2004 – Eleven Diversity Pioneers

The Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Committees of Actors’ Equity Association, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), and Screen Actors Guild (SAG), presented “A Celebration of Diversity” on May 10, 2004 at the Colony Theatre in Burbank, CA.

“In the spirit of solidarity and unity, this year’s celebration is being sponsored by all three unions,” said Equity Councilor Ivy Bethune, Chair of Equity’s EEO Committee; Anne-Marie Johnson, SAG’s EEO Committee Chair and Belva Davis, AFTRA’s EEO Committee Chair and National Vice President. “The history of the performing arts unions has been one of struggle for fairness, inclusion and diversity. This is a celebration of the people and organizations that have made significant contributions towards these goals.”

Ms. Bethune noted, “The richly deserved recognition of these artists’ contributions toward increasing diversity is also in keeping with Equity’s long heritage of championing and promoting inclusion and diversity in the American Theatre – a history that includes the forced integration of the National Theatre in Washington, D.C. in 1947; holding the first ever ‘integrated showcase’ in 1959, which presaged our subsequent national non-traditional casting seminar in 1982; and Equity’s annual presentation of the Rosetta LeNoire Award, and the Paul Robeson Award, which honors contributions, made by either a theatre or individual, toward inclusion and diversity in the American Theatre.”

"Since its founding in 1933, SAG has worked tirelessly for equal employment opportunities for all performers, including groups of people - racial and ethnic minorities, women, seniors and performers with disabilities - who have traditionally been underrepresented in the entertainment industry," said Ms. Johnson. "We are very pleased to recognize the outstanding honorees who triumph in these areas."

Ms. Davis noted, "Recognizing those who work for diversity is as important as the cause itself. Each of these honorees represents a vision that has made them leaders in the fight for inclusion, equality and diversity in the news and entertainment industries. In fact, ABC's Carmen Smith, Vice President of Talent Development Programs, was recognized this past summer with AFTRA's highest industry honor, the National American Scene Award, for that network's commitment to diversity through their various talent showcases. There is still much progress to be made, but for this special evening, AFTRA joins Actors' Equity Association and SAG in celebrating the contributions of these performers and industry leaders on the path of true diversity in the media."

This year, the EEO Committees recognized eleven diversity “pioneers” whose achievement and talent cross a broad spectrum of artistic disciplines:

Fran Bennett has starred in numerous television series, including Quantum Leap, Knot’s Landing, Dynasty and The Twilight Zone, as well as in soap operas and films. On stage, she has worked with the L.A. Women's Shakespeare Company and recently played “King Lear” in a multi-disciplinary production.

Marla Gibbs, best known as feisty Florence on The Jeffersons and star of 227, was saluted for her work with community youth theatre programs in Los Angeles.

Deborah Lawlor, a distinguished dancer and choreographer, is the co-founder of the Fountain Theatre, which is dedicated to providing a nurturing, creative home for multi-ethnic theatre and dance artists, including an extensive Flamenco repertoire.

Ricardo Montalban, the unforgettable star of TV’s Fantasy Island, played leading roles in movies in the 1940s and 1950s, including Fiesta, On An Island With You, Border Incident, Battleground and Sayonara. In addition to his recent memorable starring role in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Mr. Montalban has appeared in numerous television programs.

Dionicio Morales is the author of A Life In Two Cultures and a leading community advocate. He founded and runs the Mexican American Opportunity Foundation, which provides millions of dollars for job development and childcare programs for the Hispanic community.

Carmen Smith is the Vice President of Talent Development for ABC.

Marcia Smith is currently the Executive Director of the Screen Actors Guild Foundation, the charitable arm of SAG. Ms. Smith previously served as the Western Representative of The Actors’ Fund of America, Executive Director and Founder of Hollywood Helps (an entertainment industry AIDS organization) and Executive Director of Search Alliance.

Jerry Velsaco is the President of Nosotros, a Latin Theatre Company that presents works by emerging Latino artists. He also serves on the AFTRA National Board.

Gail Williamson is a long-time advocate for the disability community. She has worked with California's Media Access Office for over 12 years, and currently serves as the Executive Director of the Down Syndrome Association of Los Angeles.

Chay Yew, a prolific playwright/director, is currently the Director of the Asian Theatre Workshop at the Mark Taper Forum and is the Artistic Director of Northwest Asian American Theatre/The Black Box in Seattle. He has won numerous playwriting awards.

A special award was presented to Marvin Kaplan, President of the Los Angeles AFTRA local, honored for his work with senior performers as well as his dedicated service to all performing arts unions. A longtime member of AFTRA’s National Board, Mr. Kaplan has previously served as Local President from 1989 to 1995, and First Vice President from 1989 to 1995. He chairs the 50-60-70 Cold Readings Committee and is Co-Chair of the WGA/AFTRA Senior Projects Readings Committee.