5 November 2010
2 hours, 13 minutes, 59 seconds
Ireland House Oral History Collection, Archives of Irish America, New York University
Tom Hanley (b. 1939) was born in Jersey City and raised in Hoboken, New Jersey where he attended Catholic schools until the seventh grade. He grew up in poverty and often resorted to shoplifting food and clothes as an adolescent to survive. When he was only 14 years old, he was given a role in the movie On the Waterfront starring Marlon Brando and directed by Elia Kazan.
By the time he was 16 years old, he had dropped out of school and found a job in a book-binding factory to earn money. A year later, he convinced his older brother to help him forge the necessary documents to meet the age requirements for employment as a longshoreman on the waterfront. Hanley was hired by Union Local 881 and worked on the docks for 53 years. He was very involved in union politics, often challenging the leadership and getting into situations where he was nearly killed for not cooperating with the officers. However, in 2003 the government took over his local and honest officer elections were finally conducted that allowed the longshoremen the freedom to make their own decisions.
Hanley has been retired for one year and currently lives in Bayonne, New Jersey.
The audition for On the WaterfrontDisc 1, 46:55-48:45
Transcription of Excerpt No. 1
TH: At any rate, I go over to meet Elia Kazan and Budd Schulberg at the Actor's Studio, which I know nothing about the Actor's Studio at the time. But it was on 52nd Street, right off of Eighth Avenue. It was in the building where the musicians had their union at the time. And, uh, I go meet them and they've got me waiting in this lobby outside, and as I'm waiting, I'm seeing people that I know from the movies but I don't know their names, you know? So, it's like you know you see a familiar face and, uh...but you don't know who they are. And they're coming and going. And then finally I get in to meet Budd Schulberg and Elia Kazan, and they actually start to goad me about my father. You know, so they say things to me like—
LDA: So Brownie had given them—?
TH: Yeah, but they didn't...weren't doing it like that. They did it like: "Well, maybe your father was a squealer." You know, and they wanted to get a reaction out of me, which they got. I started throwing punches and chairs at them. We're in this like, rehearsal hall; they've got these little folding chairs. Anyway, apparently that's what they wanted. They wanted to be able to get me angry. And see, when I would get angry, that would be the only time I would cry. I wouldn't allow anybody to see me cry until I was like in a rage, you know. Well, they wanted that for that scene where I throw the pigeon at Marlon Brando. They wanted that kind of emotion.
First day working on the docksDisc 1, 67:00-69:18
Transcription of Excerpt No. 2
TH: I never forget the first day I went to work on the pier, I got hired. It was great. And I tell this story, I used to tell this story to the younger kids but they don't really want to hear it. You know, it's like, "Don't tell us about the old days." But I got hired, and I went on the pier, and I got sent to this gang. And in the gang was like a lot of my brother's friends. In those days, because of the way the work was, it was hard work. There was 21 men in a gang. Today there's 10. And when it was a discharge ship, which meant that they were unloading, they added another eight men. Because, when they unloaded, and they brought the cargo to the dock, you needed the extra men to handle the cargo and to sort the cargo. And they'd hire extra drivers, because they needed the drivers with the fork-lifts to put them away. So I get hired and I get sent to this gang, where all my brother's cohorts are, you know. They say, "Come here, sit down," you know. So they got pallets like stacked up, and they got cold cuts. They got a big trash barrel full of beer. "Have a beer. Want a cigarette?" You know.
LDA: So this is what, 9:00 in the morning?
TH: Yeah, it was great. It was great, you know. But, I get hired for the discharge ship. We're not on a discharge ship here, we're on a loading ship, which has less men. So, I'm not going to work until we start the discharge ship, which is on the other side. Now, I remember sitting there thinking, "Oh, this is a great job. I like this." You know. So all of a sudden, after a couple hours sitting there, a guy says to me, "Alright let's go, Tommy, we're going to work on the other ship." Now we go on the other ship! We start discharging, and we start handling the cargo. I said, "This ain't such a great job!"
LDA: It's actually work.
TH: It was work. It was hard work. Believe me, it was hard work.
- Linda Dowling Almeida [LDA]
- Tom Hanley, 5 November 2010. Photo by Linda Dowling Almeida.