Ex-prexy feted with Davies Award
In a move likely to polarize the upcoming Writers Guild of America elections, the board of the WGA West has given its Valentine Davies Award for service to former president Victoria Riskin.
The action — taken several weeks ago with board members pledged to confidentiality — undoubtedly will reopen what had been an embarrassing chapter for the WGA West. Riskin resigned from the presidency in early 2004 after it was discovered she was ineligible to seek re-election in 2003 because she hadn’t worked enough to qualify for active membership.
Riskin resigned, and the board appointed then-VP Charles Holland to the presidency, only to see him resign two months later after fudging details about his military service on his resume.
In an unprecedented move, the election rerun was supervised by the federal government after the Dept. of Labor concluded that the WGA failed to properly qualify Riskin’s candidacy.
The WGA had no comment about the board’s award to Riskin, daughter of Oscar-winning screenwriter Robert Riskin (“It Happened One Night”) and actress Fay Wray. Riskin’s married to former WGA West prexy David Rintels.
The Davies Award is given to “writers who have contributed to the entertainment industry, as well as the community at large, and who have brought dignity and honor to the profession of writing everywhere.”
Past recipients include Fay and Michael Kanin, Garry Marshall, Hal Kanter, Phil Alden Robinson, Norman Lear, Ray Bradbury, Alan Alda, Aaron Ruben, Neal Baer and last year’s recipient, Irma Kalish.
Since the board’s action, there have been heated arguments on the Writeraction.com Web site over whether it’s appropriate to honor Riskin and whether she should remain as a trustee of the guild health and pension fund.
Riskin’s supporters have insisted that she made a simple mistake in losing her eligibility. But Eric Hughes, who was defeated by Riskin in 2003, has long asserted that Riskin’s attempt to maintain eligibility via an option deal was a sham. He told Daily Variety that he’s appalled by the board’s action and believes it should be rescinded.
“Talk about unclear on the concept,” Hughes added. “This award is not for someone who has disgraced the guild and continues to disgrace it by not going away. It’s time to resolve this once and for all.”
Riskin and Rintels recently hosted a campaign party at their Montecito home for presidential candidate Patric Verrone, VP candidate David Weiss and board candidates Joan Meyerson, Tom Schulman and Dan Wilcox. Verrone, who’s facing board member Ted Elliott for the presidency, is heading an 11-member Writers United slate in next month’s election.
Riskin first won the presidency in 2001 over Michael Mahern and was re-elected in 2003 over Hughes following a contentious campaign.
Hughes and campaign manager Ron Parker maintained that Riskin had been ineligible to run, leading to a two-month probe by independent investigator William Gould IV, former head of the National Labor Relations Board.
Gould’s report, issued the day before Riskin resigned, concluded her active membership had lapsed in June 2003 as she had not worked under a WGA contract during the previous four years. He recommended that Holland replace her. The WGA West contended its constitution precluded the board from holding a new election after Riskin resigned and insisted it was in compliance with federal labor law.
But Parker filed a complaint with the Dept. of Labor, alleging more than a dozen violations of labor law in such areas as affording incumbents campaigning opportunities in union publications and failure to follow rules such as notifying members they could run for offices. Parker also alleged guild staff unlawfully helped Riskin conceal her ineligibility and engaged in a scheme to promote Riskin and undermine Hughes.
The Dept. of Labor has not announced which of Parker’s complaints were meritorious. In the rerun of the election, appointed president Daniel Petrie Jr. defeated Hughes for the remainder of Riskin’s two-year term following a spirited campaign.
Petrie decided not to seek re-election.