Mel Shavelson, Chuck Jones, Patty Duke, Melissa Gilbert, Bill Melendez, David Chase, Diane English, Hugh Wilson, Dorothy Fontana, Paris Barclay, and Ann Marcus share stories of their guilds.
Los Angeles (1985) by Dave AlloccaLIFE Photo Collection
CAPTURING TELEVISION HISTORY ONE VOICE AT A TIME
Since 1997, the The Television Academy Foundation's The Interviews: An Oral History of Television (formerly the Archive of American Television) has been conducting in-depth, videotaped oral history interviews with television professionals, including actors, writers, editors, and journalists. These interviews explore the lives and careers of the interviewees, and often touch on important historical moments.
While the power of organized labor in the United States has faded in recent decades, its presence has remained strong in the entertainment industry. Gathered here are stories from Foundation interviewees about their involvement in and leadership of their unions, participation in strikes, and the mission of their guilds.
Mel Shavelson on the creation of the Writers Guild of AmericaThe Interviews: An Oral History of Television
Writer/director Mel Shavelson tells the story of the Writers Guild’s beginnings, including the fact that the studios fought the organization tooth and nail, not fully recognizing it until a dramatic moment in history:
"After Pearl Harbor [the studios] needed the writers so desperately, and there weren't that many around anymore, so they finally recognized the Writers Guild of America. But the minimum salaries were below what they paid the union plumbers at the studio, who may have done better work, I don't know."
Watch Mel Shavelson’s full interview, where he discusses his early career in radio and creating the classic television series Make Room For Daddy and My World and Welcome to It.
Chuck Jones on the creation of the Screen Cartoonists GuildThe Interviews: An Oral History of Television
Animator Chuck Jones tells the story of his unlikely leadership in a confrontation between the Screen Cartoonists Guild and management. Though he paints himself as finding his way into organized labor almost by accident, he ends with a strong endorsement of union power:
"I've always been furious with these people that say they try to fight big unions. What the hell…if you're a big business, what are you supposed to fight, little unions? Of course, that's what they want."
Watch Chuck Jones’ full interview, where he tells the stories behind his legendary career, including creating the Looney Tunes characters Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and more.
Patty Duke on her time as President of the Screen Actors GuildThe Interviews: An Oral History of Television
Actress Patty Duke details the challenges and triumphs of serving as President of SAG, citing her greatest accomplishment as:
"Letting people know that those up here really are fighting for those who seem to be down here."
Watch Patty Duke’s full interview, to hear the stories behind her legendary career, including her work on The Miracle Worker and The Patty Duke Show.
Melissa Gilbert on how she decided to run for President of the Screen Actors GuildThe Interviews: An Oral History of Television
Actress Melissa Gilbert tells the story of how she came to run for (and win) the presidency of SAG. Though she was initially hesitant, she describes the change in her mindset:
“I woke up the next morning and went, why not? Did Jimmy Cagney go to Labor President School? Or anybody else that's done this for that matter?… I thought, if they could do it, why the hell can't I do it?”
Watch Melissa Gilbert’s full interview, where she discusses her time on the much beloved series Little House on the Prairie, playing Helen Keller in a TV version of The Miracle Worker, and more.
Bill Melendez on the Disney Strike of 1941The Interviews: An Oral History of Television
Animator Bill Melendez tells the story of the Disney Strike of 1941, including Walt Disney's personal response, and how the strike was eventually resolved:
"[Walt] took it to heart…how dare we go out on strike against him? And so the strike lasted for like about three months, and Walt of course was in no spirit or friendliness or anything to make up with us. He just wanted to crush us. His brother though, Roy Disney, was a different kind of a man. I don’t know how he did it, but somehow he got Walt out of the country. … While he was gone Roy settled the strike."
Watch Bill Melendez's full interview, which chronicles his career from his early days at Disney Studios to his extensive work on Peanuts and Charlie Brown TV specials.
David Chase on a Writers Guild strikeThe Interviews: An Oral History of Television
Producer/show creator David Chase tells the story of how his reluctant participation in a 1974 Writers Guild Strike led to opportunities for networking and hobnobbing with his heroes:
”I was on picket duty outside the famous [gate] at Paramount, the big gate. Just being there was like, wow. I couldn't believe it. … I was standing picket duty with people like Larry Gelbart. Steve Allen. The day with Steve Allen was one of the best days of my life.”
Watch David Chase’s full interview, which spans his early life to creating the groundbreaking series The Sopranos.
Diane English on a WGA strike and the pilot of Murphy BrownThe Interviews: An Oral History of Television
Producer/show creator Diane English tells the story of the pilot episode of Murphy Brown, and how a writers strike prevented the studio from being able to “smooth away” the more controversial edges of the titular character:
"The luckiest thing that ever happened to me in my career was that when we shot the pilot, we were in the middle of a writers strike. I turned that script in, the next day the strike happened, and I could not change a word of it. I mean, I'm a member of the Writers Guild, so I could not change a word."
Watch Diane English’s full interview, where she discusses her many career accomplishments, most notably creating the hit sitcom Murphy Brown.
Hugh Wilson on the Writers GuildThe Interviews: An Oral History of Television
Writer/producer/director Hugh Wilson shares the story of how he joined the Writers Guild, and his feelings about the organization. Though he says that sometimes they were too quick to go on strike, he concludes:
“You know, but looking back, they were right and I was wrong. And we should have fought even harder. Because the people we were fighting against, they’ve got their hand around the money and the control and they really don’t want to share. So, thank God for the Writers Guild.”
Watch Hugh Wilson's full interview, which chronicles his career, including creating the hit sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati.
Dorothy Fontana on the Writers GuildThe Interviews: An Oral History of Television
Writer Dorothy Fontana describes how she came to be involved with the Writers Guild and also the power of the union:
“The Guild is our defensive against a lot of things. There have been situations where I had to yell ‘Guild!’…sometimes just the mention of bringing in the Writers Guilds on a question will make people back off and act right.”
Watch Dorothy Fontana’s full interview, which spans her career, including her work on the original and later iterations of Star Trek.
Paris Barclay on his involvement with the Directors Guild of AmericaThe Interviews: An Oral History of Television
Director Paris Barclay tells of how he came to be involved with the Directors Guild, and why the organization and its mission so impressed him:
"When the Directors Guild started, these really famous, well-established directors like…King Vidor and John Ford said, let's create an agreement that the people that aren't us will have rights and the people who can't dictate these things will have these basic rights and that would be the minimum that you can do for a director. And I thought that was such a great idea. It was like using their juice and their power to establish a base for everyone who is starting out. And I saw it in action with me and then I thought, this is an organization I want to support."
Watch Paris Barclay's full interview, which spans his career from directing episodes of ER and The West Wing to LL Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out” video.
Ann Marcus on the importance of the Writers GuildThe Interviews: An Oral History of Television
Writer Ann Marcus defines the mission of the Writers Guild, which is not only to protect the financial interests and rights of the writer, but also:
"[T]o educate the public about the importance of the writer in this industry. Because for years writers have been almost ignored, and the director has become front and center. And of course, the whole idea is that everything comes from that blank page."
Watch Ann Marcus' full interview where she discusses her career writing for real soap operas, including Days of Our Lives and satirical ones, like Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.
The Television Academy Foundation's The Interviews: An Oral History of Television
Jenni Matz, Director
Adrienne Faillace, Producer
Jenna Hymes, Manager & Exhibit curator
Nora Bates, Production Coordinator
John Dalton, Cataloguer
Video editing by the Pop Culture Passionistas, sisters Amy and Nancy Harrington, who have made a career based on their love of pop culture.