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    Posted March 27, 2009

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Ron Silver: Talented, Independent, Controversial

A Remembrance by Jack Goldstein, Equity Consultant

Ron Silver

In electing Ron Silver President three times from 1991-2000, the Equity membership drew on the talents of a fine actor, a political activist and an individualist who never deviated from his own firmly held beliefs. His most controversial public moment came, long after he ceased to be President, when he spoke in support of President Bush at the 2004 Republican Convention. Post 9/11, he never disguised the fact that, as a private citizen, his major global concern was Islamic terrorism, but even his support of Rudolph Giuliani in the New York 1993 Mayoral race raised eyebrows considering he was one of the founding members of the Creative Coalition and its First Amendment agenda. He lived life according to a mix of conservative and liberal ideals which brought him equal measures of praise and criticism from colleagues and the world at large. But President Silver used his considerable political skills and connections most often directly in behalf of Actors' interests both behind the scenes and in the larger ideological arguments of his day.

He was an articulate and outspoken defender of the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting particularly during the "culture wars" of the 104th Congress when all three Agencies were under assault by opinion makers who wished to silence the voices of American diversity and creative freedom. We are still feeling the damage done, but the impact would have been far worse without the intervention of leaders such as President Silver.

He was intimately involved in President Clinton's ambitious and ultimately unsuccessful attempt at national health care reform. The leadership of Equity, AFTRA and SAG and key members such as Blair Brown worked conscientiously to coordinate their influence on the process and to make sure that the interests of Actors and all workers would be protected under the new system. The lessons learned in that experience are being applied to the process of national health care reform today and we may see the advent of affordable universal health care. President Silver used his personal relationship with the Clintons to keep Actors viable partners in the policy debate.

President Silver was similarly hands-on in bringing Actors' interests to the attention of Mayor Giuliani. As part of the Mayors' Arts and Culture Transition team, he was influential in the selection of Schuyler Chapin to head the City's Department of Cultural Affairs and to the restoration of a "Theatre Desk" at the Mayors' Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting under Wally Rubin and Commissioner Patricia Reed Scott. That in turn led to a more stabile relationship between the City government and non-profit and commercial theatre, a cooperative understanding which produced substantial tax breaks for Broadway and commercial Off -Broadway theatre, still in place today, still reducing the operating costs of those shows, and still producing more jobs.

President Silver's legacy can also be measured in the lively theatre activity along 42nd Street and a much expanded Lincoln Center campus. He was crucial in diffusing theatre owner and producer objections to a low-interest State loan to the Disney Corporation to restore and operate the New Amsterdam Theatre. Disney's commitment was in many ways the tipping point which made possible the transition of the 42nd Street Project from a stalled office building venture to a successful entertainment based redevelopment in which legitimate theatre was given a primary place. Similarly Ron's connections helped to engender Mayor Giuliani's determination to insist on a major theatre complex in the new Columbus Circle development, a determination which led to a permanent home for Jazz at Lincoln Center and the other cultural tenants which now enjoy the use of those spaces.

Shortly before his death, President Silver began to articulate his ambitions as President of Actors' Equity. He said that it had been his wish to increase Actor influence, employment and improve their quality of life, to educate government to the performing arts' economic development potential, to strengthen ties between non-profit and commercial theatre, to streamline theatre operations and reduce costs, to engage in debate on major issues, to increase cooperation within the theatre industry and to use his political connections to best effect on behalf of artistic excellence. He remained true to that agenda for his entire tenure as President, all the while helping to raise a family and building a successful career that embraced stage, films and television. In that dedication to volunteerism, diligence on behalf of his fellow actors, a sense of personal responsibility and the highest professional standards he represented the finest traditions of Equity leadership.

Broadway lights were dimmed in his memory on March 18, 2009

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