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Head of Writers Guild Resigns

Charles Holland steps down over concerns that he inflated his military and athletic past.

March 19, 2004|James Bates and Michael Cieply | Times Staff Writers

Unable to shake concerns that he embellished his military and college-athletic past, the head of the union representing Hollywood film and TV scribes wrote his own ending Thursday by resigning.

Charles Holland acknowledged in a letter that "deep misgivings and concerns lie in the minds of a great many members" about his leading the 9,000-member Writers Guild of America, West. Holland said the lingering questions would distract from the guild's upcoming contract negotiations with studios.

The concerns about Holland's past came to light when The Times reported in January that military and university records failed to support Holland's claims that he served as an intelligence officer with the Army Green Berets and attended the University of Illinois on a football scholarship. Holland resisted calls to step down then, and guild directors gave him a lukewarm 10-6 endorsement.

Holland's resignation throws an already unnerved guild into even more turmoil. Less than three months ago, Holland's predecessor as president, Victoria Riskin, resigned under fire after an investigation showed she was ineligible to run for reelection last September because she hadn't done enough writing to keep her membership current.

Former President Daniel Petrie Jr., who had been serving as vice president, replaced Holland. Board members said that the timing of Holland's resignation was unexpected, but some said it should help lift a cloud over the guild at a crucial time.

"I'm glad he did it," said Roger L. Simon, a screenwriter who called on Holland to resign and whose website had become a sounding board for the controversy. "When you're heading into a negotiation and you have someone with this kind of accusation out there, it puts you in a very, very bad position."

Holland's departure comes as guild officials are about to face off with studios that are likely to fight hard over giving up more money from DVD sales, an area writers have staked out as a key issue. The current contract expires May 2. No talks have been scheduled. (Separately, the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists approved a one-year contract extension. The actors contract now expires in June 2005.)

As with other Hollywood labor guilds, the WGA president is an unpaid position held by an active writer, while the running of the union is left to professional managers. Holland's credits include writing for the military TV show "JAG," the network series "Walker, Texas Ranger" and the cable series "Soul Food." A Harvard-educated lawyer, Holland worked as an executive at 20th Century Fox before launching his writing career.

The controversy about Holland's military and football past had its origins in a lengthy 2002 article titled "Soldier of Fortune" published in the guild's in-house magazine, Written By.

The magazine quoted Holland as saying: "I was in places where people feared a knock on the door, and you couldn't walk outside without fearing snipers." He also said a colleague from parachute training was killed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Since then, his military background was frequently cited by top writers and guild officials as a major plus for the union.

Records obtained by The Times under the Freedom of Information Act showed Holland did serve in the Illinois and Massachusetts National Guard, where he worked as a military policeman and in a base post office. But they show no evidence that he served in the Army's elite 7th Special Forces Group at Ft. Bragg, N.C, as he claimed, or that he had the level of special training he said he received.

Records show Holland received his bachelor's degree from Illinois in 1980 but did not play football for the Fighting Illini or take a physical education class. Holland explained the discrepancy to The Times by saying he played wide receiver under a different name. Asked for that name, Holland agreed to reveal it on the condition it not be printed.

The Times located the only man who played under the name Holland provided. The man, who serves on the university's athletic board and works for drug maker Eli Lilly & Co. in Arizona, said he does not know Holland.

Holland has sought to downplay the questions about his past, issuing public statements saying it was more important to unite in negotiations. He also sidestepped the turmoil in addressing guild members during its televised awards show last month.

But some angry members launched a recall campaign, arguing that questions about his credibility would hamper his ability to lead the guild during talks with studios.

The debate over Holland's continued leadership -- much of it conducted on websites and in e-mails circulated among writers -- became increasingly heated after guild member and former Navy SEAL Chuck Pfarrer wrote a March 7 letter bluntly challenging the guild president's veracity.

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