Little Caesar

JAMES CAESAR PETRILLO was a musician of small talent but a labor leader of immense power. On Aug. 1, 1942, as president of the American Federation of Musicians (AFM), he stopped the recording of all types of music. How the "Mussolini of Music" achieved his authority is told in Robert D. Leiter's little known and well documented book, The Musicians and Petrillo (Bookman Associates; 1953; Octagon books, 1974; now out of print).

Petrillo was born in Chicago in 1892 and, like Benny Goodman, received free music lessons at Hull House. He joined the AFM in 1918, rising through local and national office to its presidency in 1940. Leiter's detailed description of Petrillo's rise is a minicourse in the history of American trade unions and the entertainment industry.

With improved technology, live radio music was being replaced by recordings, for which musicians were not paid. After negotiations proved fruitless, Petrillo directed his musicians to strike in 1942. For two years, no music was recorded by the major companies, despite Congressional action and a plea by Franklin D. Roosevelt to resume recording as a morale booster for the war effort. Capitulation came with the formation of a union-controlled fund into which the record companies paid a fee for each record made. This was a landmark in labor relations and was copied by other unions in establishing welfare funds.

Petrillo was an abrasive union leader, fiercely loyal to his members, but even Westbrook Pegler, the columnist and no lover of labor, said he was no crook. Petrillo died in 1984 at the age of 92. FREDERICK J. SPENCER Ruther Glen, Va.

The Right Place

ADMIRERS of Marita Golden's Long Distance Life might want to obtain an earlier book, A Woman's Place (1986, Doubleday; 1988, Ballantine paperback; both still in print).

The novel focuses on three women, friends since college, who take different paths in life. The author uses each woman (Selina, Candy and Aeisha) as narrators. Selina is confident, bright and articulate, Candy is a self-supporting poet but unhappily married and Aeisha is a troubled wife and mother, searching for a new self-identify. The novel is thoughtful and eminently readable. COOKI WINBORN New York, N.Y.

Book World readers are invited to send in recommendations of favorite books for possible inclusion in "Recommended Reading." (We ask that you not recommend current or recent bestsellers or books that have been widely reviewed within the last year.)

Contributions should be brief (no more than 200-250 words). Please include name, address and a daytime phone number (no addresses or phone numbers will be published). Send to: Recommended Reading, Washington Post Book World, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. Unused contributions cannot be returned.

If a submission is selected for publication, the sender will receive a Washington Post Book World book bag.