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SAG zeroes in on tapping top exec

Topper may be announced within weeks

HOLLYWOOD — The Screen Actors Guild, forging ahead in the face of the John Cooke fiasco, has narrowed its second search for a top exec.

The new national executive director could be tapped by the national board within the next several weeks although SAG leaders have remained tight-lipped over details. The board’s next scheduled meeting is a two-day confab starting Sept. 10.

SAG’s search committee relaunched the exploration process in mid-July following its ill-fated selection of Cooke, who quit the post of national executive director/CEO 10 days after agreeing to take the job. At the time, Cooke cited a letter from nine board members that he perceived as questioning his authority to act as CEO, although the letter signers — including presidential candidate Melissa Gilbert — have insisted they had no intention of pushing Cooke out.

For many in Hollywood, Cooke’s departure served to underline ongoing internal battles that have dogged the guild. Last year’s SAG-funded Towers Perrin report described SAG as “organizational chaos,” detailing repeated instances of inefficiency and sniping between staff and elected leaders.

Cooke, contacted Wednesday, continued to decline further comment on SAG other than saying, “I have nothing more to say.”

SAG has been without a national exec director for more than seven months since the retirement of long-time chief Ken Orsatti, who announced last October he would step down. Associate national exec director John McGuire, who took himself out of the running at the time of Orsatti’s announcement, remains the top SAG exec.

The new SAG topper is expected to be paid in the range of $390,000 annually, the figure Cooke negotiated for his five-year deal. The nine-member search committee continues to be advised by Korn/Ferry Intl. and includes Nat Benchley, one of the nine letter signers, and presidential candidate Valerie Harper.

Additionally, board member and presidential candidate Eugene Boggs has asked the national board to rescind the June 25 vote that transferred the title of “CEO” from the president to the national executive director.

When Cooke accepted the SAG post, he said he planned to leave his exec slot at the J. Paul Getty Museum by Labor Day. Cooke said Wednesday he has been in discussions about other jobs but declined to elaborate.

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