SAG prexy winner aims to mend rifts

Daniels draws 47.5% of votes

William Daniels, who precipitously launched his bid for the Screen Actors Guild presidency a mere two months ago, won the post Friday in a bare-knuckle contest against incumbent Richard Masur.

Swept into office with him on the SAG board were all but two members of his 18-strong Performers’ Alliance slate. The victory in the contentious campaign portends a more aggressive bargaining stance by SAG, which could well spread to the other Hollywood craft unions.

In his new, two-year post, which he will assume on Nov. 15, Daniels joins a roster of SAG presidents that over the years has included James Cagney, Dana Andrews, Charlton Heston and Ronald Reagan.

Daniels, a veteran, Brooklyn-born actor with a courtly manner, pulled in 10,008 votes, or 47.5% of the 21,068 ballots cast, versus 8,972 (42.5%) for Masur. A third candidate, who goes by the sole name of Angeltompkins, received 2,015 votes (9.5%).

“I’m very surprised that we were able to unseat the incumbent,” Daniels told Daily Variety by phone from his San Fernando Valley home minutes after the tally was in. Throughout the brief campaign, Daniels had conceded that his candidacy was open to question because of his lack of boardroom experience, although he noted that Dennis Weaver, Ed Asner and Patty Duke had been in similar straits before taking over the SAG helm.

In the end, he said, “I think it was important for the union that there be a change made because obviously the membership has been very unhappy with the present administration.”

Heal division

Now, with the presidency in his pocket, Daniels insists on the need to end the very palpable divisions in SAG, in particular those between the warring political parties — his own P.A. and ProAct, the Masur camp — that have institutionalized the differing points of view on how to run the 99,000-member union. In fact, he said, the two parties should cease to exist.

“We can’t be fighting each other,” Daniels said later Friday evening over celebratory drinks with fellow winners at Marie Callender’s restaurant, in the shadow of SAG’s Los Angeles headquarters. “We have to pull together and get better contracts. That’s what our job as a union is all about.”

From New York, Masur issued the following statement:

“Clearly, the members have made a very definitive choice and I wish Bill Daniels the best of luck. I remain a member of this union and it’s important to me and to all of the members that he be successful.”

Masur’s attempt to win a third term may have been hampered, in part, by his vociferous support of a merger with the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists, a proposal that SAG members just as strongly rejected.

He was almost certainly hurt by his disregard of a former California Supreme Court judge’s conclusion, after a thorough probe, that there likely was intentional wrongdoing in a miscount of ballots in a National Executive Committee election a year ago.

In what appeared to be an over-arching attempt to protect the three tellers involved, Masur repeatedly contended that the judge had reached no such determination. In January, he pushed through SAG’s national board a motion declaring “this unfortunate matter closed” and, despite evidence to the contrary, “finding no fault with any of the participants.”

Opposition organizes

That action, more than any other, galvanized his opponents into action. Already holding a majority of seats on SAG’s Hollywood region board, the Performers’ Alliance organized itself into a national force and cast about for a leader who could unseat Masur.

Approached by a handful of P.A. stalwarts in a Ventura Boulevard coffee shop, Daniels agreed to run, somewhat to his own astonishment.

In response, Masur, hearing that Daniels’ wife, Bonnie Bartlett, had allegedly made disparaging remarks about the SAG leader, threatened to sue not only Bartlett but five other P.A. members for mounting a “conspiracy” to defame him and cause his defeat in the election. And, in a move that may have been counterproductive, Masur posted on his own faction’s Web site a litany of allegations supposedly made against him by his opponents.

“In our long career in the business, we have never had to hire a lawyer about anything until Richard’s lawyers started sending threatening letters,” said Daniels, who won two Emmys in the mid-1980’s for “St. Elsewhere” and is currently in ABC’s “Boy Meets World.”

Emotional election

Bartlett said Friday that the election had been emotionally arduous. “We have close friends who are involved on the other side, and it’s been very difficult for me because I love them,” she said. “It’s caused some bad feelings.”

Winning P.A. candidates include Karen Austin, who, as recording secretary, becomes a national officer of SAG alongside F.J. O’Neil, the reelected treasurer.

The election result, Austin said, signifies “an acknowledgment of a group of people whose main objective is to honor the concerns and the fears of the working actor.”

In the guild’s 12 national vice presidential races, P.A. member Sumi Haru beat ProAct candidate Amy Aquino for first VP, although Aquino held on to her board seat.

In the second VP race, Lisa Scarola, a member of the Clean Slate ’99 party, handily defeated Mel Boudrot, a founding member of ProAct. Boudrot was also running for a third term as president of SAG’s New York branch, a position Scarola will occupy instead.

Richard Herd, running for third VP, beat ProAct candidate Tom Bower and Googy Gress; and Gary Epp outdistanced ProActer Cynthia DeCure for ninth VP. Both Herd and Epp are in the P.A.

In the race for 10th VP, Maureen Donnelly won over Avis Boone; in the 11th, P.A. co-founder David Jolliffe came in ahead of Wren T. Brown and Jerry G. Velasco; and in the 12th, Larry Keith beat Ben Van Bergen.

Unopposed in the race were fourth VP Eileen Henry; fifth VP Mary Seibel; sixth VP Chuck Dorsett; seventh VP Laird Stuart; and eighth VP D. J. Sullivan.

New board voted in

Fourteen candidates from the Hollywood/General Membership group were elected to three-year terms on the national board of directors. They are: Aquino, Herd, Haru, Jolliffe, Sonya Y. Maddox, Paul Napier, Kari Keegan, Bob Carlson, Ninon Aprea, Michael Harrity, Peggy Miley, Kurt McCortney, Mark Carlton and Jane Kaczmarek. All but Aquino and Kaczmarek are P.A. members.

From SAG’s New York branch, seven members were elected to the national board of directors. They are: Cliff Robertson, Kim Sykes, Michael Carbonella, Mitch Green, Colette Bryce, Julie Hyman and Rob Keefe.

From Chicago, Nancy Sellers goes to the board, and from Florida, Laird Stuart. In San Francisco, Marcia Pizzo was unopposed.

“In the last two years, the Performers’ Alliance has been able to activate the union and get its members excited about what could be done,” said Keegan, a commercials actress voted into office for the first time after choosing recently to align herself with Daniels’ group. “Our members have been starving for true leadership for a long time.”