Martha Greenhouse, SAG and AFTRA Leader for Decades, Dies at 91

An early merger proponent, actress Martha Greenhouse served 5 terms as AFTRA's N.Y. local president and received the union's highest honor

Martha Greenhouse, a stage, TV and film actress and leader for SAG and AFTRA for more than four decades, died Saturday at the age of 91.

She joined the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists in 1941 and Screen Actors Guild in 1955, and became deeply involved in union activities. Highlights of her service include five terms as the president of AFTRA’s New York local, from 1977-1982, and two terms on SAG’s national board, from 1981-87.

More recently she served as an AFTRA Foundation Board member and was president of the AFTRA Heller Memorial Foundation for more than a decade. She also served on the board of the N.Y. Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences and was an AFTRA representative to the Associated Actors and Artistes of America.

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She remained active on the national and local AFTRA boards until 2005 and 2010 respectively, and received practically every award the union had to offer: the Founder’s Award, the N.Y. local’s Ken Harvey Award, and the George Heller Gold Card, the highest honor given by AFTRA for service to the union.

“Some shoes don't get filled. You just bronze them and try to live up to that standard. Martha is like that,” said SAG-AFTRA New York local co-president Holter Graham.

An ardent merger advocate, in the late ’70s, Greenhouse headed the N.Y. Caucus of Artists for Merger, an ad hoc group fighting to merge AFTRA and SAG. She was instrumental in forming the SAG-AFTRA Joint Committee for Merger, which met throughout the ’80s. Although not successful at the time, the unions merged last March, and she was overjoyed that she had lived to see this dream become a reality.

Greenhouse appeared in many plays on and off Broadway, including “Summer Brave;” “Dear Me,” “The Sky is Falling” and “Our Town.” Her TV credits include “Law & Order,” "The Edge of Night," “Car 54, Where Are You?” and the original production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella.”  On the big screen, she appeared in Woody Allen’s “Bananas” and “The Stepford Wives.”

Greenhouse is survived by her son and daughter-in-law, Ken and Sheila Sasmor, and two grandsons. Contributions may be made in her memory to the AFTRA Foundation George Heller Memorial Scholarship, 260 Madison Avenue, 7th Floor, New York, NY 10016. A memorial celebration of her life is being planned for the spring.