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Salt of the Earth: Biographies

In 1951, women in New Mexico took over a labor strike demanding equal treatment for Hispanic workers both in pay and living conditions. Salt of the Earth is based on their struggle and is one of the first films to explore equal rights for women.

Rosaura Revueltas (leading actress)

Image of Rosaura Revueltas, who plays Esperanza. Text reads: At last- An honest movie about American working people "Salt of the Earth"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Born in the company housing estate of a mining town North of Mexico, Rosaura Revueltas was the daughter of a small-time grocer and his wife, herself the daughter of a miner (a social environment that led her later to accept her part in "Salt of the Earth"). Rosaura had twelve brothers and sisters, one brother of whom became a composer, another a painter, yet another a writer and scriptwriter. At a time, the family left their small town for the county town first and then for Mexico City. Dark-eyed, dark-haired Rosaura soon developed a passion for dancing and she was a member of a company of folkloric dancers when Emilio Fernandez, the famous Mexican movie maker, offered her a part that had been refused by Dolores Del Rio, that of a ... seventy-year-old woman. For this role in "Un dia de vida" she was awarded the local Academy Award. She went on with her acting career but had been so convincing as an old lady that, although in her early thirties, she was driven to play a series of ... gray-haired ladies. In 1952, she was contacted by Herbert Biberman for the now famous "Salt of the Earth", one of the best socially-committed movies ever made. This part, in which she portrayed the unforgettable Esperanza Quintera, was another mixed blessing since it caused her to be blacklisted both in the USA and in her native country.” - IMDb Mini Biography By: Guy Bellinger

She won the award for best performance by a woman at the 8th International Film Festival in Czechoslovakia, and by the Académie du cinéma de Paris for her role in Salt of the Earth. She was not in another film till 1977 and the last movie she made was Mina, Wind of Freedom in 1977.

Will Geer (actor)

One of the few professional actors in Salt, Will Geer was (born March 9th, 1902 and died April 22nd, 1978) joined  the Communist Party of the United States in 1934. He refused to testify at the House Committee on Un-American Activities and was blacklisted.

After Salt he continued to act in theater productions and returned to the screen in the 1970’s. He won an Emmy for his portrayal as Zebulon Walton, the family patriarch on The Waltons. Geer was a social activist, the lover of Harry Hay (a gay rights activist), and husband of Herta Ware.

Read more! 

Juan Chacón (leading actor)

Poster for Salt of the Earth, a right profile of Juan  Chacón. Text might be in Russian

Juan R. Chicon was born Nov. 8, 1919 and died in Deming New Mexico Feb. 19, 1985. He served as president of United Steelworkers of America Local 890 for 17 years.

"Few Mexican-American leaders have attained the status of trade unionist Juan Chacón, but surprisingly little has been written about Chacón and his struggle to improve the lives of miners and the Mexican-American people.

            Chacón was born November 8, 1919, in Dwyer, New Mexico, near the Mimbres River. Chacón, who has been described as a slight of build, soft-spoken, and even shyly retiring, would become know for his many accomplishments, including becoming the president of the local miners’ union and starring as Ramón Quintero in the famous film Salt of the Earth.

            Growing up in the Mimbres Valley, Chacón was well aware of the vast cultural differences in the area. As a young man Chacón moved to California searching for work, joined the merchant marine, and was stationed in Hawaii where he became a skilled welder.

            When Chacón returned home, he discovered he couldn’t obtain a welder’s job at the new Kennecott Mill in Hurley because skilled jobs, such as welding, were reserved for Anglos. He took a job as a laborer and joined the Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers Union. He became a shop steward and grievance committeeman, and he proceeded to hold various union offices. He was elected president of the local and he served for thirty years. He also served as chair of the Kennecott National Bargaining council. As president, he worked successfully for better wages and benefits, improved working conditions, and equality for his union membership." -  Cookie Stolpe, Western New Mexico University, Miller Library

 

Regarding the strike he stated:

'We won a great victory,' said Chacon. '(Before the strike) we still had outside toilets, no running water inside... only two bedroom houses for six and seven members of a family. Very bad ... In the theaters, we were allowed to go in, but had to sit on a different side (from the Anglos).' -Historic strike leader retires

He was later interviewed in the 1983 documentary: A Crime To Fit The Punishment.  

 

Clinton Jencks (actor, union organizer)

“Clinton Jencks (1918-2005) was a lifelong activist in labor and social justice causes, most famous for union organizing among New Mexico's miners, acting in the 1954 film Salt of the Earth (where he portrayed "Frank Barnes," a character based on himself), and enduring years of government prosecution for allegedly falsifying a Taft-Hartley non-communist affidavit.” -Wikipedia

Herbert J. Biberman (director)

Image Biberman, wearing a suit. Image from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Herbert_Biberman.jpg

Herbert J. Biberman (born March 4, 1900 and died June 30, 1971) was one of the Hollywood Ten, a group of writers and directors who refused to answer questions from the U.S. House Committee on Un-American Activities. He, along with others were jailed and blacklisted in Hollywood. After Salt of the Earth he only made one other movie, Slaves in 1969.

Michael Wilson (screenwriter)

Photo of Michael Wilson wearing sunglasses

Michael Wilson was born July 1st, 1914 and died April 9th, 1978. His original script for Salt was rejected by the Union.

“He listened to their criticisms, returned home, wrote two drafts of a screenplay, and returned to New Mexico for further discussion. Jarrico estimated that approximately 400 people read and commented on the script. Wilson later said about the experience: ‘Ordinarily I would have detested it … But in this case I didn’t mind it at all … I welcomed their opinions because in the process of hearing their opinions, I was learning more about them. It made me better qualified to write the story of their lives.’” – Larry Ceplair

 In addition to Salt, Wilson wrote 21 screenplays. After being blacklisted he continued to write screenplays, mainly uncredited or under a pen name. His screenplays include A Place in the Sun (1951), It's a Wonderful Life (1946), The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), and Planet of the Apes (1968). He was nominated for 5 Academy Awards and won 2.

Donald L. Jackson (Congressman)

Donald L. Jackson (Born Jan. 23rd, 1910, died May 27th, 1981) was a Representative from California and a member of the Committee on Un-American Activities. He tried to prevent Salt from being completed by encouraging Hollywood unions to refuse any service such as lab work, or projecting the movie. He also sought legal options to prevent the movie from being shown in other countries. He referred to the movie as “a new weapon for the Soviet Union,” “American-made Red Propaganda” and a “vehicle of hatred and bitterness” -100 Con. Rec. 13483-13484 (1954)