Reeling in the years

SAG timeline


As response to Great Depression, Producers Assn. announces temporary salary cuts of 50% for most studio employees — including actors already working six-day weeks for $65. Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences proposes sliding scale of cuts.

Six actors meet in Hollywood home of actor Ken Thomson to discuss formation of self-governing organization of actors as alternative to Academy.

Screen Actors Guild’s Articles of Incorporation filed. Eighteen actors sign up; Ralph Morgan named president.

Several provisions of proposed Motion Picture Code of Fair Competition protested, resulting in mass exodus of stars from Academy in October. Meanwhile, Morgan yields SAG presidency to more famous Eddie Cantor. FDR suspends certain provisions of code after persuasive visit from friend Cantor.

Guild unveils motto: “He best serves himself who serves others.”

Guild’s first home Hollywood Center building, where it would stay for three years.


SAG’s first magazine debuts, while studios practice self-censorship through new enforcement of 1930 Production Code. Certificates of approval now required for each film.

First SAG ball fundraiser successful.

Cantor, Richard Tucker, James Cagney, Boris Karloff, Ann Harding, Dick Powell and Mary Astor host SAG’s three-day Film Stars Frolic fundraiser in May — failure that wipes out the Guild treasury. Several of those same stars loan guild money to restore fund.

SAG proposes Code of Fair Practices. Actors’ Equity surrenders its film jurisdiction to guild.


SAG becomes national organization by joining Associated Actors and Artists of America (4 A’s), branch of American Federation of Labor.

Membership passes 5,000; elects Robert Montgomery president.

Monthly balloting by actors on “outstanding work of their fellows” produces first guild awards for best performances of month, with results published in SAG Magazine and winners recognized at guild balls at Biltmore Bowl and Cocoanut Grove.


SAG boycotts Oscars: Producer-run Academy denounced for ignoring actors’ needs by representing itself as bargaining unit for talent, though next year orgs will work together to produce the first Academy Players Directory.


Thousands of stars, contract players and extras vote to strike at midnight May 10 for guild recognition. Producers accept guild demands and SAG president Montgomery declares “the victory of an ideal.”

Thirteen producers sign first SAG contract, pay: minimum $25 per day, $35 for stunts, $5.50 for extras. In June, SAG opens office in New York. American Federation of Radio Artists is founded (AFRA). RCA builds experimental television studio.


First merger plan proposed. Outside study turned down by SAG and AFRA. Morgan re-elected president. IATSE tries to raid SAG’s jurisdiction.

SAG regulations govern talent agents, limit commission to 10%.

Edward Arnold elected president.


SAG involved in war effort as Hollywood Victory Committee entertains troops and raises funds as U.S. declares war on Japan.

Some stars declared “essential workers in essential industry,” exempted from service.

Cagney elected president.

Extras want their rights, too: SAG offers “Class B” members (extras) choice of local charter or independent union. In response, several extras leave to form Screen Players Union.

Actors’ Equity proposes merger of all performers’ unions. Justice Dept. pursues “divorcement” of theaters from studios.

SAG elects George Murphy president; buys $50,000 war bond. 3,503 members make 25,925 free appearances for war effort.


Studio riots-strikes shake up industry as thousands of studio workers engaged in violent battle between IATSE and Conference of Studio Unions. SAG declares conflict jurisdictional and will not honor CSU picket lines.

Olivia de Havilland (who gladly joined the fledgling guild April 29, 1936) successfully sues Warners to get out of unfair contract.

“De Havilland decision,” as the landmark case became known, was breakthrough for actors who were then able to choose their own roles and career destinies.

U.S. House Un-American Activities Committee begins hunt for “reds.”


Screen Extras Guild certified by National Labor Relations Board; SEG, with SAG’s financial assistance, is certified as Hollywood union.

Harpo Marx, Dick Powell form SAG TV Committee.

HUAC congressman states: “Communists have seized control of Actors’ Equity to propagandize the U.S. into a communist form of government.”

Adoption of new bylaw: Actors with “primary and continuing interest” in film production may not serve on board of directors.


“Hollywood Ten” indicted. Robert Montgomery resigns presidency due to production interest. Ronald Reagan chosen to replace him.

Taft-Hartley Law passed. SAG votes guild officers must sign noncommunist affidavits, in compliance with Taft-Hartley.

Actors including SAG first VP Gene Kelly, board members Marsha Hunt and Humphrey Bogart with wife Lauren Bacall fly to HUAC hearings as part of Committee for the First Amendment in support of Hollywood Ten, who are fired by studio heads for refusing to cooperate with HUAC.


Studio system crumbles: Supreme Court orders major studios to divest themselves of theater chains. Studio contract players drop to 463 in 1948, a decline of 37% from prior year.


First “Toll-TV” experiment. Guild joins Crusade for Freedom counteroffensive against “communist lies and treachery.”

Guild denounces “runaway production” to foreign countries.


Walter Pidgeon elected SAG president; leads first SAG walkout for per-use payments and limited cycle of TV commercials, lasting 2-1/2 months.

SAG signs contract with Assn. of TV Producers providing for first residuals for television show reruns. SAG opens Chicago branch.

Ninety-six percent of guild members vote to require anti-communist loyalty oath of all actors joining SAG. AFRA adds live television to jurisdiction and becomes AFTRA.


New SAG headquarters opens AFL chief George Meany joins president Pidgeon to dedicate first office built exclusively for guild.

SAG strikes for 10 days in August 1955 for increased TV show residuals.

SAG rejects AFTRA merger bid.


Videotape jurisdiction disputed: NLRB arbitrates dispute between SAG and AFTRA over taped commercials.

Guild demands producers’ records of TV reruns and syndication; urges testing of subscription TV.

SAG proposes producer-paid pensions and health care.


SAG strikes for movie residuals. Theatrical shutdown for 1-1/2 months brings about residuals for films sold to TV.

Producers’ lump payment of $2.65 million creates pension and welfare plans for actors, gives producers all profits from pre-1960 films.

Puppeteers added.

Reagan resigns presidency for production interests George Chandler takes over. First U.S. communications satellite launched. Cole Report on SAG-AFTRA merger issued.


Florida office opens. Southeastern branch eventually becomes third-largest region. AFTRA-SAG Credit Union, a bank run by actors for actors, opens doors.


SAG attacks discrimination. New TV contract contains nondiscrimination language, calls for better residuals and more prominent screen credits.

Dana Andrews elected president.

Guild protests network control, urges freedom from advertising, signs first contract with Subscription Television. Harry Belafonte, Paul Newman, Sidney Poitier, Charlton Heston and other SAG members join Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in civil rights march on Washington.


SAG prexy Andrews and veep Gregory Peck invited by LBJ to White House for signing of National Arts and Humanities Act.

New foreign TV residuals boost monthly total over $1 million.

Heston elected president.


Recognizing growth of independent filmmaking, guild initiates low-budget theatrical contract.

SAG investigates safety on set, auto insurance discrimination against actors; petitions Federal Communication Commission to limit networks’ “economic, proprietary and creative control of television.”


Minority performers of color protest stereotypes and misrepresentation.

SAG presidency expanded to two year term; John Gavin elected in 1971 and petitions President Nixon for government assistance to film industry, asking for tax incentives for motion pictures, limit TV to 25% reruns, give government filmmaking to private sector.


Women’s Committee formed. Activists address inequitable pay scale, negative portrayals and sexual harassment issues.

Dennis Weaver elected president.

Anticommunist oath removed. New TV and film contract wins residuals in perpetuity. Branch opens in San Diego. Dues now $40-$400 a year.

Nixon and his aides resign in Watergate scandal.


First female SAG president, Kathleen Nolan, challenges industry to embrace all minorities.


SAG commercials strike: Nolan leads walkout for better residuals on TV ads.

SAG board affirms support of free speech and gay rights.

Guild applauds Cliff Robertson for revealing Columbia studio financial scandal.

SAG study reveals women, minorities work and earn less; guild files unfair labor practice charge against producers; casting reports initiated.

SAG theatrical strike; prexy William Schallert leads July 21-Oct. 23 walkout to establish contract terms for pay TV and video cassette production.

Strike fund distributes $500,000 to affected members, raised at “An Evening of Stars” Hollywood Bowl benefit starring Lily Tomlin and others. AFTRA, AFM also on strike.

Former SAG prexy Reagan elected 40th president of United States.


Guild wins legislative victories; helps put an end to longtime discrimination against actors in auto and unemployment insurance.

Edward Asner elected president.


TV Special and Gala Ball mark 50th anniversary.

Canadian and Mexican actor unions meet SAG and AFTRA at North American Performers summit.

New Film and TV contract brings stronger safety, affirmative action, more supplemental profits.


Tax reform recognizes actors.

National lobbying effort affords special protection to performing artists.

Patty Duke elected org’s 19th president.

Board develops plan to address actors’ fears, and contribute to research, education and understanding of AIDS.

Members earn record $100 million-plus in residuals. SAG Foundation established.

Young Performers Committee is instrumental in changing state’s child labor laws. National HQ dedicated at 7065 Hollywood Blvd.


As a result of SAG’s animation strike, guild wins increase in minimum session fees, and extra pay for additional voices.

SAG enlists Ginger Rogers and Jimmy Stewart to lobby against film colorization.

Residual payments hit all-time total of $1 billion. Average cost of feature tops $20 million.


TV commercials strike achieves payment for cable use. First VP Barry Gordon becomes SAG’s 20th president when Duke resigns.

SAG signs contract for first U.S.-produced Spanish-language dramatic TV series . Congress establishes new National Film Preservation Board with SAG representation; Roddy McDowall serves as delegate.


In wake of Rebecca Schaeffer slaying, SAG lobbies California Legislature to create new DMV bill to protect privacy.

New theatrical/TV contract with new minimum salary for series guest stars; increase in residuals for free cable; and flexible five-out-of-seven-day workweek instituted. SAG agrees to first-ever made-for-basic cable contract.


Meryl Streep keynotes first National Women’s Conference, revealing decline in female work opportunities, pay parity and role models.

Eighty-eight percent of SAG members approve absorption of Screen Extras Guild jurisdiction.

Burt Lancaster represents SAG in Washington for creation of National Health Plan.

In response to “Miss Saigon” casting, SAG board adopts resolution that performers of color receive preferential consideration for ethnic roles.


Supported by SAG board, members rally throughout country for single-payer health care plan.

SAG wins commercials contract with increase in cable TV payments.

Dues waived for members on active duty in Persian Gulf War.

SAG members hit by national recession as earnings and residuals show decline.


Hollywood extras rejoin guild. SAG extras work 467 jobs a day and earn over $1 million in first month of new theatrical contract.

Total guild earnings rise $12 million for year-end total of $1.1 billion.


Over 100 multimedia productions propel first interactive contract.

SAG film/TV residuals doubled in six years, topping $2 billion; commercial residuals total another $2 billion.

AIDS task force launched, distributing $125,000 in contributions.

SAG study shows women and minorities under-represented.

Pensions top $1 billion.

Guild moves national headquarters to L.A.’s Miracle Mile.


Stunt players vote in record numbers in favor of guild’s first agreement to cover stunt coordinators.

SAG monitors rash of film companies declaring bankruptcy to ensure actors get their residuals; TV Animation Incentive Plan proposed to curb runaway production to Canada; Guild resolves ATA arbitration.

SAG and AFTRA approve three-year commercials contract, gaining significant increases in cable and Spanish-language TV, and fending off management proposals for major rollbacks.


Films and TV programs recognized by first annual Screen Actors Guild Awards. Initially, nominees restricted to guild members, but rule is reversed in subsequent years.

Richard Masur elected president.


Guild girds itself for possible strike alongside AFTRA over disputes with Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers. After six weeks of negotiations, tentative agreement is reached, but postponing decision on two of most divisive topics: basic cable and foreign residuals.


William Daniels elected president.

SAG launches diversity program to increase minority membership.

Strike averted after six weeks of negotiations between actors’ and producers’ reps.


Elizabeth Hurley among guild’s targets during strike against advertisers for shooting a nonunion spot. The strike, over, among other items, Internet residuals, ends after six months when producers, SAG and AFTRA agree to tentative agreement in which actors unions win jurisdiction over ads on the Net.

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