Mom’s first job in the entertainment business was as a reader at 20th Century Fox. She started work in 1933. There was no women’s restroom in her department.
In 1940, my brother was born, but my mom wasn’t a homebody. She went to law school during the war because they had classes in the morning when she could get a babysitter. She took whatever class they had at 10 a.m. All the men who weren’t 4F (unfit for duty) were at war, so the class was a third women — there were five of them. In 1945, another brother was born. When she returned to law school after the war, the class had about 300 men — and four women.
She graduated from USC Law School in 1948 at the top of the class as editor-in-chief of the law review and went to work at a small firm in Hollywood called Gang Kopp and Tyre, which had been around for about 15 years. She was the fourth lawyer, the first woman. At the time, my father was a partner in a large, prominent Jewish firm, since firms in Los Angeles then were segregated by religion. It had about 13 lawyers. They told him to tell his wife not to work, or at least not to work at a firm. They told him they were afraid of conflicts of interest, although the two firms had never had a matter in common. Really, they were afraid of women. When Dad said he wouldn’t or couldn’t stop his wife from working, they fired him. She stayed at her firm until she died — 55 years later.
Mom set her own rules. She was home every night at 6 p.m. and never worked evenings or weekends. After 6, she was Mom. Before then, she was one of the boys. Everyone who worked at what became Gang Tyre Ramer and Brown (and yes, she’s the Brown in the name, not me) knew she was the brains of the place. The lawyers (and clients) lined up outside her door for her advice. The parade included Bob Hope, George Burns, Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, Lucille Ball, Frank Sinatra, James Clavell, Steven Spielberg, Clint Eastwood and dozens of others, along with every lawyer who ever worked there.
She was a living computer before there was any other sort. Every Friday, she went to the beauty parlor (“the salon” in today’s terminology) with a foot of advance sheets — the heavy paperback books in which legal cases were then first printed — hot off the press. Her car was always swamped with those books. She would read — no, she’d memorize — the advance sheets while sitting in the beauty parlor with the helmet of fire on her head. It was as if that dome infused her with the new case law. At the office, we would ask her a question, and she would quote the cases verbatim, down to the page number.
Mom would never admit to being a groundbreaker. She never complained about the prejudice she faced. But she was proud of her accomplishments. She always said without bravado (but with just a hint of pride) that as a woman she had to be better than the men around her. And she was.
Harold Brown is a partner at the Gang Tyre Ramer and Brown law firm in Beverly Hills.