Actors cast for benefits?

I know that in the various stage, screen and broadcast acting unions, a member must be “active” (defined as working) to qualify for health and pension programs.

Looking at IMDB I notice that there seem to be a large number of older (say 50+) actors who seem to have one or two bit parts (like a speaking role in a single episode of a series) per year. They don’t seem to be associated with particular character types, particular directors or anything else; just random “restaurant customer”, or “person standing in line” or whatever.

My question is, is there some sort of directory that lists actors by the last time they had a part, that casting directors looking for bit players can use to give the part to someone who needs a gig or else they’ll lose their health insurance?

I know this type of casting happens occasionally, but is there any organization to it?

Offhand, I’d guess agents are involved. Looking after the actors’ interests is the agent’s job, not the casting director’s. I’d say agent rings up casting director and says, ‘Hey, you know my guy Joe Doe? He needs a gig within the next two months or he’ll lose his insurance. Got anything?’

Not an answer to your question, but in the mid to late 1980s, I remember seeing a story someplace like Entertainment Tonight about a younger actor who had AIDS and was given a guest role in a series specifically to keep the benefits going.

I’ve never heard of this. I’d think it far more likely that whoever does casting for the show, given the number of roles to cast, can fill some of them risk free with actors she has already dealt with. I’ve been watching “Have Gun Will Travel” from the late 1950s and several actors appear multiple times there.

Angela Lansbury was famous for giving actors in need of keeping their insurance active guest roles and bit parts on Murder She Wrote. It started with a friend who wasn’t famous but had worked regularly in bit parts and as an extra; she had MS and was in a wheelchair and about to lose her benefits so Lansbury had them give her a few seconds as a secretary and a line (“Mr. Johnson your next appointment is here” or something that minor) to qualify her for continued coverage. After this she started intentionally working in roles for actors in need of health insurance coverage; some were actually name actors, some of them even financially comfortable, BUT one uninsured illness could wipe them out so they needed the benefits.

Damn you, Sam. Damn you to HELL. I am trying to hate Angela Lansbury and you are NOT HELPING.

How come?

She’s from near me; her father and Grandfather were prominent local politicians who fought for women’s right to vote and improved conditions for the poor in the area. She was an early supporter of rights for AIDS sufferers and research into their diseases.

I didn’t know that much about her, but wow. You get on with your bad self, Mrs. Potts!

The post you quoted is what is known, in technical terms, as a “jest.”

My mother used to work for the Screen Actors Guild health insurance program, and she told me about stories like this. She never gave me the names of the people involved, of course, because that would have been a breech of confidentiality. But the gist of this thread is correct.

Sometimes with you it’s hard to tell. :mad:

I think Dewey Finn may be thinking of HIV-positive actor Lee Mathis, who advertised in Variety for work, and ended up with a recurring role on General Hospital.

Who pays the premiums? Are they paid from dues? (Just curious about how it works.)

I remember reading something about this regarding Clint Eastwood and Mara Corday.

Mara Corday, who is still alive, was a starlet of some note in the 50s. She and Eastwood became friends at Universal. Corday was the female star of “Tarantula”; Eastwood had a “blink and you miss him” uncredited part as the jet squadron leader who drops the bomb on the title creature.

They remained friends. Corday married Richard “Nanny and the Professor” Long, and put her career on the back burner, while Clint’s stardom ratcheted up and up. Long died young @ 47 in 1974; a few years later Clint gave Mara Corday a small role in “The Gauntlet” as a prison matron, and it’s my understanding he did so because of insurance/Actors’ Equity/whatever reasons so she could have work credit. She also had small parts in “Sudden Impact”, “Pink Cadillac” and “The Rookie”, after which she retired from film.


This is true. I forgive you your insolence.

This isn’t directly related to the thread, but it’s a cool tangential story. The final track of my Mary Poppins movie soundtrack is a recording of the Sherman Brothers (composer/lyricists) reminiscing about the music and movie.

They recalled that Walt Disney decided that he wanted to cast Oscar-winning actress Jane Darwell (Ma Joad) in the bit part of the Bird Woman. She was in a retired actors’ home at that point; Disney visited her personally to ask her to take the part. He sent a fancy car to pick her up for filming and treated her like the legend she was.

I’m not absolutely sure, but I believe it is partly funded from the actors’ dues, and partly by the producers. Sort of like in a “normal” job your health insurance is partly paid for by deductions from your paycheck, and partly by your employer. All the producers in the industry put some money towards the actors’ health insurance plan. It’s part of the SAG union contract.

Well, Madlyn Rhue was not famous (except among Trekkies), but being an actual actress, she had a very solid career in supporting roles and guest star roles for the better part of two decades. For the longest time her career was more than just bit and extra parts.

It’s easy for me. Angela Lansbury killed my daddy. The coroner put “heart attack” on the death certificate, but I still remember the sheriff saying “Only Angela Lansbury kills like that”, and the coroner saying “We’re not bringing that bitch’s name into it, not while I got a wife and kids who need me”. Then, with me still standing there, they got into an argument as to whether Mame and the revival of Gypsy were differently realized characters and how she compared to Merman (which both swore she was better than and, sadly, I have to agree- her Mama Rosehas an unhinged quality that blows the others out of the water) and how both compared to Mrs. Lovett.
I didn’t like her Mrs. Lovett- too frumpy and transparently manipulative- and I had to put my foot down, which unfortunately loosed the gurney which in turn dented the sheriff’s car. We all agreed that dent was just more collateral damage by Lansbury.