
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