WGA Leader’s Background Is Questioned

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Times Staff Writer

Military and university athletic records are at odds with statements by the new president of Hollywood’s writers’ union that he served as an intelligence officer in an elite Army Special Forces unit and attended college on a football scholarship, a review by The Times shows.

Questions about Charles D. Holland’s background have been brewing in the screenwriting community since the veteran television writer assumed the presidency of the beleaguered Writers Guild of America, West, on Jan. 6. Holland took office after an internal report found that his predecessor, Victoria Riskin, was ineligible to run for reelection in September because she had not written enough to keep her membership current.

The crisis elevated Holland, who was vice president, to the leadership of one of Hollywood’s most powerful unions.


The questions about his background come at a delicate time for the 9,000-member guild, which represents film and TV writers in Los Angeles: Holland is about to lead the guild into negotiations with studios over a new contract involving such sticky issues as whether writers deserve a bigger piece of DVD revenue and how its health plan can be strengthened.

Inquiries by The Times to the Army and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign were made after a number of writers both in e-mails and on the Internet questioned details of Holland’s widely publicized past. The queries confirmed that Holland served in the military and graduated from the school. But records provided by the Army and the university showed no evidence of Special Forces service or of a college football career.

In an interview Friday, Holland, 44, said his past statements on both scores were accurate.

A WGA spokesman said Holland needed more time to provide records that would document his military service.

Late Friday, Holland told The Times that to provide such documentation would require him to violate the law protecting classified documents. He said the portion of his military record involving the Special Forces didn’t appear with the rest of his service record because it was classified information.

Regarding his football experience, Holland said no record surfaced because he had played wide receiver at Illinois under a different name. Holland agreed to provide that name only on condition that it not be printed.


When asked for information about any player by that name, the university identified one man. The Times located the man, who said he played wide receiver at the school then. The man said he now works as an account executive for an Arizona pharmaceutical company. He said he did not know Holland.

The university said it couldn’t provide any record of Holland using a name other than his own. A school spokeswoman said he entered and left under the name Charles Holland.

The Times obtained Holland’s military records from the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis under the federal Freedom of Information Act and contacted the public affairs office at the Illinois campus.

Holland’s statements that he was stationed with the 7th Special Forces Group at Ft. Bragg, N.C., and that he had a football scholarship at Illinois figured prominently in a September 2002 profile titled “Soldier of Fortune” in the guild in-house magazine, Written By. At the time, Holland was one of the top writers for the CBS military drama “JAG.” Late Friday, the article was unavailable on the guild website. A guild biography of Holland issued last week didn’t mention a military or a football past.

In the article, Holland declined to share what he did in military intelligence. The magazine quoted him as saying: “I can tell you I was based in Ft. Bragg. When I served, I went other places. It gave me an appreciation for other ways of life. I was in places where people feared a knock on the door, and you couldn’t walk outside without fearing snipers.”

Holland’s Special Forces experience also was cited as a major plus by two past guild presidents, John Wells and Daniel Petrie Jr., in interviews with The Times after Riskin’s resignation. The trade paper Variety wrote, “Holland could well bring some toughness to the bargaining table: He’s a former member of the Army Special Forces.”


Records provided by the military do not show Holland ever serving with the Special Forces or ever having been based at Ft. Bragg.

In an interview, Holland said: “There are aspects of my military records that are readily available and aspects that are not. Anybody who is questioning my military records does not have the full picture, and they never will. I’m not at liberty to discuss the aspects of my military record that are not readily available.”

Military records show Holland served in the National Guard in Illinois and Massachusetts from 1980 to 1983, at the same time he was earning a master’s degree in public administration at Illinois and a law degree at Harvard. He was honorably discharged, achieving the rank of first lieutenant, records show. The records listed among his duties military policeman and assistant postal officer. The guild on Friday e-mailed The Times additional information saying Holland served in the National Guard in Massachusetts, with the Army Reserve in San Francisco and with other reserve groups.

Ben Abel, spokesman for the Army Special Operations Command at Ft. Bragg, said that if Holland served there, his records should show it.

“If it wasn’t in his official record when he got out of the military, I wouldn’t have a lot of confidence that he was assigned to Ft. Bragg or to that unit,” Abel said.

The guild magazine article said Holland initially attended Illinois on a football scholarship. The article said: “There he encountered another setback: His dreams of turning pro turned to ash after suffering a severe shoulder injury during a game in his sophomore year. He lost the football scholarship and paid for his remaining undergraduate education by signing on with Army ROTC.”


The university public affairs office confirmed that Holland was a graduate of the school but said it had no record of his playing football or taking a physical education class. Records show that he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts and sciences in 1980, with a master’s degree in public administration earned in 1981.

Asked about the football record, Holland said he was a wide receiver, but not as Charles Holland. “It’s under a different name,” he said.

After Holland provided the name on the condition it not be printed, university officials provided The Times with records showing that a wide receiver by that name attended the school around the time Holland did. According to university records, the former player is two years older than Holland, graduated one year earlier and attended a different Chicago high school. The former player said he had played professional football briefly.

Friday night, a guild spokeswoman said Holland had no further comment about his college football statements.

Harvard University records show that Holland received his law degree in 1984. After graduating from law school, he worked as a studio business affairs executive before beginning his writing career. In addition to “JAG,” his credits include writing for “Walker, Texas Ranger” and the “Soul Food” television show. He co-chaired the guild’s negotiations during the last contract talks in 2001.

In a Jan. 9 letter to members after Riskin’s resignation, Holland praised writers for having “the courage to face the truth about themselves and their guild.”


Late Friday, Holland released an additional statement to The Times through the guild.

“I’m proud of my service to my country,” he said. “People will have to believe what they believe. They’ll either believe that I lied or I have to commit a federal felony and release classified information.”


Times researcher John L. Jackson contributed to this report.