Showbizreporting's Blog

June 2, 2009

More News on Ed Asner

Filed under: Entertainment — showbizreporting @ 2:08 am

Here is two articles from daily variety.

Rosenberg deals with tough role
SAG president tackles issues in and out of film

Despite being such an embattled and seemingly divisive figure, SAG prexy Alan Rosenberg hasn’t lost his sense of humor. At the end of a recent volatile board meeting, he told reporters, “I’m thrilled that Doug (Allen) is still our lead negotiator. If I were more rested, I’d be even happier.”
Given the controversies, large and small, that seem to continue unabated on his watch, humor is probably a key survival instinct.

When an email went out in early January suggesting SAG members boycott nominees who had supported voting “no” on strike authorization, Rosenberg said, “Nobody should let guild politics (influence) how they vote in the SAG Awards, because the awards are designed solely to celebrate great work by actors.” It was only the most recent firestorm to be quelled during his tumultuous tenure.

After spending the first half of his career playing what he labels “bad guys and gangsters,” he’s spent the second half playing a lawyer in series ranging from “L.A. Law” to “Civil Wars” to “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.” With a soothing, honeyed voice, Rosenberg gives even shady lawyers a disarming, trustworthy quality.

“It’s something I really do have an affinity for,” says Rosenberg, once an aspiring lawyer. “I also enjoy it. Not necessarily in the real world, but on television and in the movies, law is inherently dramatic. You don’t have to reach too far inside to create drama.”

Some might view Rosenberg’s kinder, gentler attorneys as running counter to the firebrand reputation he has established as SAG’s president.

As the Screen Actors Guild’s 24th elected leader, Rosenberg has taken a tough contractual stance with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers at a time when the economy couldn’t be on shakier ground.

When confronted with the radical label, however, Rosenberg begs to differ. “I really don’t see myself as a radical, any more than I see myself as a radical for being against the war in Iraq,” he says. “I think being against that war is the rational place to be. All I am is a unionist. I believe in this union and love all the things that have been fought for and gained for me by this union, and I want to uphold those things.”

Although Rosenberg has become a lightning rod for the town’s worries about the possibility of a strike, he has repeatedly insisted it’s a course he’d like to avoid. With an increasing number of members opposed to a strike authorization, and control of the national board having shifted last fall to a more moderate coalition, the chances of a strike have lessened considerably.

Among past SAG presidents, Rosenberg might be viewed as more in the mold of Ed Asner — well known for his leftist leanings and who played a prominent role in SAG’s 1980 strike — than, say, Rosenberg’s predecessor, Melissa Gilbert.

“I love Ed Asner and I love (past SAG president) Kathleen Nolan,” Rosenberg says. “They’ve been an inspiration and a help. But Ed Asner is my role model.”

Another role model was his late brother Mark Rosenberg, 2½ years his senior, who like Alan was very active in protesting the Vietnam War. Both worked closely with the Black Panthers, helping open the organization’s office in New Haven, Conn., when members Erica Huggins and Bobby Seale were on trial for the murder of a colleague. (Their cases were eventually dismissed.)

“I just talked to (founding Black Panther member) David Hilliard’s son about a week ago,” Rosenberg says. “I think they’re a wonderful organization, and I was a big supporter of theirs.”

(Rosenberg’s brother, who would go on to become a literary agent to such writers and directors as Alvin Sargent, Paul Brickman and John Badham before becoming president of production at Warner Bros. in the early ’80s, died of a heart attack while producing the movie “Flesh and Bone” in Texas. He was 44.)

As a pre-law student majoring in political science at Case Western Reserve U. in Cleveland, Alan “always had an affinity for lawyers and the law.” Equally compelling, from a very young age, was Rosenberg’s desire to act on Broadway. After he graduated from Case Western in 1972, he immediately enrolled at Yale Drama School. Frustrated by the program’s curriculum and what he described as his “unrequited love” for classmate Meryl Streep, he left after a year and a half.

Rosenberg struggled for the next three years in New York, working part time as a cab driver and, as he says, “acting in plays for no money” before he landed his first union job.

Those early years proved so trying that he reconsidered his desire to be a lawyer, having applied to, and been accepted by, Benjamin Cardozo School of Law in Greenwich Village and Rutgers. But just before taking the plunge, he landed the lead in a play alongside Morgan Freeman and a young Jimmy Smits. “I had such a good time doing it, I realized I wasn’t done with acting,” Rosenberg recalls.

SAG presidents often are so consumed by the duties of the office that acting careers are put on hold. But Rosenberg played a significant role in last year’s “Righteous Kill,” portraying a Manhattan police investigator opposite Al Pacino and Robert De Niro.

Rosenberg also has continued to be active in theater, having appeared with S. Epatha Merkerson in “Come Back, Little Sheba” at L.A.’s Kirk Douglas Theater last year (Variety called the performances “superb”) and is returning to his old stomping grounds at Case Western in February to direct a play with students there.

“I love doing theater,” he says, “I’d never want to give it up.”


Allen still at center of SAG debate
Hollywood board endorses national exec

With the Screen Actors Guild heading into its awards show Sunday, the guild’s top leaders seem more in disarray than ever.
SAG denied a widely distributed report late Thursday that its leaders had formally given up on its divisive plan to hold a strike authorization vote. A SAG rep insisted that guild prexy Alan Rosenberg and embattled national exec director Doug Allen had done no such thing, though the guild still hasn’t set a date for sending out those strike ballots.

The flap over the fate of the strike authorization comes on the same day that the guild’s Hollywood-based hardline members issued a statement of support for Allen. That statement came on the heels of the call by a slim majority of the guild’s national board that Allen be fired for mishandling the guild’s contract negotiations.

And that’s just this week’s volleys in the civil war raging within SAG.

While guild reps denied the report about the strike vote, Allen has been pushing a proposal to compromise with the board members who oppose the strike vote by trying to convince the majors to come back to the table for a round of last-ditch negotiations. Allen’s plan calls for sending the final offer out to the members without a recommendation. But that plan has been widely panned by the moderate majority of the national board that is intent on booting Allen from the guild’s top paid post.

“SAG’s national board of directors has not suspended the strike authorization referendum,” the guild said in statement in reaction to a wire service report.

Still, the strike authorization is looking considerably less likely as the leaders of the hardline faction, led by Rosenberg, also admitted they’re backing Allen and his gambit because they’ve come to the realization that the strike authorization would not gain the necessary 75% approval among SAG members voting on the measure. And the group blamed its inability to sway members on the “questionable tactics” used by an array of forces — the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers, AMPTP operatives, industry CEOs, industry-dependent media, high-profile producer-actors and some members of the board.

The move by members of SAG’s Hollywood board comes a week after that same group engineered a 30-hour stall to prevent the national board from firing him. The statement included an impassioned defense of Allen and was signed by 34 members and alternates to the 71-member national board, including president Rosenberg.

“Allen has tried to secure the best contract he can for the benefit of our over 120,000 SAG members nationally,” the statement said. “He is a true unionist and the strongest and most dedicated national executive director-chief negotiator the Screen Actors Guild has seen in decades.”

The moderate wing of SAG’s national board has pledged it will fire Allen on grounds that he’s bungled SAG’s negotiations, defied the will of the board and left members without a new feature-primetime contract for nearly eight months. Despite having the votes to toss Allen out, the moderate wing was blocked by Rosenberg and his allies at the marathon Jan. 12-13 board meeting.

Thursday’s statement by the Hollywood board members — along with New York alternate member Eric Bogosian — also said the signers support Allen’s attempt to enter a final round of negotiations with the congloms, then send the final offer out to the members, but without a recommendation.

The AMPTP hasn’t commented on Allen’s proposal, but the moderates have already ridiculed the plan, saying they don’t trust Allen. New York board member Paul Christie said Thursday that Allen’s gambit is a deception since it doesn’t address the issue of Allen’s possible replacement.

“The right thing to do, which includes these same members of the Hollywood board, is to allow the vote on the resolution presented at the plenary to go forward,” Christie said. “This conversation is now only about Doug Allen hanging onto his job at any cost and Alan Rosenberg’s refusal to allow the will of the majority of a national union to take place.”

The statement by the Hollywood board members wasn’t signed by Hollywood reps of the Unite for Strength faction — including Amy Brenneman and Adam Arkin — who supported firing Allen. UFS spokesman Ned Vaughn said the moderates haven’t changed their position.

“The majority of the national board made it clear at the last meeting and in our statement earlier this week that significant changes are required to put the guild on a more stable, productive course,” he said. “Our resolve to make those changes remains firm. We also remain firm in our belief that SAG members deserve to vote on a TV/theatrical contract that the national board recommends ratifying.”

And New York SAG president Sam Freed called Allen’s compromise a “formula for failure,” adding, “The membership will be given a choice to vote up a contract that could have been improved or to vote down a contract leaving us with the option of a continued stalemate or a strike.”

Several national board members who have been part of the Membership First faction — including Seymour Cassel, William Katt, Angela Watson and JoBeth Williams — did not sign the statement from the “Hollywood board majority.” Membership First lost its board majority to the moderates in the fall elections.

The statement characterized the opposition to Allen’s efforts as “unfortunate and puzzling” and suggested the moderates want to force a merger between SAG and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists.

“They’ve pursued a campaign to confuse and frighten the general membership with regard to the negotiations, the contract, our president and our NED/negotiator, as well as a concerted effort to preempt the members’ right to vote,” the statement said. “Some past and present board members have stated that the ultimate goal is to weaken the Screen Actors Guild in order to hasten a merger with AFTRA. Any discussions of merger should be deferred to a later time.”

The statement also said the Hollywood members won’t support the current final offer, which was made by the congloms as the contract expired on June 30.

“It is time for the membership to decide the future of this union,” they said. “We, the majority of the Hollywood division board, believe that the membership of this union will find the final offer, which does not contain, at a minimum: complete jurisdiction in new media, residuals for all original product made for new media and the protection of force majeure — Unacceptable.”

The authorization vote was originally set to go out Jan. 2 but was delayed so that the national board could hold the Jan. 12-13 meeting. Allen and Rosenberg had said the vote would take place immediately afterwards but have backed off that plan.

Besides Rosenberg and Bogosian, the statement was also signed by secretary-treasurer Connie Stevens, first VP Anne-Marie Johnson and Angeltompkins, Jane Austin, Scott Bakula, Bonnie Bartlett, Justine Bateman, Eugene Boggs, Joe Bologna, Clancy Brown, Keith Carradine, George Coe, Joe d’Angerio, Anne DeSalvo, Anthony DeSantis, Frances Fisher, Joely Fisher, Elliott Gould, Valerie Harper, Sumi Haru, Robert Hays, Lainie Kazan, Diane Ladd, William Mapother, Kent McCord, Esai Morales, France Nuyen, Alan Ruck, Nancy Sinatra, Charles Shaughnessy, Renee Taylor and Jenny Worman.

In another development, former SAG president Ed Asner said in a widely circulated email that he supports a boycott of the eight nominees for SAG Awards — including Josh Brolin, Steve Carell and Sally Field — who came out against the authorization vote. Voting for the awards closes at noon Friday

“If a union has created an  awards show, why should its members vote for and honor  people who have severely hurt that union’s contract  negotiations, who are in essence, union busters?” Asner said. “Bear in mind that they are not being denied work, they’re being denied honors from the union they seek to dismember”


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