Labor-beat maven Dave Robb passes

Los Angeles, Dec. 11, 2023

The dean of Hollywood trade newspaper reporters on the labor beat for decades, David Robb, 74, died Dec. 8 of inoperable brain cancer at his Los Angeles home. He was a mugg who worked at Daily Variety for a decade starting in 1982 covering labor unions, legal (especially labor law) and employment matters. 

Photo: Michael Fleming/Deadline

He was working at posting labor articles daily until October when his medical issues became known. His four decades-plus career as a Hollywood labor-beat journalist also included several stints at the Hollywood Reporter, the first of which started in 1979.

Robb had an understated gravelly voice, was a chain smoker and projected a gruff working-class personality amplified by his imposing body. He was known for being tenacious though viewed as taking pains to be fair in his journalism. 

He had a reputation for personal sympathies for liberal causes and the working class, though he was not shy about pursuing critical stories on labor unions, including uncovering little-talked-about ties with organized crime.

His enterprise stories as a beat reporter were stuff of legend because they tackled sensitive subjects that were mostly no-go zones to others. 

He outed a society columnist for getting credit with phantom film/TV roles to earn actors-union benefits, shoddy supervision of child actors, industry not representing certain demographics and unions stifling internal dissent.’s Mike Fleming Jr. wrote a particularly comprehensive remembrance and obituary. “Despite such an ominous terminal diagnosis, Dave accepted it, and was grateful he felt no pain,” wrote Fleming.

Besides his daily beat reporting, Robb penned books Operation Hollywood: How the Pentagon Shapes and Censors the Movies, published in 2004, and The Stuntwoman: The True Story of a Hollywood Heroine in 2012 about Julie Ann Johnson. 

He also authored articles for the The New York Times — including one that helped blacklisted screenwriter Michael Wilson get credit for the epic film Lawrence of Arabia.  In 1994 he wrote a scathing article in the LA Weekly about then-Variety editor Peter Bart.

Robb was known to say that a career highlight was his decade at Daily Variety because the leadership of the founding Silverman family provided support for controversial stories and from the frequent pushback from industry.

Robb was born on May 12, 1949 though little seems known of his first 30 years before arriving in Hollywood in 1979, except his family were dedicated union supporters. His journalism career started in 1978 at the San Francisco Examiner as a copy boy. His early years were said to be in the San Fransico Bay area. 

He is survived by his wife, Kelly. #