A lifelong professional performer, "born in a trunk," as they say in the theatrical world, Kathleen Nolan's debut commenced on a Mississippi showboat called "The Goldenrod" when she was a tot of 13 months. Her gutsy, confident personality was demonstrated on that showboat by her first salary negotiation - at age six! She recalled in 1976: "When I was six years old, I negotiated a raise for myself with the captain of the showboat because I was making 50 cents and everybody else was earning $2.50 a night and I didn't think that was right. So I went to him on my own and I not only ended up with my raise but everybody went up to $3.00. I guess that was my first negotiation." The whole family performed -- her father, Stephen Ellsworth, mother Clara Kennedy, and sister Nancy - and had their own Circle Stock Company. At 16, she went to New York and studied at the Neighborhood Playhouse with Sanford Meisner: to get the money to go, she worked a day job at an electrical company, followed by a night shift as a waitress. As "Kathy" Nolan, two of her most notable roles were on Broadway as young "Wendy" in the 1954/55 production of Peter Pan opposite Mary Martin and Cyril Ritchard, and "Kate McCoy" in the popular TV series The Real McCoys (1957-1963).
In 1964, she joined the Screen Actors Guild board of directors, first as an alternate, in the following way: “I got involved in a dispute with a large agency about who was the packager and who they were representing…that came to the attention of [2nd Vice-President] Charlton Heston, who was a friend from New York. He felt very strongly that I was the kind of person SAG needed on the Board because I wasn’t afraid to fight back.” Kathleen chaired our Women's Committee from its inception in 1972, and in 1973 became the first woman to be elected 1st Vice-President. In 1975, she ran as an independent candidate for Guild President and defeated not only the nominating committee's official choice, Robert Hogan, but three other independents. This victory made her the Guild's first female National President. In 1977 she repeated her success by being elected to a second two-year term in which she again defeated the Nominating Committee’s choice, Bert Freed this time, and three independents.
Confident and fearlessly outspoken, she supported revision of the United States Copyright Law; non-gender specific casting of roles in film and television, which would broaden opportunities for actresses; reduction in the number of TV re-runs; elimination of "TVQ" (a list of around 600 actors and actresses that a survey showed had the most "viewer appeal"); support for public broadcasting; federal government support of an "arts plank" to recognize the arts as not a luxury for the rich, but an "essential human right" for all. She presided over the Guild's 4th strike Dec. 1978 - Feb. 1979, over Commercials.
In her parting words, printed in Screen Actor magazine as she concluded her presidency in 1979, she reminded the membership: “In my years as your president, I have continually spoken out not just for better contracts, for more jobs, for all the important economic issues which confront us, I have also consistently said that we must fight for more quality in our work and thus in our lives. I am convinced that the issues are inseparable – we will not get more jobs until we get better programming. It is our responsibility to integrate the economic and the social issues that affect us, if we hope to be integrated creative artists able to bring inspiration and joy to others through our work.”