Thesps play SAG tag

McCord board win irks leadership team

Chalk up a big win for the militants within the acting community. Kent McCord, described as a “very polarizing influence” by Screen Actors Guild prexy Alan Rosenberg, has been elected first vice president over a candidate favored by guild moderates.

In a sign of the ongoing animosity within SAG, the guild’s Hollywood board has elected McCord as national first VP by a 17-16 margin over incumbent Anne-Marie Johnson. The post places McCord in charge of Hollywood board meetings.

The vote for McCord is an endorsement by a significant number of SAG’s elected leaders of the more confrontational and assertive style favored by McCord and his allies.

Tuesday night’s vote represents a setback for Rosenberg, who has been closely allied with Johnson during his one-year tenure as head of the guild. At the start of Rosenberg’s term, the Hollywood-based Membership First faction gained control of the national board.

It’s also an expression of dissatisfaction among Membership First reps over Rosenberg’s attempts at conciliation and compromise with the SAG branches outside Los Angeles. It also points to frustration over a lack of movement on several key issues — particularly lack of a franchise agreement with major agencies and SAG’s lack of a response to AFTRA actively signing TV shows that would be expected to be in SAG jurisdiction.

“I’m very disappointed,” Rosenberg told Daily Variety. “Anne-Marie has done a fantastic job, particularly at reaching out to everyone, while Kent’s a very polarizing influence. The people who voted against her resent the fact that we’ve been reaching out to build unity within SAG for contract negotiations.”

Rosenberg also contended that removing Johnson, one of the few African-Americans to hold an elected slot at SAG in recent years, sends the wrong message to guild members. “I’m a big believer in diversity, and it’s something we haven’t had enough of among SAG leaders,” he said.

In last month’s board elections, Johnson received the fifth highest total among 63 Hollywood candidates in being re-elected to a three-year term on the board.

After Rosenberg was elected last fall on a get-tough platform as head of the Membership First slate, he was widely perceived as a militant. His first move as president — over strong objections from New York and regional reps — was to lead the board in firing Greg Hessinger as CEO last October after Hessinger hired former AFTRA execs without consulting the board.

Since then, Rosenberg has been actively seeking to improve relations with reps outside Hollywood, with the key goal of presenting a unified front at the bargaining table before SAG’s film-theatrical contract expires in July 2008. He’s also managed to sign four contract deals this year, including a two-year extension of the commercials contract.

But his conciliatory moves have rubbed many of his former Membership First allies the wrong way. The Hollywood division represents about 60% of SAG members, and many Hollywood reps remain resentful of the power wielded by New York and the branches during the four years Melissa Gilbert was president prior to Rosenberg’s election.

McCord didn’t respond to a request for comment but said in a statement, “From the time I was first elected to the national board in 1972, I have fought to keep our union open, inclusive and prepared for the future.”

“Today, more than at any time in the 73-year history of our union, we are witnessing technological changes that will forever alter the way our members’ work is distributed and exhibited to audiences throughout the world,” he added.

McCord first became active in SAG politics while starring in the hit TV series “Adam-12”; he was named winner of the Ralph Morgan Award for service to the guild in 1999. He served as treasurer from 2001-03, then fell short in an attempt to unseat Gilbert that year.

McCord’s widely viewed as being uninterested in compromise, even if that means SAG won’t present a united front. He and his allies racked up three clear victories by persuading guild members to vote down initiatives proposed by SAG chief exec Bob Pisano and Gilbert. Those initiatives called for amending the master franchise agreement with agents to allow agents to own stakes in production companies and vice versa in 2002; merging SAG with AFTRA in 2003; and increasing SAG dues in 2004.

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