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Dave Robb, Longtime Hollywood Labor Reporter, Dies at 74

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Dave Robb, a longtime Hollywood labor reporter who worked for Variety in the 1980s and ’90s, died Dec. 8 at his home in Los Angeles. He was 74 and had recently been diagnosed with cancer of the brain stem.

Robb most recently worked for Deadline, Variety‘s sibling company under the Penske Media Corp. umbrella. Robb spent most of this year on the strike beat as the Writers Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA engaged in historic, months-long work stoppages.

Robb made his name with aggressive and investigative reporting on Hollywood’s powerful labor unions. But he also had numerous other passions, always with an eye toward using his platform as a journalist to help the less privileged. Michael Fleming Jr., Deadline co-editor in chief, confirmed Robb’s death in a lengthy tribute posted Saturday.

“He was an advocate for the under-represented and disenfranchised in Hollywood: African American and Native American actors, child actors, stunt performers, women,” Fleming wrote. “He exposed Hollywood’s dirty little secret of not crediting screenwriters for their contributions on major movies because they’d been blacklisted in that shameful Communist with hunt. Robb helped writers living and dead get their due on films that included ‘Lawrence of Arabia.’ ”

Robb was tall, gruff on the surface and had an unmistakable baritone voice. While working, he answered the phone “Dave Robb” in a way that announced to everyone that he was a formidable person. He was tough but fair and guided by a strong moral compass. He never engaged in the niceties of entertainment journalism, and he was respected as an intrepid reporter who knew his stuff. He was too seasoned to spin.

After getting his start as a copy boy for the San Francisco Examiner, Robb moved to Los Angeles and got a job as an assistant at The Hollywood Reporter, where he first was put on the labor beat. By 1982, he moved to Variety, where he stayed for about 10 years. Among the major stories that Robb covered during his tenure was the tragic deaths of actor Vic Morrow and two child actors on a location shoot for 1982’s “The Twilight Zone,” an accident that led to involuntary manslaughter charges against director John Landis (who was acquitted in 1987).

Robb famously went in and out of Hollywood Reporter as a staff writer four more times in the 1990s and 2000s, each time exiting when the trade paper balked at publishing investigative stories that he’d uncovered.

During his long career, Robb also penned several books, including “The Stuntwoman,” the story of pioneering performer Julia Johnson; as well as “The Gumshoe and the Shrink” and “Operation Hollywood,” about the entertainment industry’s relationship with the U.S. military. Over his 45-year career, Robb did work for such outlets as the New York Times, Associated Press, LA Weekly, the Los Angeles Daily News and magazines Spy and The Nation.

Robb’s survivors include his wife, Kelly Robb.

Here’s an example of Dave Robb’s in-depth reporting on Hollywood labor. From the Feb. 25, 1991, edition of Daily Variety.

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