Former Screen Actors Guild presidents Charlton Heston and Ed Asner have verbally jousted, exchanged harsh words and are light years apart politically.
But they now agree on at least one thing: a need to retain for performers certain tax write-offs that could be eliminated in the federal tax overhaul bill now being negotiated by a House-Senate conference committee.
Of major concern are the deductions now allowed for the fees that show-business agents and managers charge their clients.
The Senate version of the bill, in addition to disallowing agents' fees, also would eliminate deductions for acting lessons, vocal coaching, professional photographs, resumes, answering services and professional equipment, the guild says.
SAG and five other entertainment unions are fighting to keep intact these and other now-existing tax deductions for business expenses that they contend are necessary for members of the entertainment industry.
The six groups this week appealed by letter to President Reagan--a former actor and six-term SAG president--to help prevent what they called "a dramatic and unfair tax increase" for low and middle-income workers in the industry.
However, Heston, a close friend of Reagan, said that "I have not discussed this (the unions' request) with the President, nor would I." He also said he thought that Reagan would remain neutral in the matter to avoid any question of conflict of interest.
In addition to SAG, those petitioning Reagan are the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, Actors Equity, the American Federation of Musicians, the American Guild of Musical Artists, and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees.
Their total membership, which they put at more than 250,000 persons, includes network anchormen; film, TV and stage actors; musicians; cameramen; prop personnel; and opera singers.
According to a SAG spokesman, the membership also has among its ranks three Reagan offspring who belong to the guild that their father once headed--Ron, Maureen Reagan and Patti Davis.
(A spokesman for the Writers Guild of America, West, said Thursday that the guild has joined with the other unions, who have hired the Washington law firm of Shea & Gould to coordinate their lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill.)
In their letter to Reagan, the six labor groups, who call themselves the Entertainment Coalition, said that when he headed SAG, he "led the actors' fight for tax fairness."
They also quoted from a 1959 article that he wrote for his guild's magazine in which, they said, he expressed his concern about "the discrimination--tax-wise--against actors."
"You also acknowledged," their letter said of his article, "that 'such efforts have been used against us with the same old hackneyed lines about millionaire swimming pool owners wanting more candy than their share.' "
"Your words still ring true today," said the letter, signed by the presidents of the original six organizations. Saying that the majority of entertainment industry workers must "struggle very hard to eke out even a modest income," they argued that "the professional expenses required to obtain work in entertainment are not luxuries but absolute necessities.
"The loss of these deductions will be devastating and hit our lower-income members hardest," they said. They urged Reagan "to renew your personal interest in the fate of your fellow performers and union members and help us prevent this grave injustice."
Earlier this week, Heston, the star of ABC's "The Colbys" went to Washington and, with Asner, Actors Equity President Colleen Dewhurst and others, personally presented the actors' case to lawmakers.
In a phone interview Tuesday night, Heston said he had discussed the matter with at least half the 22 members of the House-Senate conference committee now working on the compromise tax overhaul measure that is due out by Aug. 15.
He has resumed filming his series, he said, but would try to contact the other committee members by phone. He said he was trying to convince them of two things. One was that despite heavy publicity about the high salaries paid stars like himself, "76% of the members of SAG earned less than $2,500 last year."
The other, he said, was that while the proposed tax bill protects low-income workers, that protection wouldn't be given lower-income actors if their deductions for agents' fees and other professional expenses were eliminated.
"The point is, actors have to spend money to get jobs," Heston said, adding that "it's our hope that the joint committee will see the logic of this" request to retain existing tax deductions for agents' fees and other professional expenses.
Industry observers note that top stars earning megabucks can and do form personal service corporations that ease their tax bites. They wouldn't necessarily be hurt by elimination of the traditional 10% agent's commission as a deductible business expense.
But the majority of actors--and writers and directors--need agents to get work, the observers say.