Actress Joyce Gordon, the first woman to serve as President of a branch of the Screen Actors Guild, has died. She was 90. As an actor, she was best known as a pioneering performer in early TV commercials and network promos. But her true calling was as a union leader and supporter of her fellow actors.
In the 1950s, she became the first woman to do network promos, and the first woman announcer for a political convention on network television. In 1959, during Howard Keel’s SAG presidency, she was part of the first dozen branch members to serve on the guild’s national board – the sole woman in that group of 12. In 1966, she was elected president of SAG’s New York branch, a first for a woman in any branch of the guild.
In all, she served the union for more than four decades, was a trustee of the SAG-AFTRA Motion Picture Players Welfare Fund, and a longtime proponent of merger between SAG and AFTRA, which was consummated in 2012.
“Joyce was everything you could want in a SAG-AFTRA member and leader: intelligent, talented, unceasingly dedicated to her fellow performers, and a warm and generous friend,” said SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris. “Her stature as a pitchwoman and voiceover talent was indispensable in convincing the advertising industry to take seriously the concerns of commercial performers in the early days of that contract. Our hearts go out to Joyce’s family.”
Gordon served more than three decades as a trustee of the Screen Actors Guild-Producers Pension & Health Plans, most recently as trustee emeritus. “We are deeply saddened by Joyce’s passing,” said SAG-AFTRA Health Plan and SAG-Producers Pension Plan CEO Michael Estrada. “She was a passionate and committed trustee for over three decades and worked tirelessly on behalf of our participants. We extend our deepest condolences to her family and friends.”
She also served as a trustee of The Actors Fund for 24 years. “It was a great honor to work alongside Joyce, who was a passionate advocate for our community,” said Actors Fund chairman Brian Stokes Mitchell. “We are heartbroken at her passing and are proud of her legacy, a legacy which will live on in all the ways we help.”
“I am deeply grieved at the loss of my dear friend and colleague of nearly 40 years,” said Maureen Donnelly, treasurer of the SAG-AFTRA Foundation, chairman of the SAG-AFTRA Motion Picture Players Welfare Fund, and, like Gordon, a former president SAG’s New York branch. “Joyce was a tremendous advocate for our union, its members and especially actors and their families. She was one of the creators of the SAG-AFTRA Foundation Scholarship in honor of (former SAG executive secretary) Jack Dales, providing crucial financial support to members and their children pursuing an education. Joyce was a passionate advocate for New York members in her work as a trustee for MPPWF.”
Born in Des Moines, Iowa on March 25, 1929, Gordon grew up in Chicago and attended the University of Illinois and the University of Wisconsin. After moving to New York when she was 19, she made early appearances on radio and live TV, including dramatic roles on Studio One, Robert Montgomery Presents, and Search For Tomorrow.
She was the on-camera spokeswoman for Crisco and Duncan Hines, did hundreds of promos for news and sports programs, and was chosen by the phone company to be the voice that informed callers that they had dialed a wrong number. She also dubbed into English the voices of numerous foreign stars. Her voice can be heard in classic films by directors such as Ingmar Bergman and Jean Renoir, and was the voice of Claudia Cardinale in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America. She maintained her dramatic career into the 21st century, appearing as a judge on episodes of Law & Order.
Gordon was married for more than 50 years to actor Bernard Grant, who died in 2004. She is survived by her son, Mark Grant; daughter Melissa Grant; grandson Jason Vanderzwan; and a sister, Jill Gordon.
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