Marjo Bernay Dies: Trailblazing IATSE Leader Was 79

Marjo Bernay dead IATSE leader
Marjo Bernay Art Directors Guild

Marjo Bernay, the trailblazing labor leader and feminist activist who once led three Los Angeles-based IATSE locals and served on the board of another, died Sunday of heart disease. She was 79.

During her more than 40 years in the labor movement, she was the business agent of Illustrators & Matte Artists Local 790, and Set Designers & Model Makers Local 847 from 1979 until they merged with the Art Directors Guild in 2008. She also had been the business agent of Story Analysts Local 854 until it merged with the Editors Guild in 2000. Until her retirement in 2013, she served as the Art Directors Guild’s manager of awards and events, as a trustee of its Set Designers Council and as a member of the board of directors. She retired from the guild in 2013.

In 2019, she was honored by the Art Directors Guild with a special Service Award at its 23rd annual awards show for her long service to the to the union and its members.


“Today, we remember Marjo Bernay as a special voice that spoke truth to power in our industry, said Chuck Parker, the guild’s national executive director. “In one sense, Marjo has left us. But in another sense, she is still here, because she has touched and affected so many of us – peers and superiors, women and men, everyone she greeted warmly and whose voice she recognized when they called on the phone. Her spirit lives on in our collective hearts and actions, today and every day.”

Bernay was a member of one of IATSE’s most distinguished families: the daughter of Joe Bernay, the longtime head of IATSE’s West Coast office, and Martha Bernay, a member of Local 790 and, for many years, the office manager of the West Coast office. Joe died in 1990 and Martha in 2016.

Over the years, Marjo Bernay worked closely with her sister Casey Bernay, the guild’s director of education and special projects. “My sister’s support, trust and faith in me was a constant throughout my life,” Casey said. “I had the enormous good luck to work with my sister for many years. Over the years our working relationship went through different incarnations: she was my boss, my colleague, my co-worker, my partner in the fight, and always my biggest fan. Everything I accomplished as an educator of our union kin was made possible because of Marjo. Any one of the members who took a class at Hollywood Hands-On or Ideas at Valley College or through our programs with EIDO and Contract Services should thank her, not me. She made lives better.”

Marjo also served on the California Film Commission, the Los Angeles Film Development Committee and the Los Angeles County Film Commission and was especially proud of her many years as a trustee of the Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plans, where she was the first woman from the labor side to chair the Health Plan.

In addition to her sister Casey, she is survived by her brother, Mark, and brother-in-law, Dennis, Lotka, who ask that any donations in memoriam be sent to the Lange Foundation for Animal Rescue, Care and Placement.

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