September 15th 1908
Born September 15th 1908: Penny Singleton – actor and activist who risked her life as an anti-gangster union official.
Singleton was best known to 1940s movie-goers from a hugely popular series of 28 (!) ‘Blondie’ films, as the titular Blondie Bumstead. Then, in the 60s, she became the voice of Jane Jetson in the animated Hanna-Barbera tv show ‘The Jetsons’. However, Singleton’s talents and bravery went far beyond performance.
Irked the limits of her Blondie stereotyping, she created the concept of ‘residuals’ – aka repeat fees – transforming the working lives of actors forever after. Yet her work for actors’ rights even further than that – she risked her life for them.
In the 1960s she stood to be elected as vice president of the American Guild of Variety Artists (AGVA), standing up to the organised crime gang who ran the New York division. In those days it was “a garbage union” according to performer Jack Carter – “it was on the take.” AGVA was in the pocket of the mob – men who “if you crossed them you’d wind up with your feet in cement”.
Penny Singleton directly attacked the union’s mob connections in her campaign. “Penny Singleton is Racket-Free! […] Penny Singleton has no ‘STRINGS’ attached to her and therefore isn’t afraid to speak the truth!”.
She won, somehow avoiding recriminations from the mob, and went on to lead successful actions, including the first-ever strike against Disneyland.