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TA calls boycot

Theater Authority in money dispute with CMN

The Theater Authority, a 65-year-old organization that helps needy actors, is calling for a performers’ boycott of the upcoming Children’s Miracle Network telethon in the wake of a dispute between the two entities.

TA issued a statement Wednesday saying that unless the fight is resolved, actors who participate in the June 5-6 telethon “will be contributing to the destruction of TA.”

The dispute — which is being played out in federal court in Salt Lake City and in the Denver offices of the National Labor Relations Board — grew out of TA’s contention that CMN owes it twice the $125,000 it received following last year’s telethon, which raised $179 million for charity, mostly children’s hospitals.

“The agreement was that there would be a payment of $250,000 from CMN to Theater Authority,” said Leo Geffner, an attorney for TA.

Money tussle

Geffner said TA had planned to sue for the money but that CMN “beat us to it … with all sorts of wild accusations.” CMN, he said, “told us they were not only not going to pay us but wanted us to return all their money going back five years, over $1.5 million.”

TA was founded in 1934 by the five performers’ unions — Actors’ Equity Assn., American Federation of TV & Radio Artists, American Guild of Musical Artists, American Guild of Variety Artists and the Screen Actors Guild — to raise money for entertainment charities such as the Actors’ Fund and the SAG Foundation.

The organization arranges for actors who appear on the CMN telethon to waive their usual union-mandated fees. In turn, CMN shares the spoils.

Part of CMN’s lawsuit alleges that TA is improperly structured to receive charitable funds. “They’re accusing us of a criminal matter in which they’ve participated for five years,” Geffner said.

But John A. Beckstead, a lawyer representing CMN, said the charity had encountered problems with TA since the beginning.

“We think that the amounts of money we have to pay them, how the money is spent by them and the procedure by which they apply their authority to get this money is unethical and illegal,” Beckstead said.

For one thing, he said, the TA is “taking a very significant portion in administrative fees.” In 1997, for example, TA’s western division took in $424,215 from various sources, Beckstead said, but paid out only $205,000 to charities. TA’s eastern division brought in $395,501 during the same year but gave just $250,000 to charities, he said, reading from tax documents.