Martha Greenhouse, Actress and Union Leader, Dies at 91

A union member for more than 70 years, the stage, television and film actress was active in early attempts to merge SAG and AFTRA.

Actress and union leader Martha Greenhouse died Jan. 5, SAG-AFTRA announced. She was 91.

Greenhouse’s TV and film credits included Law & Order; Ryan’s Hope; The Jackie Gleason Show; The Stepford Wives; Car 54, Where Are You?; Woody Allen’s Bananas and the original production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella.  She appeared in many plays on and off Broadway, including Summer Brave; Dear Me, the Sky is Falling; and Jose Quintero’s Our Town.

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Greenhouse joined AFRA (the radio-only predecessor of AFTRA) in 1941 and the Screen Actors Guild in 1955 and became deeply involved in union activities. Highlights of her service include five terms as the president of AFTRA’s New York Local, from 1977-1982, and two terms on SAG’s National Board, from 1981-1987. More recently she served as an AFTRA Foundation board member and was president of the AFTRA Heller Memorial Foundation for more than a decade. She also served on the board of the N.Y. Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences and was an AFTRA representative to the Associated Actors and Artistes of America.

Greenhouse remained active on the national and local AFTRA boards until 2005 and 2010 respectively, and received practically every award the union had to offer: the Founder’s Award, the N.Y. Local’s Ken Harvey Award and the George Heller Gold Card, the highest honor given by national AFTRA for service to the union.

“During her more than 40 years of board service, Martha helped lead the New York Local of AFTRA through turbulent times, and the union came out stronger due to her hard work, talent and dedication,” said SAG-AFTRA Co-President Roberta Reardon. “She was an inspiration not only to me but to the entire leadership. Her service to the union should be held up as an example to everyone who will walk in her footsteps.”

An ardent merger advocate, in the late ‘70s, Greenhouse headed the N.Y. Caucus of Artists for Merger, an ad hoc group fighting to merge AFTRA and SAG. She was instrumental in forming the SAG-AFTRA Joint Committee for Merger, which met throughout the ‘80s. Although not successful at the time, the unions merged last March, and she was overjoyed that she had lived to see her fondest dream become a reality.

“Some shoes don't get filled. You just bronze them and try to live up to that standard. Martha is like that,” said SAG-AFTRA New York Local Co-President Holter Graham.

As an activist and a leader, Greenhouse worked hard on initiatives to improve the lives of her fellow members. As president, she helped ensure that plans for Manhattan Plaza included low-income housing for performers. In 1980, she led a group of members in 100-degree temperatures to march in SAG and AFTRA’s primetime TV strike. 

Martha Greenhouse is survived by her son and daughter-in-law, Ken and Sheila Sasmor, and two grandsons. Her family held a private service Jan. 6. Contributions may be made in her memory to the AFTRA Foundation George Heller Memorial Scholarship, 260 Madison Avenue, 7th Floor, New York, NY 10016. A memorial celebration of her life is being planned for the spring.

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