Feature Articles

March 2002

Tales From the City of Angels

By John William Tuohy

     The origins of the battle for Hollywood between New York and Chicago began in 1920 when Tommy Maloy, a union thug, took over the motion picture projectionist union local 110 in Chicago.

     Before the First World war Maloy had been a chauffeur to labor boss Mossy Enright but left just before Enright's murder in 1920. It was at that point that Maloy went into the movie business.

     Maloy didn't take it over exactly, it was called an inheritance. Meaning that Maloy, as tough a customer as they come, inherited the right to terrorize the membership through the untimely death of another thug named Jack Miller who was killed when a bullet took out his right eyeball through the back of his head.

     Jack Miller had taken over the union from its first owner, a thug named Elmer Miller who made his collection rounds on a bike. It was Miller who formed the union by bringing in all the operators through threats of violence. Miller sold out his ownership in the union to Maloy so that he could open his own theater. At that point some hoods were trying to muscle in on the union; Maloy spread the story he beat up hoods who tried to climb into his booth where he was a projectionist. What really happened was that he was running a gambling game and they came to rob him. He really did beat them up and chase them out of the room at gunpoint. During the election, when he was spreading this story, a man named Williams ran against Maloy. Maloy's goons grabbed Williams, beat him and threw him out on the street and in five minutes he was elected business agent for the local 110.

     Maloy carried the formal title of business agent, but he controlled hiring and legally collected monthly dues as the business agent, but for the most part Maloy ruled through blackjack and the Tommy gun and if a union member refused to pay dues he was replaced.

     Maloy had carte blanche to dip into the union till whenever he wanted. Maloy was also known for his skill as a blackjack, with brass knuckles. He had no problems about cracking a man's skull, anyone who refused to sign up for his union, or of members who asked too many questions. Any projectionist who complained about the union books being closed to new members (yet having an empty till) was put out of work for ever if a theater refused to hire Maloy's members. He burned the film first, then beat the theater owner and finally burned the place down but in most cases he simply killed the theater owner and gave the place to a family member or gang crony to run.

     Maloy was an ambitious little crook. Right after he took the projectionist union, he started working with Umbrella Mike Boyle of the electricians union. Their goal was to corner the entire building trades' business in the city, unfortunately for them they were both indicted for conspiracy by a grand jury in 1921 and charged with extorting money from builders to avoid labor troubles.

     Boyle refused to testify and the judge tossed him in jail for contempt but Boyle had been paying protection for years to the very corrupt Governor Len Small who granted him a pardon. In all, Small sold 8,000 pardons in the eight years that he was governor.

     The Capone's never bothered with Maloy, who stood only five feet six inches and never carried a pistol, because he was a one man operation, and movies didn't become very big business until the later twenties, so it was assumed that Maloy was a small timer in a business that was interesting, but going nowhere. However, Maloy had alliances with the Capone, Moran and Saltis organizations, and other gangs. In order to keep them from taking over his union, he gave their men licenses and put them on payrolls to explain their incomes.

     In one sense, Capone was correct, the movie business racket was small time, or at least it was until the advent of sound into film changed everything. As a result, movie theaters exploded in growth, yet membership didn't increase in Maloy's union, so he invented a scheme that called for theater owners to hire two of his men; one to run the film and one to synchronize the sound on the film. When Hollywood figured out a way to synchronize the sound with the film, Maloy agreed to let go of the second man in the booth for $1,100. That was cheaper then paying the projectionist on the payroll, so the owners agreed.

     In his next ploy to raise cash, Maloy issued work permits to nonunion members and then closed the union to new membership. Regular union members had enough, and stormed the union hall in 1924, but Maloy's men defused the situation by firing machine-guns into the ceiling of the union hall. The members quickly took their seats and Maloy laid out his game plan for hiring non-union men as day workers with a permit. Maloy explained that since the union members paid only $3.00 a month in dues, the permit workers would pay 10% of their pay check back to the union. This at a time when the average worker was making as little as $7 a week, Maloy's day workers were earning $175.00 a week, the 10% taken from them would be kicked back to the unions to help the membership buy more benefits and help those who were out of work.

     The manufacturer's guide to projection machines bragged that "any intelligent young man can learn to run our machine in less then an hour" and went on to say that they were almost completely automated. Maloy made sure that they weren't and as a result theater owners in Chicago were years behind the rapidly advancing technology of the day and theater goers in the Windy City paid an average of 25% more for tickets then anywhere else in America.

     There were problems, of course. In 1923 Maloy's office was at Harrison and Wabash where other labor skates like Con Shea of the teamsters and Steve Kelliher of the theater janitors had offices and together ran a gambling pallor on the first floor under their offices and shared the profits between the three of them. Maloy and Kelliher had a falling out over the preceeds of the gambling den. Maloy hired an up and coming O'Bannion goon named Danny McCarthy and invited Kelliher to join him and McCarthy for a drink at Tierneys resort on Calumet and 25th next to a theater where Maloy ran a theater. As soon as they were seated an argument began and McCarthy drew his gun and killer Kelliher. McCarthy pleaded self defense and a dozen witnesses swore to it and he walked away from the murder rap Maloy took his union.

     Just days before that, a hood named Big Tim Murphy decided that he wanted Maloy's union but when Kelliher was dead Murphy changed his mind. After Dan McCarthy shot labor leader Steve Kelliher dead at Maloy's behest, McCarthy took the plumbers union and sided with Dion O'Bannion and his boys. They shared the same lawyer, Michael Ahern, who also represented Roger Touhy. To close the deal, McCarthy took $150,000.00 from the plumbers union treasury and split it with O'Bannion and Weiss.

     In 1927 Pete and Frank Gusenberg wanted their younger brother Henry placed on Maloy's payroll but he refused, sensing that the Gusenbergs might be trying to muscle in on his territory. In retaliation, they ran Henry for president of the union against Maloy. The cops were called out in droves for the election, which was very violent. Four operators who came out for Maloy in the election had their car pulled over a curb and sprayed with machine-gun fire. Eventually a compromise was reached and Henry was placed on the payroll at $175 a week and he never had to appear at work. A few months later, on August 29, 1927, the city's theater owners locked out Maloy's union. Across the city only seventy-five theaters, all small ones, were opened in the entire city.

     Jack Miller, the original owner of the projectionist union, led the revolt but not for idealistic reasons. He wanted to lead the owners and the projectionists as one. It didn't work, Maloy and his goons loaned out by Bugs Moran broke the lock out.

     Maloy was rolling in cash, yet he was known to be one of the tightest hoods in the business. It was known that Maloy kept $100,000 in cash in a safe in his house. One time, independent kidnappers snatched Maloy's black housemaid and, by placing a pistol in her mouth in a car outside the house, convinced her to give them the keys to the house. But neighbors had witnessed the entire episode and called police. Hearing the sirens approaching, the hoods took the key but released the maid unharmed. When some of Roger Touhy's boys kidnapped Maloy's bodyguard, Georgie Graham, they thought they had snatched Maloy. It was a humiliated Roger Touhy that had to call Maloy with the news: "Tommy, we got Georgie Graham, is he worth ten G's to you?" Maloy didn't pause a second, "Naw, he ain't worth a plug nickel to me." Touhy released the bodyguard unharmed.

     Thomas J. Reynolds, Maloy's president, was on the payroll of Western Electric Company at $143.00 a week as a "consultant." He had been taken on by Western Electric in 1927, right after the company synchronized sound machines. It was that sort of blatant abuse that brought Maloy and his entire operation to the attention of the Internal Revenue Agency. The IRS was out to get Maloy, and started by questioning Jack Miller about Maloy's income. When Miller refused to answer the question, Judge John P. Barnes locked him up for contempt of court. As instrumental as the I.R.S was in getting Maloy out of power, it was insurgents from inside the unions had provided the tax men with the information they needed to nab Maloy.

     It wasn't the first time the membership had revolted. On two other occasions the rank and file stepped behind to insurgents who went up against Maloy and both times those men were found shot to death on the streets. Jacob Kaufman was a dedicated union organizer who had tried for years to have the courts get Tommy Maloy and his thugs tossed out of the unions. Maloy had warned Kaufman to back off but in June of 1931 Kaufman entered another suit against Maloy and announced that he would run against Maloy in an open election. Kaufman's candidacy meant trouble for Maloy since Kaufman had a reputation for honesty and was well liked by the rank and file. On the night of June 20, 1931, Kaufman heard a can fall inside of his garage on Princeton Street. He told his wife to phone the police and walked from the house into the garage. When he opened the garage door somebody fired six shots into his head, killing him. Murray Humpreys was strongly suspected by police as being the killer for hire.

     Another dissident who had caused problems for Maloy was 60-year-old Paul Oser who had brought Maloy to court several times in an effort to unseat him. In legal salaries, Tommy Maloy made $300 a month, O'Hara $150 a week for his services to the union. Oser had sent out anonymous letters to the members stating that Maloy had grafted $50,000 a year from the union.

     Oser's letter said that Maloy made $50,000 a year on the "permit men" as well. Oser had six children to feed but Maloy had denied him work for three years at a time when operators were making $90 to 150 a week. When Oser went to New York to complain to the national union President, Fred Green, Emmert Quinn and his sluggers met Oser at the train station and beat him senseless in front of newspaper reporters and then Maloy fined each member in the party $5,000 each, to be paid at a rate of $5.00 a week. "Some of them," said Maloy, "got families. Just shows you I ain't all business."

     When Oser entered another suit against Maloy he and Maloy met in Judge John Patrick McGoority's chambers. Oser thought that perhaps this was his moment of truth, the moment when the judge would force Maloy out of the union. But all judge McGoority did was to encourage them "to met privately and work out their troubles like true gentlemen."

     After that, Maloy had enough of Oser and decided to kill him. He called in Thomas O'Hara to do the dirty work. O'Hara had been a dance hall operator before the First World War, then organized the piano tuners into a union and in 1919 became the business manager for the Chicago Federation of musicians but was tossed out for beating up the president of the national union. It was shortly after that O'Hara hooked up with Maloy.

     Oser had been summoned to the office by Tommy Maloy for a peace conference although Maloy later denied that there was an appointment to see Oser and said that Oser simply showed up and said, "Let's work this out between us and to hell with them lawyers." They walked into to the inner office, Maloy said, when Oser suddenly drew a gun out of his pocket, forcing O'Hara to shoot him dead. O'Hara said the same thing and Police did find a gun next to Oser's dead body, but it was not fired and it turned out that it belonged to O'Hara anyway. Maloy disappeared after the killing, hiding out at the Congress Hotel in a suite paid for by the union.

     Tubbo Gilbert, the State's Attorneys chief investigator, learned that Maloy was lying since he had interviewed Maloy's secretary, who said that her only words to Oser were: "Yes Mister Oser, you're at 2:30, please go right in." But Gilbert may have had his own plan for the union as well. Right after the shooting, Gilbert seized all of the union's records, with orders to do so from his boss, the state's attorney. Those records ended up in Frank Nitti's possession, who took control of the union shortly afterwards.

     Remarkably, even in corrupt Chicago, a jury ruled that killing Oser was justifiable since there were no other witnesses to say otherwise. Judge Fardy agreed. Members of the jury were professional jurors selected under a political patronage system. After the trial, Coroner Frank J. Walsh issued an order forever banning the six jurors from ever serving on a jury again.

     On January 1, 1933, members of Maloy's unions lost a court battle to have Maloy and his thugs tossed out of the union by having the 1932 election results overturned and to have Maloy account for $230,000 in lost dues. The membership was shocked when the judge refused to grant a restraining order against Maloy, coming after the members who had sued because the membership had not proven Maloy to be a threat to them or anyone else.

     Then, on March 25, 1933, Ralph O'Hara, a 37-year-old "organizer" for Maloy, was shot and killed in his office by rebel fractions of the union in the afternoon as he sat in room 620 at 596 South Wabash Avenue. Maloy was losing his grip. He knew that if he wanted to retain control he would have to turn to the syndicate for help.

     Frank Nitti had known Tommy Maloy for years. In 1934 Maloy called Nitti to ask for two favors. Maloy was a man of respect; he had nerve and he had guts, and he was tough, so Nitti listened. Maloy said the Treasury Department was all over him for a tax evasion case. They say he owed $81,000 in back taxes and it looked like he was going to jail. He needed Nitti to use the influence he had built up with the Treasury to have the case thrown off the books.

     Secondly, Maloy said he wanted Nitti and the organization to back him for the presidency of the I.A.T.S.E. Nitti explained that he was already backing George Browne for the position, so Maloy asked for the Vice Presidency. He said that in exchange for the position, he would give Maloy a road map to I.A.T.S.E.

     Maloy never figured that Nitti would doublecross him, but he did. Nitti told Maloy he would have to think it over and get back to him but actually Nitti figured that Maloy would get convicted on his tax evasion charges and the syndicate would waltz into the projections union and take it over. But, in November of 1934 it looked like Tommy Maloy would walk away from his tax case. It looked like he had worked out a deal by turning in Billy Skidmore, an independent gambler and bagman, over to the IRS in exchange for his own freedom. That was a problem for Nitti. If the syndicate was going to take over the movie industry they needed control of Maloy's union. But Maloy wouldn't give up his union without a fight, and the tiny Irishman was a force to be reckoned with.

     On Christmas Eve, 1934, Nitti held a party for the outfit's top management and invited Browne and Bioff. During the evening the topic of Tommy Maloy came up. Nitti remarked that he needed control of Maloy's union to continue his domination of all the unions that ran the entertainment business. Anybody with ears knew what that meant. Nitti wanted Maloy's union for himself and Maloy was expendable. He was a dead man. They met again at Harry Hochstien's house in Riverside. Hochstien was a political leader from the 20th ward who owed his political rise to Frankie Rio. Also present at the dinner party was Charlie Fischetti, Frankie Rio, Frank Nitti and Paul Ricca. They had drinks and then plates of hot food served from chafing dishes, followed by Italian espresso coffee and a wedge of spumoni ice cream. After the meal, and puffing on gigantic Cuban cigars, Nitti mentioned Tommy Maloy's union and said that they should take it over as soon as possible. Bioff reported later that there was a silence at the table. They all knew Maloy and liked him. According to Bioff, Frankie Rio turned to Nitti and said "Will Maloy stand for partners moving in on him?" Nitti said "Not Maloy."

     Ricca said, "Can we scare him?"

     Nitti answered "not at all."

     There was another long pause and Nitti broke it and said, "We really ought to have the projectionists."

     Rio said, "I'll take care of it right after the first of the year."

     Two months later on February 4, 1935, a bitter cold, icy Chicago morning, Maloy was speeding down the street with Doc Quinlan, a dentist and renowned union racketeer. They were on their way to visit Maloy's mistress that he had been keeping for the past two years, a beautiful chorus girl. As they pulled Maloy's Cadillac in front of the deserted building that was to house the century of progress exhibition, a car pulled alongside Maloy's Cadillac on Lake Shore Drive and fired machine guns into Maloy's body. They fired enough shots to almost take off the entire left-hand side of Maloy's face. What was left of him was slumped over the steering wheel of his car which had smashed into a fire hydrant. He was 42 years old. George Browne was a pallbearer at Maloy's funnel. Two thousand people, curious onlookers mostly, lined the frozen streets to watch the hood get buried.

     The Mob was on its way to Hollywood.

Mr. Tuohy can be reached by writing to

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