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SAG vote full of drama

Standoff between Gilbert, Harper

It’s on with the show at SAG.

The lingering shock of Sept. 11’s terrorist attacks gave even hard-core activists pause for a few weeks. “I’m having to struggle with what normal means anymore,” said Marshal Silverman, who is making his third run as an independent candidate for the Hollywood board.

But with voting taking place on Friday, election-time mudslinging started again last week between supporters of presidential aspirants Melissa Gilbert and Valerie Harper.

“SAG has gone from having a $13 million surplus to the brink of bankruptcy,” a flyer for Gilbert declared. “Can SAG afford another Bill Daniels?”

Recognizable names

In terms of recognition, it’s a draw, with Harper best known as the wisecracking sidekick on “Mary Tyler Moore” and later as star of offshoot “Rhoda” and Gilbert as the adorable Laura Ingalls Wilder on “Little House on the Prairie.”

This is also the first time that the two leading candidates for the presidency have been women.

For the 98,000 SAG members, the election offers a referendum on the Daniels regime — with Harper promising more of the same and Gilbert knocking it at every opportunity.

First-time candidates find themselves stunned by the intensity of the 45 contests. “I hadn’t realized how much intrigue there was and how people are tied to alliances,” said Gene Feldman, running as an independent for the Hollywood board. “I think the factionalism — the notion that you can’t deal with someone at all because of who their friends are — inhibits the ability to govern effectively.”

Harper, who has an 18-member slate, is viewed as the favorite due to an endorsement from Daniels and her first-place finish last year among 74 Hollywood board candidates. She has taken a diplomatic tone, calling her campaign Actors Moving Forward, while continuing to perform on Broadway in “The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife.”

“It’s been sort of the best and worst of times in New York because the reality of what happened Sept. 11 is still really with us,” Harper said. “And I would like very much to see the long-standing New York-Los Angeles animosity dissipated because it hurts no one but ourselves. It makes us look ridiculous.”

Gilbert has taken a decidedly feisty tone, calling her campaign Restoring Respect. She’s declared, “The guild’s failures regarding runaway production and nonpayment of residuals are symptomatic of a deeper problem: the leadership’s lack of respect for members, for SAG employees, for our allies and for professionalism.”

Key issues

Here are key issues that have emerged this fall:

  • Runaway production: Harper backs countervailing tariffs; Gilbert has opposed them.

  • Agents: Gilbert favors loosening financial-interest rules; Harper opposes them.

  • Participation in last year’s strike: Harper showed up at dozens of events; Gilbert has been blasted for not participating.

  • Impact of last year’s strike on this year’s film-TV contract:“The fact that we didn’t cave in gave us a much better deal this year,” said Silverman.

  • Streamlining the 107-member board: Harper is for it; Gilbert says more time is needed.

    How is all this resonating with SAG’s members? Hard to tell, although candidates note that working actors want to be taken seriously.

    “People understand that SAG is at a crossroads in areas like high-tech issues,” said board candidate Jim Talbott, author of two books on entertainment law. “We have to start looking like we have some expertise for a change.”

    Adding further zing are campaigns from board maverick Eugene Boggs, who would be the first African-American SAG prexy; and Angeltompkins, making her fifth run in as many elections.

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