Ex-prexy of SAG works on return to acting

Former Screen Actors Guild president William Daniels, who became imprinted on Hollywood’s consciousness during the past two years, has no regrets about leaving the spotlight.

“Being president was something that I’m glad I did, but I’m glad it’s over,” the 74-year-old Daniels told Daily Variety. “I made some wonderful friends and I think we were able to start turning things around. I still stay in touch now, but I’m happy to stay in the background.”

Since leaving office in November, he has traveled with spouse Bonnie Bartlett and tried to revive his acting career. Daniels, a two-time Emmy winner for “St. Elsewhere,” had put his career on hold during his presidency, but recently signed with Gold/Marshak/Liedkte and is hoping he’ll be cast during the upcoming pilot season.

“I’m very interested in working if the right thing comes along,” Daniels said. It’s a major change from the previous 24 months, when he made headlines seemingly every week.

Daniels began his tenure as SAG’s 22nd prexy as a union novice with an upset win over Richard Masur on a platform of taking a harder line at the bargaining table.

Daniels then outraged agents by opposing a deal to ease the financial-interest restrictions; led SAG and AFTRA on a bitter six-month strike against advertisers; tried to persuade Hollywood that SAG would not stage another strike; and oversaw a national board with divisions so deep that CEO John Cooke departed 10 days after being named. He successfully encouraged high-profile members to seek office; tried unsuccessfully to cut the board size from 107 to 62 amid vituperative opposition from the New York and regional branches; decided not to seek a second term; and became the major issue in a raucous succession race between Melissa Gilbert and Valerie Harper that may be rerun if Harper’s challenge is upheld.

Daniels admitted four months ago that he never would have run for the non-salaried job of president in the first place had he been aware of all the discord (Daily Variety, Sept. 6).

Daniels, who endorsed Harper, has adhered to a strict no-comment policy on the election since it ended. And he has not spoken with Gilbert since she won.

“I wish Melissa well, because she has her hands full,” he said. “I’d be glad to help if she wants, but I would not want to foist myself on her if she’s not interested.”

Kept in touch

Since departing as president, Daniels has maintained contact mainly through friends and through Bartlett’s work with the SAG Foundation and the guild’s campaign for global enforcement of the Rule One ban on members’ performing non-union work.

He also has stayed in touch with Bob Pisano, selected as CEO on Sept. 10, and strongly endorses Pisano’s reorg of SAG operations, which included bringing in outsiders such as former Miramax exec Francesca Hickson as chief financial officer and O’Melveny & Myers partner Mark R. Steinberg as general counsel.

“I’ve been impressed so far by Bob Pisano and the people he’s recruited, because SAG had been run too long as a sort of mom-and-pop operation,” Daniels said. “I’ve worried about the damage to the guild’s image, so I’m hopeful that these moves can return it to normalcy. There are a lot of good people working very hard at SAG.”

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