The awards evoked several standing ovations by the more than 500 union members attending at the annual Los Angeles Local membership meeting at the Sportsmen’s Lodge in Studio City. Former SAG VP Mike Farrell presented Fairchild with her award and former SAG president Alan Rosenberg made the presentation to Johnson.
Johnson, who was a key figure in pushing for diversity in show business during the past two decades, noted in her acceptance that she is the first African-American recipient of the honor. “I will continue to talk about diversity, no matter how uncomfortable those conversations may be,” she added.
“She’s ensured that diversity has become an integral part of our industry,” Rosenberg noted.
Johnson recalled a key moment during the six-month 2000 commercials strike when the union organized a massive protest against Ridley Scott’s RSA for running a print ad with a photo of a naked elderly African woman with the assertion, “This is what SAG means in Africa.” RSA subsequently apologized.
She also noted that she has often been at odds with the current leadership, which has taken a moderate course for the union since 2009. “Being a unionist isn’t always agreeing with the course of the union,” she added.
Farrell credited Fairchild with being one of the first high-profile celebrity activist in support of people with AIDS, starring in the informational “Safe Sex for Men and Women” about AIDS education and prevention. “That caused her to lose friends and work,” he added.
Fairchild served nine years on the SAG national board and sat on AFTRA’s Hollywood board for another seven years. She was one of the original members of the Hollywood women’s political committee.
“I found that the people you work with at the union become your family,” Fairchild said. “We all start in this business with big dreams. Those dreams are what this union is here to protect.”
Past recipients of the Ralph Morgan Award — named after SAG’s first president — include Kent McCord (“Adam 12”), Scott Wilson (“In Cold Blood”), Yale Summers (“Daktari”), former SAG president Kathleen Nolan (“The Real McCoys”) and “Titanic” actress Gloria Stuart, one of SAG’s first members.
The meeting opened with SAG-AFTRA Local president Jane Austin offering a tribute to Nancy Reagan, who died Sunday and had served on the SAG national board during the early ’50s while her husband Ronald Reagan was SAG president. Those attending observed a moment of silence for the former First Lady.