Al DiTolla, the boisterous, well-liked prexy of the Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees since 1986, died Dec. 20 at his New Jersey home of complications resulting from brain surgery last summer. He was 68.
DiTolla had resigned Dec. 16 because of failing health.
He had surgery for brain cancer in July. IA reps said he was recovering through much of the fall and planned to run again for the prexy post at the IA convention in Miami this summer.
But sources said his health began to deteriorate and he decided to step down. Thomas Short, formerly the union’s general secretary-treasurer, will serve out the remaining seven months of DiTolla’s term. Sources said he plans to run officially for the post in Miami.
DiTolla was known as a progressive and innovative leader who helped increase the union ranks of film, TV and stage technicians from 60,000 to more than 76,000.
One IA business agent said the IA began to emphasize “organizing the unorganized” under DiTolla’s charge. “There was virtually no organizing before he came in,” the agent said.
DiTolla also expanded the number of studio mechanics locals throughout the country. During his tenure, local IA offices opened in Atlanta, Seattle, Arizona, Florida and New Mexico, among other locales.
Last year, he spearheaded negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture & TV Producers that resulted in a contract for low-budget features and telepix that provided more jobs for union members at a time studios and networks were finding ways around employing them.
AMPTP prexy Nicholas Counter, who sat across the bargaining table from DiTolla in several long-term sessions, remembered DiTolla as a far-sighted prexy for the union.
“He was probably one of the foremost leaders of his union in modern times,” Counter said. “I think it’s a tragedy that will be felt throughout the IATSE and the industry. Obviously, he was at the bargaining table representing his members as well as anyone could, but beyond that, he offered great service to the community in various charitable organizations and leadership on fundraising projects.”
Counter lauded DiTolla as a tough negotiator, who also “had a knack for figuring out where the deal could be made satisfactorily for both sides.”
DiTolla joined the union in 1952 and had been a delegate to every IATSE convention since then, as well as being a regular delegate to the New York City Central Labor Council and the New York state AFL-CIO conventions.
In 1974, DiTolla was named international rep of the IA. He was boosted to assistant to the president in 1978 and was elected international prexy eight years later by the exec board, succeeding the retiring Walter F. Diehl. The IA membership reaffirmed the exec board’s decision in elections in 1986,1988,1990 and 1993.
DiTolla was a gold card member of the Theatrical Mutual Assn., which honored him as its Entertainment Man of the Year in 1986.
He was a member of the American Theater Wing, Catholic Interracial Council, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and the New York Variety Clubs. He served as director of the Will Rogers Memorial Fund and was a trustee of the IATSE national pension, health and welfare, annuity and vacation funds.
In 1987, he was given the American Heritage Award from the American Jewish Committee.
He served as a director of the Motion Picture Pioneers and a trustee of the Actors’ Fund of America. He was on the national board of directors of the A. Philip Randolph Institute.
Variety, in conjunction with the Children’s Charity and National Father’s Day Committee, gave DiTolla its Father of the Year award in 1993.
DiTolla is survived by his wife, six children and seven grandchildren.