Writers Guild of America member Robert Stitzel wasn’t nominated for a prize, but he isn’t going to miss the union’s annual awards show in Century City on Saturday. He’s not an avid WGA Awards fan; he is an energized recall petition circulator.
For the past several weeks, Stitzel has been one of several guild members collecting signatures for a recall of Charles Holland, recently appointed president of the guild’s West Coast arm, over questionable statements Holland made about his past. And Stitzel views Saturday’s 950-guest show as ripe terrain for his efforts.
“I have no ax to grind with Charles. He might be perfectly OK to sit down and have a beer with,” said Stitzel, who added that as of last week, he had collected 60 signatures. “But I feel there is a general corruption going on in this guild, and Holland is just part of it.”
From the Holland recall drive to an ongoing Department of Labor investigation into guild election procedures, a recent torrent of intrigue at the WGA West threatens to overshadow the festivities of the guild’s annual gala, at which irreverent acceptance speeches and roastlike monologues have become commonplace.
“It’s apples and oranges,” WGA spokeswoman Cheryl Rhoden said of the charged atmosphere heading into Saturday’s show. “This is a celebration of writers and of the craft of writing, and any internal debates are not part of that celebration and should not be.”
Asked whether the guild was expecting comment on its internal political environment, Rhoden said: “We’ll find out Saturday night. We don’t muzzle our writers.”
Also on hand for the show will be Eric Hughes and Ronald Parker, the guild members whose continued discontent with guild procedures led to their complaint filed this month with the Labor Department.
“It will be interesting to be there this year and under these circumstances,” said Hughes, who was invited as a guest of nominee Craig Warner. “For the first time, writers aren’t just accepting what they are told.”
Following his failed bid for the guild presidency in the fall election, Hughes has emerged as a maverick within the organization. With friend and supporter Parker, Hughes filed a complaint after the election, which resulted in an investigation into then-president Victoria Riskin’s eligibility to hold guild office and in her subsequent resignation.
Upon assuming the reins, Holland found himself in the midst of his own storm of controversy after a published report revealed that his claims of serving in the U.S. Army’s Special Forces and attending the University of Illinois on a football scholarship were at odds with the military’s records and the school’s records. Holland explained the discrepancies by saying that he was prohibited from talking about the classified work he claimed he did during his Army service and that he played football under a different name. But many remained unconvinced.
At a board meeting this month, the WGA West’s national board gave Holland a 10-6 vote of confidence but declined to take any immediate action on Hughes and Parker’s calls for a rerun of the guild’s most recent election and for significant changes in election procedures. Results of the Labor Department investigation are not expected until early April.
As for the recall, it remains unclear exactly how far along the drive is toward obtaining the required 300 signatures that would trigger a membership referendum.
If the Internet is any indicator, the petition appears to be gaining steam after former board member and screenwriter Roger Simon criticized Holland last week on his weblog, saying he would support the recall. Simon’s posting was then linked to by another widely read Los Angeles weblog, LA Observed.
Said Rhoden of the recall effort: “The constitution is clear: If they collect an adequate number, the board will call a special election.”