Screen Actors Guild timeline

SAG celebrates 75 years of self-empowerment


  • Six Hollywood thesps — Berton Churchill, Grant Mitchell, Ralph Morgan, Charles Miller Kenneth Thomson and his wife Alden Gay — meet in the Thomsons’ Hollywood home to discuss formating a self-governing org of film actors.

  • The proposed Screen Actors Guild is open to all as opposed to the “by invitation only” membership of the Academy. On June 30, SAG’s Articles of Incorporation are filed. Twenty-one actors become guild’s first officers and board of directors, with Ralph Morgan as president.

  • Actor Ivan Simpson gives the guild a motto: “He best serves himself who serves others.”

  • Major stars such as James Cagney (below left), Robert Montgomery, Ann Harding (below right), Fredric March, Jeanette MacDonald and the Marx brothers join the guild. Morgan yields guild presidency to Eddie Cantor.

  • Screen Actors Guild agrees to admit extras as members.


  • Actors’ Equity surrenders its film jurisdiction to SAG.


  • The guild is granted an American Federation of Labor charter by the Associated Actors and Artistes of America. Robert Montgomery succeeds Cantor as guild president.


  • SAG is recognized by moguls Louis B. Mayer (lower left) and Joseph Schenck (lower right) on the morning of May 9 after thousands of stars, contract players and extras vote to strike at midnight May 10 if the guild is not recognized.

  • Thirteen producers sign first SAG contract: minimum pay $25 per day, $35 for stunts, $5.50 for extras.

  • SAG opens New York office.

  • American Federation of Radio Artists (AFRA) chartered, with Cantor as first president.

  • Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees’ leader Willie Bioff puts pressure on Montgomery to reinstate guild member Jane Tallant, who had been suspended for holding membership simultaneously in SAG and IATSE (as a makeup artist.), which is against SAG regulations. Montgomery refuses, escalating the battle between the labor orgs.

  • Bioff announces IATSE intends to take over jurisdiction of all motion picture workers (including actors) and demands producers place IATSE logo on all motion pictures.


  • SAG members — along with members of the writers and directors guilds — raise money for the Motion Picture Relief Fund to build retirement facility and hospital for actors in need.


  • Actors’ Equity, AFRA and SAG decide jurisdiction over development of television to be shared jointly. Edward Arnold elected SAG president.


  • James Cagney elected SAG president.


  • Group of extras desiring to leave the guild form Screen Players Union and request jurisdiction over extras who also do speaking bits, and petition National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for certification.


  • Screen Extras Guild forms and applies to Associated Actors and Artistes of America for charter, which is granted.


  • Screen Extras Guild certified by NLRB.

  • SAG adopts new conflict-of-interest bylaw: Those actors with a “primary and continuing interest” in film production may not serve on board of directors.


  • Guild prexy Montgomery resigns and Ronald Reagan (lower left) chosen by board of directors to replace him.

  • Guild officers sign affidavits swearing to not affiliate with the Communist Party.

  • Montgomery, Reagan and former SAG prexy George Murphy testify before House Committee on Un-American Activities that Communists aren’t welcome in org.


  • The Associated Actors and Artistes of America grants SAG jurisdiction over filmed TV.

  • AFRA merges with Television Authority, gaining live television jurisdiction, becoming American Federation of Television & Radio Artists, or AFTRA.

  • Walter Pidgeon (lower right) elected SAG president, leads guild’s first-ever strike, over filmed television commercials. Work stoppage lasts from December to February 1953.


  • Ninety-six percent of guild members vote to approve requiring anti-Communist “loyalty oath” of all actors joining org.


  • SAG strike for increased TV show residuals and minimums lasts Aug. 5-16.


  • SAG board representation becomes national, as board of directors is increased from 39 seats to 52, allowing branch representation outside L.A. (N.Y., Boston, Chicago, Detroit, San Francisco).


  • SAG executive secretary Jack Dales tells membership of continuing challenge of runaway production, and about meetings investigating “alleged racial discrimination in hiring practices in the motion picture production industry.”


  • Founding member and second guild prexy Eddie Cantor receives inaugural SAG Life Achievement Award.

  • After Justice Dept. files an antitrust suit against MCA, the media company is forced to dissolve its talent agency business. The guild had also been pressing MCA to cease its dual role due to its ability to monopolize industry’s talent.


  • SAG reaction to discrimination during theatrical negotiations prompts producers to agree to add a clause to the year’s theatrical agreement to fight ethnic, creed-based and racial discrimination.

  • Harry Belafonte (near left), Sidney Poitier (far left), Paul Newman, Charlton Heston and other SAG members join Dr. Martin Luther King in civil rights march on Washington.


  • SAG president Dana Andrews reps guild at President Johnson’s conference at White House regarding the role labor can play in support of the newly signed Civil Rights Act.


  • Charlton Heston elected SAG president.


  • Former SAG president Ronald Reagan elected governor of California in November.


  • Guild petitions FCC, charging the three major TV nets with having a “virtual monopoly” on all programming.

  • SAG anti-Communist “loyalty oath” made optional after members of Grateful Dead, appearing in “Petulia,” refuse to sign.

  • Guild announces TV and theatrical contracts will no longer be negotiated separately.


  • Recognizing growth of independent filmmaking, guild initiates low-budget theatrical contract.


  • First-ever fully contested SAG election takes place, as independent candidates challenge nominating committee’s choices for seven guild officer positions (including president) and 16 board seats. None of the independents, however, is elected.


  • In an event unprecedented in the guild’s 40-year history, John Gavin becomes the first incumbent guild president to be defeated by a challenger, Dennis Weaver (below), and six other candidates are defeated by independents as well.


  • Theatrical and TV contract gains include TV residuals for every rerun in primetime, rather than previous practice of paying for only two reruns, plus residuals in perpetuity for TV reruns in syndication, replacing the practice of buyout at the 10th run, and fees are increased by 25%.


  • Kathleen Nolan elected as guild’s first female president.


  • Nolan leads SAG commercials strike for better residuals on TV ads, from December to February 1979.


  • Guild prexy William Schallert heads July-October TV and theatrical members’ walkout to establish contract terms for pay TV and vid production.

  • Few thesps attend Emmy Awards, held during the strike period. Among key winners, only Powers Booth (“Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones “) attends to claim his trophy.

  • Reagan elected president of the United States.


  • SAG officials plan, then withdraw, Life Achievement Award for Reagan in immediate wake of guild’s backing of striking air traffic controllers who were fired by commander in chief.

  • Edward Asner (below), who had become a vocal and visible presence during the 1980 strike, elected guild president.


  • SAG faces negotiations for the first time with a merged producer group, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

  • SAG’s 50th anni feted with TV special, Golden Gala Ball in Hollywood and Moving Picture Ball in New York.


  • Vote on merger with Screen Extras Guild fails again.

  • SAG creates low-budget film agreement that gives advantages to productions that hire more women, minorities, seniors and disabled performers.


  • Screen Actors Guild Foundation established.

  • Patty Duke (right) elected president.


  • Residual payments hit total mark of $1 billion.

  • SAG animation strike lasts from mid-June to July. Guild wins increase in minimum session fees and extra pay for additional voices.


  • SAG/AFTRA TV commercials strike, through March and April, achieves payment for cable use.


  • SAG/AFTRA theatrical and TV negotiations reach new record for efficiency, consisting of just three days of talks — gains include 12.5% increase in minimum wages.

  • In wake of thesp Rebecca Schaeffer’s (below) slaying by a stalker, SAG lobbies California Legislature for more privacy rights, resulting in Dept. of Motor Vehicles bill protecting access to home addresses.


  • Guild wins new commercials contract with increase in cable TV payments.


  • SAG regains jurisdiction over all extras working under guild signatory productions; SAG extras work 467 jobs a day and earn more than $1 million in first month of new theatrical contract.

  • SAG and Screen Extras Guild merge. The extras had been working without a contract for two years prior to merger.


  • Guild’s first interactive contract initiated with more than 100 multimedia productions signed.

  • Film and TV residualss double in six years, topping $2 billion; commercial residualss total another $2 billion.

  • Guild launches AIDS Task Force, distributing $125,000 in contributions.


  • Stunt players vote in favor of guild’s first agreement to cover stunt coordinators.


  • The first annual SAG Awards show debuts on NBC; George Burns (below) becomes first to receive the Life Achievement Award on TV.


  • SAG website launched.


  • SAG participates in commemorating 50th anniversary of blacklist era. Guild prexy Richard Masur reads statement expressing regret for SAG’s failure to oppose blacklist.


  • Awards show moves from NBC to TNT.


  • In May-October, SAG and AFTRA commercial actors strike over cable TV residuals.


  • Global Rule 1, requiring members to only work for producers who are SAG signatories wherever they work, even outside the U.S., becomes effective, producing an additional $120 million in member earnings, plus $6 million more to the guild’s pension and health funds — an increase of more than 200% within two years.


  • AFTRA merger voted down, barely, for third time since 1982, with 57% of SAG’s members in favor of coalition — passage requires 60% yes vote by both orgs.


  • Apple’s video iPod debuts, and SAG, AFTRA, Directors Guild and Writers Guild of America East and West issue a statement inviting “dialogue that ensures that our members are properly compensated for this exploitation of their work.”


  • Guild negotiates first agreement for a “mobisode” — a mini episode to be played on mobile phone screen — for TV series “Lost.”


  • SAG Award of Excellence star is installed on Hollywood Boulevard, launching the 75th anni for org, whose membership comprises nearly 120,000 thesps.

Major sources: Screen Actors Guild archivist timeline; SAG website; “The Politics of Glamour: Ideology and Democracy in the Screen Actors Guild” by David F. Prindle.