- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 1, 2001

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Melissa Gilbert gained fame playing a frontier girl in "Little House on the Prairie." Valerie Harper caught the public's fancy as the wisecracking pal on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show."
Now the two actresses are competing for a far different role: union boss. Observers say both politics and celebrity are factors in the election for president of the Screen Actors Guild, which represents more than 98,000 movie and television performers nationally.
Miss Harper and Miss Gilbert are running at a tense time, in the aftermath of a lengthy commercial actors' strike and an averted walkout by movie and TV actors under one-term SAG President William Daniels ("St. Elsewhere," "Boy Meets World").
The ballot deadline was yesterday, and results are to be announced by Monday, the guild says. Voters are choosing a treasurer, recording secretary and board members as well as new top leadership. Two other candidates, Angel Tompkins and Eugene Boggs, also are seeking the presidency.
In this union race, fame and personality count: Candidate Web sites include glamour shots of the sort unlikely ever to make a Teamsters campaign poster.
"Because we're an actors union, we want the name with the biggest visibility," says actor and lawyer Eugene Feldman, an independent candidate for the board. "Actors are as celebrity-driven and influenced as the average person."
"Big names win," agrees actor-singer Steve Blackwood, a regular on the NBC daytime serial "Days of Our Lives" and a SAG member.
Past guild presidents have included Ronald Reagan, Charlton Heston and Patty Duke.
When it comes to issues, member discord over the strike and Mr. Daniels' stewardship are the most potent elements, with the actresses and those aligned with them taking sharply opposing views of the state of the union.
Miss Harper praises the record established by Mr. Daniels, who decided against seeking another term. Miss Gilbert is critical of the union's direction and is calling for change.
"It's very interesting that people are talking about how terrible things are under Bill Daniels," Miss Harper says. "Bill Daniels, under his watch, has produced two of the best contracts we have had in years."
Both the commercial contract and the theatrical contract were approved overwhelmingly by SAG members, Miss Harper notes.
She praises the commercial pact for blocking rollbacks sought by producers in some areas of residual payments. (Residuals are paid to actors for rebroadcasts of their work.)
In contrast, Miss Harper says, there was disapproval of deals reached under the previous SAG president, Richard Masur, who served two terms.
Mr. Daniels, promising a tougher guild, unseated Mr. Masur ("Forget Paris," the HBO film "61") in an extremely bitter 1999 election.


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