Plot thickens

PLOT THICKENS: Guild member Robert Eisele says there are lessons to be learned from the '88 Writers Guild strike. (Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times)

As the writers strike continues, celebrities across the entertainment industry, most of whom can afford many months without a paycheck, are offering help, some secretly, to the others who live hand-to-mouth.

Free food at picket lines is being supplemented by large-scale benefit concerts organized by writers on both coasts. Those grander gestures augment the free or discounted meals already offered at restaurants, as well as coffee, drinks, mani-pedis and clairvoyant readings all around town. Some offers are for writers only; others are industrywide.

Behind the generosity toward their more vulnerable colleagues, helpers are also hoping to keep spirits up as long as they can and maintain unity in a sprawling union characterized by wide class divisions.

"Everyone needs to feel writers aren't just out here on our own fighting for our own issues. Members of all unions are affected by the strike," said Marti Noxon, an executive producer of "Private Practice" and an organizer of a Dec. 14 comedy concert, sponsored by the Writers Guild, West, and the Screen Actors Guild to benefit the Motion Picture Television Fund. Eddie Izzard, Sarah Silverman and Jack Black will headline the 8 p.m. event at UCLA's Royce Hall.

Noxon said writers on "Private Practice" and "Grey's Anatomy" have also chipped in to pay salaries of their assistants who aren't protected by a union. "We're taking it a couple weeks at a time," she said.

The Writers Guild, East, is organizing a New York comedy benefit for next week dubbed Write-Aid to help finance the guild's strike fund, which provides assistance to writers during the labor stoppage.

The event Tuesday at Comix, a New York comedy club, will feature stand-up by the writers of late-night shows such as "Late Show With David Letterman" and "Late Night With Conan O'Brien," as well as Andy Borowitz, the creator of "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air."

Last month, cast members of NBC's "Saturday Night Live" and "30 Rock" staged live performances of their shows at New York's Upright Citizens Brigade as a benefit for striking workers. (Portions of the proceeds went to the WGA strike fund.)

Solidarity can be maintained when struggling members of a union see the generosity of members who can afford it, said writer Robert Eisele, who participated in the last major strike in 1988. Back then, grumbling from both rich and poor diminished the cohesion required to face the networks with strength, he said. With enough help from WGA loans as well as outside sources, struggling writers should not be tempted to break ranks, he said.

Across the industry, reports that below-the-line workers had lost their jobs because of the strike sparked moves by successful writers to help.

"In addition, we started to realize the holiday may be a tough time for people," Noxon said. Tickets at $75 each for the UCLA benefit will go on sale this weekend, she said, and a block will be reserved at a reduced rate for guild members.

The union also has a list of 40 places in and around Hollywood with free or discounted items and services for writers with a union card. Writers can find $1 drinks at the Griffin in Atwater Village and free coffee at Café du Village on Larchmont (Coffee Bean offers 10% off). One writer said, "I was in a store buying water and I was wearing my WGA shirt. They gave me 10% off."

Last weekend, more than 250 WGA members showed up at Swingers Hollywood restaurant for a free meal. A celebrity who asked to remain anonymous has been paying for the meals since the strike's second week.

"It's getting bad out there," wrote a member of the Artful Writer, a group that is offering a free afternoon of mini-golf and arcade games at Sherman Oaks Castle Park on Tuesday for laid-off staffers. "I would rather go without the doughnuts and pizza and horn-honks and see if we can't help funnel some relief to the laid-off," she said.

Still, Eisele said that since the guild hasn't gone on strike for nearly two decades, the union strike fund is "well into the millions," with loan capabilities.

So far, the union is holding together better than it did in the past strike, he said. But as in the past, he said the other side's strategy is "divide and conquer." While the writers have succeeded in their goal of winning the "hearts and minds" of the general public, the networks and studios have been targeting writers themselves.

"They're trying to weaken our will to get us to accept the worst possible deal," Eisele said.

And it's not just the big people who want to help. Life coach Nancy Kremer, said, "I really just want to help in the best way I could." So far, however, she said no one has taken her up on her offer of free counseling.

Someone you might imagine would be in demand, clairvoyant Kris Cahill, said she had received only one nibble from a writer on strike.

"It's always interesting when something big like a writers strike comes along, because everyone has a chance to make choices," she said.

"I never predict the future."

lynn.smith@latimes.com

Times staff writer Matea Gold contributed to this report.