Politics of the stars

ANNE GREGOR September 12 1988

Politics of the stars

ANNE GREGOR September 12 1988

Politics of the stars


The movie celebrities and studio executives headed south through Los Angeles in their RollsRoyce, Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz limousines. Their destination on that balmy summer evening: Holmby Hills, a small but exclusive enclave where, in his white mansion, cable television tycoon Marc Nathanson was hosting his “Victory 88!” celebration for Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis. And although the men and many of the women were dressed in black, the color of the evening was green—the color of American money. Arriving with chequebooks in hand, the guests paid $1,250 a head for a dinner with Dukakis and several hundred movie executives and celebrities, including Warren Beatty and Hugh Hefner. “Every politician comes to Hollywood to raise money,” said longtime Democratic activist David Quarles, vice-president at Nathanson’s Falcon Cable TV, which operates in 21 states. “It is an incredible source for everyone’s campaign.”

The Aug. 4 affair, which drew 300

people, was part of a long-standing tradition: the political courtship of Hollywood. In fact, Hollywood endorsement has become a necessity for most politicians, and the reasons are obvious. Not only do celebrities guarantee extra publicity for candidates, their presence at fund raisers also at-

Hollywood celebrity endorsements guarantee extra publicity and draw wealthy donors to U.S. political campaigns

tracts rich individuals who are willing to donate liberally to political campaigns. And, indeed, most of the donations are liberal. Despite Republican President Ronald Reagan’s Hollywood connections as a former movie star and president of the Screen Actors Guild, there is much more visible support for the Democrats among

Hollywood celebrities and executives.

The Democrats’ pilgrimages to the U.S. movie-industry capital for this year’s presidential campaign began well before the first state primary was held last February. Beginning in 1986, Norman Lear, producer of TV’s acclaimed 1970s series All in the Family, began hosting dinners for the Democratic hopefuls. There, prominent Hollywoodians grilled the politicians about the issues. And Hollywood power brokers also helped individual Democrats raise funds.

But the Republicans, too, have considerable support in tinsel town. In one major fund-raising event, Jerry Weintraub, producer of the movie The Karate Kid, hosted a dinner on June 5— at $12,500 a couple—for Vice-President George Bush, the GOP’s presidential candidate. And Hollywood luminaries Cheryl Ladd, Charlton Heston, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Canadian-born Rich Little attended the Republicans’ August nominating convention in New Orleans to support Bush.

During the 1930s, some studio bosses such as MGM’S Louis B. Mayer were hard-core Republicans. In 1934, Mayer played a part in preventing writer and avowed Socialist Upton Sinclair from winning the governorship of California. And in 1943, with Democratic President Franklin Delano Roosevelt running for

a fourth term, Lionel Barrymore, Ginger Rogers, Bing Crosby, Cary Grant and Cecil B. DeMille were among the stars and executives backing Republican contender Thomas Dewey’s unsuccessful bid for the Oval Office.

But that election also brought out a star-studded lineup for the Democrats. Headed by Humphrey Bogart, Roosevelt’s Hollywood supporting cast also included Katharine Hepburn, Orson Welles, Gene Kelly, Jack Warner and

James Cagney. Now, according to a recent article by the Los Angeles Times, support for the Democrats among Hollywood entertainers and executives appears solid.

But although the politicians receive publicity and money from Hollywood, they rarely get both from the same individual. “Stars themselves never give much,” noted Stanley Sheinbaum, who has for 25 years been a Democratic fund raiser in California. Added Democratic political organizer Linda Hunt: “The money comes from the executives.” And although most political consultants agree that association with a well-known star draws attention to a candidate, they also say that it is important for politicians to align themselves with the right type of celebrity. “It is a combination of being a good actor and the kind of roles he plays,” said Stephen Rivers, spokesman for Democratic supporter Jane Fonda. In fact, Rivers cited as an ideal example the late Henry Fonda, a Democratic supporter who often played steady, thoughtful and sensitive characters during his career.

Some stars and executives have not been content to simply support the candidate of their choice. In 1984, some of the movie capital’s most powerful liberal women, annoyed by Reagan’s references to Hollywood and its inhab-

itants as “my town” and “my people,” formed the Hollywood Women’s Political Committee. Among its cofounders: Marilyn Bergman, who co-wrote the lyrics to The Way We Were—sung by Barbra Streisand in the 1973 movie of the same name in which she starred with Robert Redford. Streisand is also a committee member, along with Jane Fonda, Rosanna Arquette, CBS vicepresident Barbara Corday and Patricia Duff Medavoy, wife of the chairman of Orion Pictures.

That committee, which supports legalized abortion, greater arms control and a stronger commitment to social programs, has been immensely successful. Two years ago, a committeesponsored $6,000-per-couple concert by Streisand at her ranch raised $1.8 million for the Democratic cause. “They raised more money in that one event than Democrats had ever raised before,” said Sheinbaum. Added actress Morgan Fairchild, another committee member: “If you control the purse strings, you can make your issues heard.”

At the same time, other celebrities— including younger actors Rob Lowe and Judd Nelson—have banded together for political activities. Members of that group, encouraged by Jane Fonda and her husband, Tom Hayden, former 1960s radical and for the past six years a California state assemblyman, have thrown themselves behind such issues as restricting the flow of toxic chemicals into drinking water. In fact, Hayden also encouraged some of the younger stars to attend the Democratic nominating convention in Atlanta.

Still, some Hollywood celebrities are clearly reluctant to associate themselves openly with political causes. Said Hunt: “A lot of people come forward with money but not their names. There is a reluctance to go out on a political limb.” One reason for that may be the enduring memory of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s House committee on un-American activities, whose investigations in the 1950s led to the blacklisting of many writers and directors because of alleged Communist sympathies. But many of the stars involved in this year’s campaign are outspoken about their political involvement. “A celebrity, rather than someone standing on a street corner, can get the media’s attention to focus on issues and explore them to a greater depth,” Fairchild told Maclean’s. Indeed, if this year’s campaign is any indication, Hollywood has come a long way in burying the memory of McCarthyism—and indulging in ever-greater political activism.

—ANNE GREGOR in Los Angeles