'Little House' Star's Phone Campaign Angers Union Board

The Screen Actors Guild's Hollywood board has censured union president Melissa Gilbert for conducting a prerecorded telemarketing campaign to lobby members prior to a controversial referendum vote.

Gilbert, who played Laura Ingalls on the television series “Little House on the Prairie,” taped a message urging members to vote in favor of a franchise agreement with the Association of Talent Agents. The message was delivered to members at their homes.

The board voted 19-6 to condemn Gilbert's “bad judgment” in her use of the personal phone numbers of union members. One board member called the telemarketing campaign “an act of desperation.”

“The invasion of our members' privacy by Melissa's recorded message goes too far,” Mark Carlton, a member of the board, told the Reuters news service.

The board did not disclose how many members received the prerecorded message or which company was responsible for delivering the call.

Officials with the Guild's national headquarters said the action taken by the Hollywood chapter's board has no weight because only the national board can issue a censure. Gilbert said in a statement that the Hollywood board had turned the referendum issue into a personal attack against her.

“I urge all SAG members to debate vigorously about substance, but to do so within the limits of mutual respect and good judgment,” Gilbert said. “My focus is on strengthening SAG.”

The referendum is scheduled for April 19. The proposed agreement would ease restrictions on talent agents investing in production houses.

Another direct marketing medium, direct mail, played a role in a recent Guild controversy. In October, a postcard Gilbert sent to union membership to support her campaign for re-election as Guild president angered her rivals, including actress Valerie Harper, who played Rhoda on the “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”

Gilbert's detractors complained that the postcard, which they said dropped near the voting deadline of Oct. 31, failed to mention that union members in the Guild's New York branch had until Nov. 2 to vote. Gilbert's camp responded that the postcard was never sent to any New York members.

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