The first woman president in the history of the Writers Guild was Mary C. McCall, Jr. She was on the negotiating committee for the Guild’s first contract with the studios, and was president in 1942, the year the first contract was signed. During that very first negotiation, McCall asked of the then head of Paramount, “Isn’t Y. Frank Freeman a rhetorical question?”
Last Friday, the Writers Guild purged Mary C. McCall Jr. from the history of the Guild.
In the press release announcing that the beloved and brilliant Carl Reiner is to receive the Valentine Davies Award this Saturday night, as is Victoria Riskin, the first time that two recipients are getting the award at the same time, the Guild claimed that Riskin “was the first woman President in Guild history.”
Riskin is, indeed, an important part of Guild history, but as the first president in Guild history who was forced to resign.
Having not been employed during the previous four years, Riskin, during the last four months of her presidency, did not have the legal standing to be in office.
But determined to run for reelection, she, with the aid of her husband, David Rintels, a former Guild president, invented a job with their friend writer-producer Barry Kemp.
The events that were to follow, resulting in her forced resignation, after winning the election in which she did not have the legal standing to run, were not the unraveling of a brilliant fraud.
Astonishingly, Riskin and her husband were ignorant of what was necessary for a contract to satisfy the standards of the MBA. Their bogus contract was an embarrassing piece of writing. Guild counsel were never fooled for a second. But nothing was done.
As a Department of Labor investigator said, “She had a lot of help from a lot of people inside the building.”
The Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 added 20 years to the term of the copyrights held by the companies on both existing and future audiovisual works.
The Act contains a hortatory statement by Congress that the companies should negotiate, in good faith, with the unions representing writers, directors, and performers, for payment of residuals on pre-1960 audiovisual works.
The Guild’s press release claims that during her term as President, Riskin “advocated for the rights of television and screenwriters.”
However, during her term, Riskin, without disclosure or authority, agreed not to continue negotiations with the AMPTP for pre-1960 residuals, effectively freeing the companies to now go after residuals already in place since 1960.
And that is exactly what the companies did at the start of the 2007 contract negotiations.
Is it likely that Riskin did this against the advice of Guild counsel, or, is it likely that she was counseled to do it?
In May of 2007, the Guild posted on its web site, after 17 years of silence, a history of so-called foreign levies.
A former assistant executive director of the Guild emailed a journalist suggesting he read it as comic relief.
Is it likely that most of the writers elected to the board, trusting in the word of the Guild’s counsel, have any idea how truly laughable that posting is?
At the instruction of Guild counsel, all lobbying by the Gulid on behalf of writers is confidential. Most writers elected to represent writers don’t know who is representing us in Washington at such seemingly unlikely places as the Department of Commerce, and that they have been around the world, bartering the national treatment rights of all U.S. citizens under the Berne Convention.
Ask any lawyer at the WGA, DGA, and SAG if the Berne Convention has anything to do with foreign levies? Their answer will be, “I am not aware of that.” Go ahead. Give it a try.
Mary C. McCall, Jr. was the first writer to refuse to sign a contract unless it contained a clause that the writing credit would be determined by the Screen Writers Guild.
Last year the Guild’s counsel waived the most important safeguard put into place by writers – the production executive rule which prevents a producer or a director from claiming credit for material they haven’t written.
The safeguard was waived on the grounds that the writer–director, a 13 year member of the Guild, was unaware of the rule.
The Guild warned the writer who had been harmed by this, and who had never been paid as well, not to pursue any further action, that to do so would put career and family at risk because “These people control the media and they will turn it against you and will destroy you.”
But the writer just wouldn’t stop and, eventually, received financial justice, in a humiliating blow to the Guild’s counsel, as the result of a remarkable one-on-one negotiation between the writer and the legendary co-founder of AOL, Ted Leonsis, a negotiation that was possible because, for over two years, the writer refused to assign her rights, which, I am certain, would have delighted the first woman president in Guild history, and, in 1962, the first recipient of the Valentine Davies Award, Mary C. McCall, Jr.