Take 2 of the election to decide who will lead the Screen Actors Guild is shaping up as one of the nastiest ever, even at a union where turmoil has been the norm for years.
Words like "slug," "hatchet man" and accusations of "hijacking" the election are being hurled by supporters of the leading contenders for the top union posts.
Current SAG President Melissa Gilbert broke her silence in an interview Tuesday, accusing opponent Valerie Harper of launching a "brutal" personal campaign. She said Harper in TV and radio appearances over the last week has unfairly accused her of being cozy with talent agents, producers and even Canadian film interests.
"I'm truly amazed at the tone," Gilbert said.
Harper countered in an interview that she is merely criticizing Gilbert's stance on issues that are important to actors.
She also said that she has decided to run a more aggressive campaign than she did last fall after deciding she had not sufficiently countered allegations made by Gilbert. Harper said she was not as concerned now with the possible media response as she was last fall.
"Things change. I thought then it was bad to subject staff members, guild members and our union to it. The media would have turned it into the cat fight at SAG: 'Half Pint' takes on 'Rhoda,'" Harper said, referring to her role as Rhoda Morgenstern in the 1970s TV series "Rhoda" and Gilbert's role as Laura Ingalls in "Little House on the Prairie."
The volleys between the two leading presidential candidates come as SAG members are receiving ballots this week, with a March 8 deadline. A new election was ordered by a five-member union committee because New York members had two extra days to vote, and ballots sent to members contained no signature line.
Gilbert will stay in office until the results are announced.
The new round of voting is for president and two other offices: treasurer, which was won in the previous election by actor Kent McCord, and recording secretary, won by Elliott Gould.
Also running for president are two lesser-known candidates, Eugene Boggs and Angeltomkins.
Harper and supporters of a new election argue that the violations were serious.
Opponents of a new election, notably SAG First Vice President Mike Farrell, say minor voting infractions would not have affected the election.
With each day, the name-calling gets worse. Gilbert supporters have despairingly dubbed Harper backers "Val's Pals." Gould was quoted at a rally this week as calling Farrell a "slug."
At stake is the most visible job at the union that continues to be bitterly divided into two camps.
Harper is an outspoken supporter of former President William Daniels, who believed in a tougher posture with studios, advertisers and agents. Gilbert's camp believes that the Daniels regime failed, and led actors on an ill-fated six-month strike in 2000 against advertisers.
In the interview, Gilbert accused Harper of being a hypocrite for asking her not to campaign last month in the interest of union unity.
Harper said an agreement to refrain from campaigning was discussed by all candidates but that no agreement was reached. She added that Gilbert supporters fired the first shot when they criticized the decision to hold a new election.
Gilbert also said she is refusing Harper's offer to debate. Last fall, it was Harper who declined to debate. Gilbert said that with ballots being mailed out this week it's too late and that Harper should have taken her up on the offer last fall. Harper said Gilbert's refusal is disingenuous, given that she criticized Harper for ducking her in the earlier election.
SAG's infighting has been aired in public for nearly four years. But Harper said other unions and organizations probably fight just as much, only their members aren't as well-known.
"It's because we're famous. If we were the plumbers union, no one would care," Harper said.