While a pre-med student at State University of New York, Stony Brook, Richard Masur altered the course of his life -- changing his major to theatre arts. Gifted enough to win admission to the Yale School of Drama, he then worked as a professional actor and theatre technician, making his Broadway debut in 1973 in The Changing Room. Norman Lear witnessed his performance, and offered him a spot on an episode of TV's most popular show All in the Family. A few months later, in the hot month of August 1974, he moved to Hollywood. Over the next 15 years, he became a familiar character actor in TV and feature films, won an Emmy nomination for The Burning Bed, and an Academy Award nomination for writing and directing the short subject Love Struck. In 1989, at a friend's suggestion, he decided to run for a SAG board seat because, as he later commented, so far he had "... benefited from my association with this organization and I've really put nothing into it. I figured it was right that I put something back in." He won, and two years later, in 1991, and again in 1993, he was elected to two 2-year terms as 3rd Vice-President. In 1995, he was elected to his first of two terms as SAG President. In his campaign, he made it clear that his major goal was to work towards merger of the Screen Actors Guild with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), stating "I want to see the unions merge because I really think we're on the verge of something wonderful. As soon as we shake out the details, especially in terms of figuring out the best way to handle the unions' separate pension and health plans, we'll know how we can proceed."
During his tenure as board member, officer, and president, he worked on numerous Guild committees, including the National Ethnic Employment Opportunities Steering Committee, National Performers with Disabilities Steering Committee, and was vice-chair of the National Legislative Committee. The issue of national health care was particularly close to his heart, and he was National Chair of the Guild's National Health Plan Ad Hoc Committee for six years. In November 1998, the long-awaited SAG/AFTRA merger referendum vote was sent to the membership. But merger was rejected in January 1999, as 52% of Guild members voted against it. In November 1999, Masur ran for a third presidential term, but was defeated by William Daniels, thus becoming the third incumbent president in Guild history to be defeated by a challenger.