Fall 2019

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116 SAG-AFTRA | Fall 2019 | Snapshot by Valerie Yaros O ne hundred years ago this summer, Actors' Equity Association struck for the first time. After failed negotiations with the Producing Managers Association, including its refusal to agree to a standard contract with the 6-year-old actors union and set eight performances as a standard week, Equity declared a strike. The first cast to walk out, on Aug. 7, 1919, was headed by 55-year-old Equity council member Frank Bacon, star of Broadway's comedy hit Lightnin', which had opened at the Gaiety Theatre a year earlier. Equity's 1929 book The Revolt of the Actors explained his risk in striking: "Frank Bacon, after nearly a score of years in stock companies and on the road, had just landed his first success on Broadway. In the proceeds of this success, he was sharing as author, star and part owner. A break with managers at this stage of the game meant that if the actors failed, Bacon would lose everything he had worked so hard to achieve and might be condemned to return to that oblivion from which he had won so hardly." Bacon addressed a mass meeting of Equity strikers at the Hotel Astor on Aug. 14, stating, "I'm an actor, author and manager, but when this strike began, my wife said to me, 'We'll stick to our own people. I can still cook on a one-burner coal oil stove if necessary.' So we're sticking." He quipped, "I'm liable to be sold down the river for talking like this, but if I am, Bacon will bring a higher price than ever before. Don't give up. Stick! God bless you." "Lightnin' has struck" became a rallying cry for the inspired performers. Bacon's former original Lightnin' cast member Ralph Morgan, then on Broadway in another comedy, The Five Million, which had opened at the Lyric a month before, also walked out with his show's cast, including James and Lucile Webster Gleason. Morgan and the Gleasons would become three of the original 21 founding members of Screen Actors Guild in 1933, with Morgan as first president. The short strike ended Sept. 6, and Lightnin' resumed its run. When it closed on Aug. 27, 1921, due to a contractual engagement with the Blackstone Theatre in Chicago, it had set a Broadway record of 1,291 performances. Bacon and company were given a parade as they headed to New York's Pennsylvania Station bound for Chicago. About 100,000 well-wishers, including New York City Mayor John F. Hylan, saw them off. But Bacon's life was cut short when a heart attack felled him just over a year later in Chicago at age 58. His funeral was held onstage at the Blackstone Theatre, where he'd given his final Lightnin' performance. Equity Council members George Arliss and Grant Mitchell draped Bacon's casket in the Actors' Equity flag, Equity president John Emerson did the benediction, and they lowered the Blackstone's curtain a final time on a beloved man who'd brought joy and laughter to so many. LIGHTNIN' STRUCK! Frank Bacon put his career on the line in 1919 to ensure actors got a fair contract. In this photo, taken in 1918, Bacon, left, performs with Harry Davenport and future SAG President Ralph Morgan in Lightnin'. SAG-AFTRA SPECIAL COLLECTIONS Snapshot by Valerie Yaros

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