Jon Voight Vs. Screen Actors Guild

by Scott Holleran
Jon Voight
January 31, 2005

An actor's union controversy has erupted in Hollywood and cast a pall over the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) awards presentation, scheduled to be held on Feb. 5. Actor Jon Voight, nominated by the union for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries for his role in ABC's Premiere Event, "Mitch Albom's The Five People You Meet in Heaven," has been prohibited from attending the awards ceremony.

The Academy Award-winning actor, star of Deliverance, Conrack and Runaway Train and recently seen in the remake of The Manchurian Candidate, has taken the unusual step of fighting back, sponsoring a full-page advertisement in the Hollywood trade publication, Variety. In the Jan. 25 open letter, Voight explained the nature of his dispute with SAG.

Voight states that, as a SAG member, he followed union procedure in seeking to act in a non-union production, which is permitted under SAG's membership rules. But Voight says the powerful Hollywood union, instead of consenting, punished and maligned him. Voight, comparing the union's intimidation tactics to those displayed in Elia Kazan's 1954 labor drama On the Waterfront starring Marlon Brando, claims that SAG bullied and ultimately ruined the non-union production.

The catalyst, Voight says, was his expressed desire to perform in a non-union role. Voight insists it's a commonly exercised, legal option for SAG members, known as financial core status, which involves resigning one's union membership while continuing to pay union dues.

In Voight's letter, which he addressed to his fellow actors, the 67-year-old actor cites the SAG official's resistance to a legal option, a smear campaign about his role in the production and SAG's enlistment of other unions and scare tactics to shut down the struggling, independent motion picture enterprise. Voight concludes he has been penalized for defending his individual rights.

Founded in 1933, controversy is not new to the Screen Actors Guild, whose motto is "He best serves himself who serves others." In 1936, SAG boycotted the Oscars. In 1967, the Guild waived its anti-communist oath for members when the rock group The Grateful Dead, starring in a movie, refused to sign—SAG removed the oath from applications in 1974—and SAG campaigned for socialized medicine in 1991.

Both Voight and SAG declined comment to Box Office Mojo, though Voight said through a spokeswoman "the letter speaks for itself." Box Office Mojo was granted Voight's permission to republish the letter, which is not a paid advertisement.

Jon Voight's Open Letter

Jon Voight's Box Office

Screen Actors Guild Web Site
Commentary: 'On the Waterfront' Director Elia Kazan: Moral Hero

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