Migden, former SAG topper, dies

Negotiated contracts; gains benefited many thesps

Chester L. Migden, a former executive director of the Screen Actors Guild who helped devise the principle of paying actors residuals for television reruns, died Sunday after a heart attack. He was 78 years old.

At SAG, Migden — known to his friends as Chet — negotiated contracts for performers in films, TV and commercials, as well as all agency franchise agreements. The gains and benefits he negotiated remain the cornerstone of the guild’s collective bargaining agreements.

In 1974, when Migden first served as SAG’s chief negotiator, he sat down across the table from Lew Wasserman, who at the time represented the producers, and achieved a breakthrough by establishing TV residuals in perpetuity.

“The contracts negotiated under Chet’s leadership improved the lot of actors a dozen times over,” said Ken Orsatti, SAG’s national exec director, who worked with Migden for 21 years.

When Migden joined SAG in 1952, it had 9,600 members and offices in three cities. Thirty years later, when he left, the guild had more than 50,000 members and branches in 15 cities.

“Chet Migden oversaw the transition of the Screen Actors Guild from an intimate Hollywood organization to the national, multi-faceted union that the guild has become today,” said SAG president Richard Masur.

In 1982, Migden became exec director of the Assn. of Talent Agents, a position he held until he retired in 1996.

Born in New York on May 21, 1921, Migden served in the U.S. Army during World War II. Migden graduated from Columbia Law School in 1947, and worked at the National Labor Relations Board before coming to SAG in 1952, as administrator of the guild’s Agency Division.

Migden served on the Motion Picture & Television Fund’s board of trustees for 25 years. He was also vice president of the California State Labor Federation and vice president of the Intl. Federation of Actors.

Migden is survived by his wife of more than 50 years, Dina, and daughters Barbara Rosenberg, Amy Olsson and Ann Widdifield. The latter is an assistant exec director of the Writers Guild. A granddaughter, Lisa Ann Olsson, also survives him.

The family requests donations be sent to the Motion Picture and Television Fund. A memorial tribute will be held at noon on June 1, at the WGA Theater in Beverly Hills.