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Few receive honor for ‘courageous leadership’

Edmund H. North Award: John Gay

The Writers Guild of America West doesn’t give out its Edmund H. North kudo often; in the 36 years since first awarding it in 1967, when it was called the Founders Award, the guild’s board has used it to honor only 11 individuals.

The honor, after all, is bestowed upon members whose “courageous leadership” and “professional achievement of the highest order” have helped establish the guild as “a pillar of strength and security for writers throughout the world.”

A daunting task, and this year’s recipient, John Gay, knows it. “It’s hard to live up to all that stuff,” he says of receiving the award, now named for Ed North, a man Gay befriended through the guild.

“Nobody could have done as much as he did for the guild,” Gay says. “To be honored with his name attached is quite an honor. He was also a wonderful man. And he stood up for writers.”

Gay could be described that way, says WGAW prexy Victoria Riskin, who notes the board unanimously chose Gay for the award. “He’s been on every committee that we have and given years of service. It’s his clarity and strength and goodness — and ability to solve problems — that everyone admires. He’s a role model to all of us. And he’s an exceptionally fine writer.”

Gay has written a dozen feature films, most notably 1958’s “Separate Tables,” for which he and co-writer Terence Rattigan were nominated for an Oscar and a WGA honor. He has written 32 telepics and five minis, and was nominated for an Emmy for writing 1984’s “Fatal Vision.” Throughout his successful career, he has served his fellow writers and the writing profession on numerous guild panels.

In the early 1980s, Gay says he felt the guild was going through a period of infighting, that writers were “fighting against each other instead of against the studios.” He ran as veep with the promise of trying to bring more civility to the situation, and won, serving 1985-87.

“I enjoyed my work with the guild,” he says. “I was always quite busy but I never found it a burden. It was always for the good of the cause. We writers do have to work hard for our rights.”

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