'Lone Star' actor 'banned' union—or the other way around?

BY LAUREN HORWITCH

his week it was reported that Actors' Equity Association has banned actor Randy Quaid from the union for life—the alleged result of a disciplinary hearing conducted by the union. Quaid, who starred as Colonel Falstaff in the musical Lone Star Love at the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle last September, maintains that his banishment is part of Equity's collusion with a group of producers who are out to ruin his career.

Quaid and his wife, Evi Quaid, came under fire soon after Lone Star's planned Broadway run at the Belasco Theatre was canceled toward the end of its Seattle run. According to a deposition given by Susan Wallace, a management consultant for Equity's Western region, 23 Equity members filed charges with the union against Randy Quaid on Oct. 22, 2007. Wallace did not specify the nature of the charges but stated "all charges arose from the rehearsal and production of the Seattle pre-Broadway exhibition of the theatrical play Lone Star Love." A hearing to determine the validity of the charges was scheduled for Jan. 25.

In a Feb. 6 article in the New York Post, reporter Michael Riedel stated that the result of that hearing was Quaid's lifetime banishment from the union and a fine of more than $81,000. According to the article, the Equity members charged that Quaid allegedly "physically and verbally abused his fellow performers and that his oddball behavior onstage and off forced the show to close, thus depriving them of their jobs"; the actors' complaint alleged that Quaid made "sexually inappropriate" comments on stage, tried to eliminate characters from the script, and repeatedly missed rehearsals.

However, Quaid apparently resigned his Equity membership several months before he was reportedly banned—three months before the Equity members filed charges and a month before his first appearance in Lone Star Love, an Equity contract production. In a letter obtained from the Quaids, Randy Quaid wrote to Equity executive director John Connolly, "I find that I can not support a union that tolerates racism and mounts witch-hunts and McCarthyism Blacklisting against the experienced artists it is meant to protect…. I hereby resign my membership with Actors Equity Union/Association effective immediately Aug/1/2007 and decline membership when acting in all future legitimate theatre through Sep/1/2050." The Quaids' publicist declined to explain why Randy Quaid resigned a month before Lone Star opened.

Back Stage could not find evidence of Equity banning Quaid from the union or levying a fine. One of the Quaids' attorneys, Mark L. Block of the Los Angeles firm Christensen, Glaser, Fink, Jacobs, Weil & Shapiro, provided Back Stage a copy of a Feb. 5 letter he wrote to Riedel that states, "There is no basis in fact, law, or under Actors' Equity rules for the imposition of a monetary fine" and adds that Quaid "was not even a member of this union" and has, in effect, "banned Actors' Equity."

Equity spokeswoman Maria Somma confirmed that a hearing took place regarding Quaid. The hearing's results are confidential, and she declined to comment further.

Accusations have flown between the Quaids and the producers of Lone Star Love since the show's Broadway run was canceled. Lone Star producer Bob Boyett, a producer of the Tony-winning The Coast of Utopia, among other shows, told The New York Times in a Sept. 25 article that the Broadway transfer was canceled because the show was not ready. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer gave it a decidedly mixed review, saying pieces of it were "sharp" but "as a musical comedy, it's dull." This view was consistent with its reception Off-Broadway in the 2004–05 season, when it got mixed reviews with Jay O. Sanders as Falstaff.

However, the Quaids maintain that the show's producers sabotaged the Broadway run because Randy Quaid attempted to exercise creative control. In a Dec. 6 letter to Connolly, another of Quaid's attorneys, Patricia L. Glaser, wrote that Quaid's Lone Star contract granted him approval of the final script, his three songs, wardrobe, hair, and makeup, as well as the right to "veto a particular actor if he has a specific problem." Glaser asserted in her letter, "The producers…never intended for Randy to have creative control. In fact, it appears that it is the producers themselves who are behind the current false and absurd charges brought by Equity against Randy." She asked Connolly in the letter, "What does Equity stand for if not to protect the contractual rights of actors from being abused by producers?"

Block said the Lone Star producers have perpetrated a "smear campaign" against the actor. "The Quaids have been told by one of the [Lone Star Love] actors that this has all been driven by the producer who did not want to give Randy his contractual rights to creative approval of the script and his performance or his financial participation," Block wrote in a Feb. 6 letter to Back Stage. "They were told that the entire list of charges was created by the producers and [that] all of the charges are completely false…. The charges are ridiculous and absurd." Block did not name the specific actor or producer mentioned.

Boyett had no comment.

The saga took a dramatic turn Jan. 28, when Equity, Connolly, and three Equity employees filed seven civil harassment complaints against Evi Quaid in California Superior Court in Los Angeles. The plaintiffs seek temporary restraining orders against the Quaids.

In their depositions, Wallace and Equity contract associate Madison Shepard-Chester contend they have received an abundance of harassing phone calls and/or emails from Evi Quaid over the past two months. They claim the Quaids caused a commotion in the reception area of Equity's Los Angeles offices on Jan. 23. Evi Quaid, who appeared to be videotaping the incident, allegedly demanded that Wallace hand over documents pertaining to the hearing that Wallace claimed were not in her possession. Wallace said in her deposition that she "feared both Mr. and Mrs. Quaid could physically attack me." Subsequently, the union decided to hire security protection for the staff Jan. 25—the date of Quaid's hearing.

On Jan. 25, Evi Quaid returned to the union's reception area, allegedly screaming insults and calling Wallace a "Nazi bitch." Before security guards could restrain her, according to the complaint, Quaid allegedly "assaulted" Equity's 76-year-old receptionist, William Feaster—drawing blood as she kicked his shins. Security then removed her from the building.

"I am in fear that she will take my life or perhaps someone in my family…" Shepard-Chester said in her deposition. "I have feared that she or Randy Quaid would visit the AEA offices to hurt me, or follow me home from the AEA office to hurt me."

In his deposition, Connolly—who noted he has worked with Randy Quaid and knows him personally—testified to receiving several phone calls and emails from Evi Quaid prior to the hearing. According to Connolly, after he repeatedly explained that he needed to remain apart from the hearing process, Evi Quaid called Connolly's wife and accused her of being part of a plot against Randy Quaid.

On Jan. 28, Evi Quaid filed a declaration in the Superior Court responding to Equity's charges. She alleged that a male Equity employee broke her finger while she was pinned to the ground and handcuffed by a security guard during the Jan. 25 incident. "If anyone needs restraining, it is Actors' Equity," she said in the declaration, asking the court for a restraining order. The court's decision is pending.

Randy and Evi Quaid had no comment. This is not the first time the Quaids have been involved in a legal battle. Randy Quaid sued Focus Features and the producers of Brokeback Mountain for $10 million in 2006, claiming he was underpaid for his role in the film. The parties settled out of court.

Back Stage could not find reports of Equity previously "banning" an individual. But would it be legal for Equity to do so? According to Equity's constitution and bylaws, a member may be "expelled, suspended, fined, or otherwise disciplined" for a number of reasons, such as working in a nonunion production. In 2001, Equity fined Brady Bunch star Barry Williams over $50,000 for starring in a nonunion tour of The Sound of Music—one of the largest fines the union has imposed to date. Williams appealed the fine with the National Labor Relations Board, which ruled against the actor. .

Another offense that could result in expulsion from Equity is "conduct prejudicial to the welfare of the Association, its Officers, Councillors, or any of its members," as stated in its bylaws. One could argue that Evi Quaid's alleged conduct at Equity's L.A. headquarters was "prejudicial" to the union employees' welfare, but she is not an Equity member.

Could Randy Quaid's inappropriate conduct, alleged by his Lone Star castmates, be grounds for banishment? Equity's constitution states, "Charges of personal misconduct by a member against another member" can be the subject of a disciplinary hearing only if "the alleged misconduct concerns official Equity business or has occurred in a theatre (or other site) where members are employed on Equity contracts." However, the constitution does not state whether "personal misconduct" can lead to an actor's expulsion.

Armin Shimerman, a former SAG national board member and one of Back Stage's current Fine Print columnists, said unions certainly have the right to set such standards for their membership. "People are regularly not given membership if they don't meet those qualifications. I would opine that if those qualifications are not maintained, there might be a right there to remove the no-longer-eligible member," he wrote via email.

Shimerman continued, "But if a member is vocal about a union's actions and finds those actions to be unjust or misguided, I would hope no union has the right to kick a member out for being a dissenter."

Andrew Salomon contributed to this report.