As the Screen Actors Guild nominating committee's choice for president in 1971, 1st Vice-President John Gavin and his fellow candidates faced something the Guild had never witnessed before. With the exception of one of the 1-year Board seats, one or more independent candidates were challenging all the nominating committee's choices, running for each of the 22 available officer and Board positions! None of the independents would win – this time.

The 6' 4" John Gavin was born in Los Angeles as John Golenor. His mother was Mexican, and he became fluent in Spanish. Before becoming a professional actor in 1956, he was a Line, Air, and Intelligence officer in the United States Navy. Before his 1971 election as Guild President he had appeared in films like Psycho, Midnight Lace, Romanoff and Juliet, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Pedro Paramo and The Madwoman of Chaillot. He also starred in two short-lived television series: the comedy-western Destry (1964) and the naval adventure series Convoy (1965).

Elected to the Guild's Board of Directors in 1965, he served one term as 3rd Vice-President, and two terms as 1st Vice-President. As Guild President, in 1972, he testified before the Federal Trade Commission on phony talent rackets; met with President Richard Nixon to present to problem of excessive television reruns; presented petitions to the federal government on issues of prime-time access rules, legislative assistance for American motion pictures (to combat Runaway Production), and film production by the government using non-professional actors.

1973 brought changes for the Guild: Jack Dales, Executive Secretary since the end of 1943, retired at the first of the year to be succeeded by Chester "Chet" Migden, and by the end of the year Gavin became the first incumbent Guild president to be defeated by an independent challenger. Board member Dennis Weaver won this election with 6,785 votes to Gavin's 2,628. All four other independent challengers won Board seats, as well. Although Gavin was appearing on Broadway in See Saw at the time of his election defeat, he flew out to Los Angeles specially to attend the 1973 Screen Actors Guild Annual Meeting to pass the gavel, shake his victorious opponent's hand, and pose for photos with him. Weaver praised this as an "act of unity" and a testimonial to Gavin's character as one who put the Guild first.

In May 1981, nearly 8 years after his final term as Guild president, Gavin was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, nominated for the post by another former Guild president-newly-elected President of the United States, Ronald Reagan.

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