The 25-year-old curtain from the original Mickey Mouse Club Television Show was about to open again for the TV cameras last Tuesday, as filming for "Twenty-Five Years of Mouseketeers" got underway on Sound Stage Two at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank.
Instead, the production was idled before it began -- one among scores of casualties in the professional actors' strike against major motion-picture and television producers and the three networks.
"It was like the carpet was pulled out from underneath us," said Sharon Baird, a 37-year-old ex-Mouseketeer who belonged to the original company. "Karen flew home last night and Darlene was flying out today," she added, echoing industry fears that a protracted strike could postpone the fall TV season, including Mouseketeers reunion -- scheduled as the premiere show of the fall "Wonderful World of Disney" series on NBC.
Although the producers say they have already spent $1 million on the show, other Disney officials said that if the strike lasts past Sept. 1, the postponed production will be canceled.
"We're all heartbroken," said Baird, who voted against the strike. "The problem is there are more unemployed actors and they can vote yes, because it's not going to affect them," she said.
On the other side of the issue, Jeffrey Kramer voted for the strike even though he had a lot to lose.
The Universal movie "Heartbeeps" was shut down one day after Kramer began acting in his part as a robot. It was not a professionally exciting role for him, Kramer said, but after nine months unemployment, he needed the paycheck. His last steady job was co-starring in "Struck by Lighting," a TV series that was zapped shortly after it went on the air last fall.
"It's just a matter of time before it all shuts down," Kramer said, insisting that the actors will not relent in their demand for a percentage of gross profits from the sale of movies and TV shows to cable television, video-cassette and video-disc companies. The issue is the main stumbling block in the contract negotiations.
"There's a real feeling that this is the future for us," he said. "We're all eventually going to have our own home entertainmentcenters, I think. I know it's a new industry, but we all know it's going to be the most lucrative of them all,"
"Who's better prepared to take a long strike than the actors?" Kramer asked.
When the strike was called eight days ago by the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, only about 5,000 of the 60,000 union actors affected were actually thrown out of work. At any given time, only about 10 to 15 percent of the membership is working.
Nonetheless, the strike will cost the Los Angeles area an estimated $40 million a week in lost wages and production costs, according to Billy H. Hunt, a producer's spokesman who is the chairman of the Motion Picture Broadcast Industry's Negotiating Committee. So far, the unions have reduced their initial demand for 12 percent of home-video revenues down to 6 percent, and cut their demands for a wage increase from 40 to 35 percent.
At a press conference Friday, Hunt said a long strike could eventually result in 50,000 layoffs in the industry as production and technical staffs are idled along with related fields.
Tom Ellington, president of Consolidated Film Industries -- a major film processing company -- said yesterday that the rate of negative developing is down 50 percent and "production is drying up." Normally, he said, "this would be the beginning of our heaviest time of year." And Pat Miller, secretary-treasurer of the Teamsters Local 399 Studio Transportation Drivers, said yesterday that "80 percent of our membership is laid off."
Some SAG and AFTRA members are not affected by the strike, including actors in commercials, industrial and educational films, news broadcasts, game shows and soap operas. Although they are SAG and AFTRA members, they are working under different contracts. And so far, SAG has issued interim agreements that permit continued filming by 24 movie and television productions. The main condition, Guild spokeswoman Kim Fellner said, is that the independent productions have "no substantial financial ties to the people who are sitting across the table from us."
Director Michael O'Herlihy asked for one of the waivers, mainly on the grounds that his TV movie "The Last Voyage of the Valhalla" was filming in international waters. While waiting for SAG's reply, O'Herlihy and his production crew dramatically rode out the first two days of the strike at sea, on a 136-foot converted minesweeper. Another application is for the filming of "On Golden Pond" on location in New Hampshire. The producers of the film -- starring Jane Fonda, Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn -- applied for a waiver because the shooting must be completed while the weather is good.
But at the Hollywood studios, there is "a general malaise," according to screenwriter Marion Zola. At Paramount, where Zola has an office, "the commissary was booked for lunch, but people seem generally not as interested in doing business. My agent has a lot of clients, and he told me that people aren't even reading scripts," she said.
It's "too early" to put a dollar-and-cents value on the strike's impact on Hollywood businesses, according to David Paradis, the executive director of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. "We've been monitoring the situation with our businesses on a daily basis, and so far we can't see any effect specifically from the strike. It's just the down from the recession in the general economy. We don't need an extra complication like this thrown in," he said.
Maureen Teefy didn't vote at all when she got her SAG strike ballot. The 26-year-old actress last worked eight months ago in the movie "Fame," as Doris Finsteker, the blossoming acting student with the stage mother.
"When they told me the actors wanted more money I thought, Why ? because I thought we made money," Teefy said."I found out about the strike when it happened. I get the SAG newsletter but half the time I don't even read my contracts. I just sign them. I really don't read what's going on," she said. "Now I feel like ignorant.
"If anything, this strike has really shaken me awake. I was in a singing class this morning with about 20 other actors and a lot of them didn't seem to know the issues either, but the feeling was that the actors are right," she said.
"All of a sudden all the studios are laying off people and nothing's going on," Teefy said. "I want to find out more. I just went out and bought a copy of Times magazine to read up on what's going on in the world. Now I know that being in the public eye, I have responsibility," she said.
Teefy has just landed a choice role as the second lead in the new movie, "My Kind of Guy." The MGM production is scheduled to start filming Aug. 25. Teefy optimistically plans to continue research for the first sequences, in which she plays an 18-year-old "piece-goods person" in the garment industry who will age to 38 in the course of the film.
But the actress sounded discouraged last Thursday as she told of a conversation with the movie's director, Amy Heckerling, who is one of handful of women graduates from the American Film Institute's program to be given the opportunity to direct a major movie.
"Amy's down," Teefy said. "They just laid off her assistant and a bunch of other people. It's like a morgue around the studio."
At an SAG press conference last Wednesday -- the day that negotiations between actors and producers broke off -- TV stars from "the Lou Grant Show" acted as the Guild's spokesmen. With SAG officials at their side, the actors denounced the current TV residuals agreement with the producers, which was negotiated in 1960.
The president of the Screen Actors Guild in 1960 was Ronald Reagan. He was also president of SAG from 1947 to 1952, when actors were twice denied demands for a payment formula for TV residuals. The issue was postponed until 1960. Ed Asner, who plays Lou Grant, said of the 1960 contract, "Our members have been angered a long time over what they felt was the unsatisfactory settlement of residuals for movies for TV. Many consider it a give-away." Another SAG representative said the 1960 contract is responsible for a "won't-get-fooled-again attitude" on the part of actors digging in for a long strike.
On Thursday, when Walter Matthau, Jack Klugman, Wayne Rogers, Ricardo Montalban, Loretta Switt, Ralph Bellamy and others picketed at Burbank Studios, there was plenty of public attention. Long after the actors had departed, hundreds of late-arriving tourists roamed the streets looking for celebrities.
Calls regarding the strike have come in to SAG's Hollywood office from news media all over the world, said Kim Fellner. "London, New Zealand, everywhere -- they all want to know if it will take them longer to find out who shot J.R."