Update on Hollywood Stuntwoman Leslie Hoffman’s Disability Case

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It’s almost five years since we told about pioneering Hollywood stuntwoman Leslie Hoffman’s struggle against her own union, the Screen Actors Guild, and their Pension and Health Plan, for decent account of the toll of traumatic brain injury in that profession. We are reproducing that July 31, 2011, post at the bottom of today’s disturbing update.

Two weeks ago Deadline Hollywood, the entertainment industry news site, reported that SAG was “doubling down on their campaign to deny Hoffman benefits”:

“First they refused to give her SAG health benefits, even after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that they had violated the law by not giving her a fair hearing. Now they’re taking away her SAG pension on the flimsiest of pretexts. The overriding question becomes whether the Plans are in self-protection mode because of similar potential claims that could come from stunt workers suffering from cumulative injuries.”

See “SAG Pension and Health Plans Strips Disabled Stuntwoman of Her Pension,” http://deadline.com/2015/06/sag-pension-health-plans-strips-disabled-stuntwoman-of-her-pension-1201453009/.

 

Hollywood Stuntwoman Activist’s Fight With the Screen Actors Guild

Published July 31st, 2011

Leslie Hoffman, a former Hollywood stuntwoman who at one time was the first female of her job classification on the board of directors of the Screen Actors Guild, is having a tough time with disabilities – including post-concussion syndrome – all of which are traceable to occupational hazards. Needing legal representation and other support, she is involved in a complicated fight for benefits, and it ties in with broader claims of gender discrimination and blacklisting.

This story is a bit of a stretch for the subject matter of my blog. But parallels between Hoffman’s case and many involving athletes (pro wrestlers, especially) are evident. And I like to do what I can for people who have gotten kicked around for speaking out. So I encourage readers to check out these two backgrounders by other writers:

“Disabled Workers of the World Unite! You have nothing to lose but your residuals, ”David Robb, Hollywood Today, http://www.hollywoodtoday.net/2010/11/03/disabled-workers-of-the-world-unite/

“SAG’s McCarthyism on a Stuntwoman, ”Jerry Saravia, http://jerrysaravia.blogspot.com/2011/05/sags-mccarthyism-on-stuntwoman.html

Hoffman’s dispute with SAG dates back to the days of actor Ed Asner’s presidency of the union. Here’s a personal note in that connection. During his run on the Mary Tyler Moore Show, Asner, a wrestling fan, starred as a promoter in the godawful B movie The Wrestler, which was produced by Minneapolis-based promoter and wrestler Verne Gagne. This was 35 years before the celebrated film of the same title, directed by Darren Aronofsky and starring Mickey Rourke. Nearly two decades after the release of the 1973 Wrestler, I remember ribbing Asner about it when I met him at a fundraiser for the National Writers Union.

On a more serious note, another part of Hoffman’s history was her testimony to California state legislators during deliberations over movie production reform measures following the 1982 set mishap that killed star Vic Morrow and two Vietnamese-American child actors during the filming of a scene of The Twilight Zone: The Movie. (At a late-night shoot, Morrow was decapitated and the children were gruesomely mangled by a helicopter blade.) I often contrast the corrective steps following this incident with the continually unregulated and unsafe pro wrestling industry. As I like to put it, people in the early eighties didn’t care whether Jon Landis was making a dramatic movie (“fake”) or a documentary (“real”); they just knew that people had been killed in the making of a piece of entertainment, which is inexcusable.

The full Leslie Hoffman saga may carry an additional lesson: that not even the existence of a talent union – which Hollywood has and wrestling does not – always provides adequate advocacy for the rights and interests of culture workers.

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