How the Ronald Reagan-Led 1960 SAG Strike Compares to Today’s Struggle

While the film industry has been battling actors and writers alike, now is the perfect time to step back in history and revisit the story of this type of conflict for the last time. In the 1960s, the actor was a little successful Ronald Reagan, who was once a liberal Democrat, is serving his second term as president of the Screen Actors Guild. Reagan spearheaded efforts to ensure actors would be paid residuals when their films appeared on television. As we take a closer look at the details of the controversial 1960 protests, as well as the heated negotiations between Reagan and the studios, we will see that what remains remains an important source of controversy as new technologies emerge. We will also see how SAG’s presidency during the strike can pull the commissioner into the national spotlight.

How did Ronald Reagan become the president of SAG?

Ronald Reagan in The Killers
Image via Universal Pictures

Today, Ronald Reagan is admired by Republicans as the role model they all look up to. His love for God, family, and the free market transformed America in the 1980s. But long before he was president of the country or even a Republican, he was a staunch Democrat leading a theater troupe. He was elected the first president of the guild in 1947 and served until 1952. The following year, in the midst of a bitter dispute over residual payments, Regan was again appointed SAG president to lead negotiations with the studio. When the dust settled and the protests ended, he left SAG altogether and continued down the path to public speaking and politics.

In his memoirs, American life, Reagan did not write much about the 1960 protests, perhaps because his actions at the time were at odds with the conservative politics he later adopted. But he insists that his time as SAG president in the 1940s and ’50s had a profound effect on his future. “It was the communists’ attempt to take over Hollywood…that led me to accept the nomination for president of the Screen Actors Guild and, indirectly, put me on the path that would lead me into politics.”

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Why is the 1960 SAG Strike historic?

Image via Warner Bros.

In January of 1960, the Writers Guild of America launched a strike against television producers. They want better salaries, studio contributions to health and pension funds, and increased pay for broadcast television work. A few months later, SAG joined in as well, starting the strike of actors and writers at the same time for the first time in the history of the industry. SAG was particularly outraged that the talent did not receive residual payments for television broadcasts. SAG originally wanted both refunds for movies that had already aired on television, as well as new rules that would guarantee residual payments for future televised movies. Perhaps because of his recent history in navigating the thorny issue related to the alleged infiltration of communists in Hollywood, the SAG committee appointed Ronald Reagan to head the studio on the waste of television.

How are today’s SAG strikes similar to the 1960s?

Image via SAG-AFTRA

In some ways, the protests of the 1960s were very different from what is happening today. But from a broader perspective, there is a striking similarity: the struggle to keep up with emerging technologies. Today, many people in the entertainment industry are concerned that the advancement of AI may cost them money. According to SAG-AFTRA chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, the movie studios proposed that “background actors should be able to scan and get paid for one day and their company should own that scanned image, their character to be able to use it. For the rest of eternity in whatever project they want without consent and without compensation.” Although technology has certainly changed in the last 63 years, the concerns among prominent actors are essentially the same. They want compensation every time their work is used by a studio to make a profit.

How did the 1960 SAG strike change Hollywood for the better?

Image via SAG-AFTRA

Ronald Reagan’s negotiations with the studios during the protests of the 1960s led to two important results. First, it was decided that actors who appeared in films made before 1960 would not receive any royalties if their films were broadcast on television. Some actors who did not appear regularly in films at the time, or whose careers were lacking, were bitter about this compromise. According to Wayne Federman, the author of the article “What Reagan did for Hollywood,” this made actors such as: Bob Hope And Mickey Rooney Encouragement. “They’re like, why are we protesting? I think I’m going to get busted for Road to Morocco or whatever. On the other hand, Reagan was not selfish because most of the films he made were in the pre-recession era.”

But in exchange for this concession, SAG members were rewarded with a policy that would result in actors receiving residual payments for all new movies broadcast on television since 1960. Not only did these payments help put some extra cash into the pockets of working actors, but they also helped transform the entire industry. As Federman said, “That was the amazing result of what Ronald Reagan – and other negotiators at the time – were able to do: in a way, they were changing the paradigm of how Hollywood money was distributed. They were protesting for an idea: that we should be able to Accept this for reasons A, B, C, and D.”

Although it is often said that history repeats itself, it may be more accurate to say that history rhymes. The strike of the 1960s and the conditions of the industry at that time are quite different from what studios, writers, and actors have to fight in 2023. But if the actors and writers strike at the same time the last time gives a possible light of the future, it may predict two. things First of all, there is hope that the Screen Actors Guild can win this battle. Actors continue to be a huge draw for the industry, attracting huge audience members that translate into tens of millions of dollars in revenue. Actors may have more influence than any other profession in Hollywood. If they could find a suitable compromise in 1960, they can do so again today.

Second, the success of the protest may be better with the talent and resolution of the leadership of SAG. Some have already joked Maybe the current SAG president Fran Drescher Could end up following in Reagan’s footsteps and become POTUS one day. While it still exists, it’s certain that Drescher’s every move will be carefully scrutinized. For example, she faced some criticism for a ritzy work trip to Italy Kim Kardashian. But if Drescher can match Reagan’s negotiating skills in the 1960s, she could change the industry for generations to come.

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