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The Screen Actors Guild may be on the verge of a crucial step toward rehabilitating its image.

SAG has narrowed its search for a top exec in recent weeks to a half dozen candidates. Several finalists are recognizable figures with strong Hollywood ties.

SAG insiders view the naming of a strong leader as essential to halt the public relations disarray that has engulfed it by stopping the seemingly endless sniping among elected leaders and staff.

SAG’s internal drift has been exacerbated since last October’s announcement that national exec director Ken Orsatti would retire and that associate national exec director John McGuire would not seek the post.

The new SAG topper is expected to be paid in the range of $300,000 annually, based on Orsatti’s $240,000 salary plus $60,000 in expenses.

Whoever it is will face a series of daunting challenges:

  • The final weeks of negotiations over the film-TV contract.

  • Bitter feuds between supporters of SAG prexy William Daniels and former prexy Richard Masur.

  • Controversial cost-cutting proposals, including closing branches and shrinking the board from 105 to 62.

  • The ongoing stalemate with the Assn. of Talent Agents, which is seeking to ease financial-interest restrictions.

  • Staff problems, manifested by three wrongful termination suits by former minority employees, including the two top execs in the affirmative action department.