SAG prexy Gilbert, former moppet, campaigned for law

California lawmakers are poised to clear up key provisions of the 64-year-old Coogan Law to help child actors keep their money.

The State Senate judiciary committee will hold the first hearing today in Sacramento on Senate Bill 210, which is aimed at properly dispersing $1.2 million in wages earned by underage thesps over the past three years.

Reps of the Screen Actors Guild and the Motion Picture Assn. of America are slated to testify in support of the legislation.

Actors Fund named

The bill, introduced by Sen. John Burton (D-San Francisco), will establish the Actors Fund of America as a “default trust repository” for 15% of child actors’ gross earnings.

The Legislature required in late 1999 that 15% of those wages be set aside in a trust but significant numbers of parents have failed to establish the trusts, leading to the studios accumulating the $1.2 million in unpaid wages.

The bill also contains an urgency clause due to the state’s three-year time limit on holding unpaid wages.

The 1999 legislation, also authored by Burton, made all the money earned by a child performer the property of the child, regardless of guardianship, and established fiduciary duties for parents or guardians managing the rest of the minor’s income.

Current SAG prexy Melissa Gilbert, who starred as a child thesp in “Little House on the Prairie,” campaigned actively for the legislation.

Few approved contracts

The original Coogan Law was named after Jackie Coogan, who made $4 million as a child only to discover later that his mother and stepfather had spent it. That legislation allowed a court, in approving a child performer’s contract, to order up to half of the minor’s net earnings be set aside in a trust.

The 1999 legislation was introduced partly because few child contracts were being approved by courts.

The Actors’ Fund of America recently launched a “Looking Ahead” program with SAG and AFTRA aimed at helping young performers in Southern California. Program is funded by a $150,000 grant from the SAG-Producers Industry Advancement and Cooperative Fund.

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