Rising Activism : Hollywood and Politics: a New Grit

LA-Times-Big

October 10, 1989 | JOHN BALZAR, Times Political Writer

Money and glamour always have been Hollywood’s easy entre to politics. Let others sweat it out in cigar smoke and crowded meeting halls; democracy here has been accompanied by the tinkling of cocktail glasses and properly hip parlor chatter.

But something else is stirring now. Here and there in Hollywood are the sounds of fine Italian shoe leather hitting the asphalt and the rustle of silk sleeves being rolled up. Here and there, Hollywood is getting its hands dirty at the work of politics.

Standing-Room Breakfasts

–Week in and week out, an assortment of Hollywood producers and lawyers and managers rub the sleep from their eyes in the early mornings. Calling themselves the Show Coalition, they fill standing-room-only breakfast meetings to hear and question a parade of national political leaders. At night in their homes, they conduct talking sessions. And on weekends, it’s issue seminars. These are not fundraisers but rather the breeding grounds for broader and more organized political activity by Hollywood.

Shake Their Heads

Some visiting pols, when speaking not for attribution, shake their heads at the emptiness of the Hollywood fund-raising ritual. Certain contributors want only to ride in the limousines. Others want a set of tennis with a notable from C-SPAN. Some just want a politician in their living room. Cliches are passed off for wisdom. Ideology is of greater value than insight. There is an airy detachment to anything except the celebrityhood of politics, and money.

The new generation of activists is determined to live down this bedeviling stereotype.

Show Coalition is a group of industry artists and professionals who banded together after the collapse of the 1988 presidential campaign of former U.S. Sen. Gary Hart. The group has now grown to more than 200 members and any number of other followers.

Chiefly, the coalition offers a way for the politically inclined to get together and feel their way through the complex policies and personalities of American politics. It has served as an introductory force in the political resurgence of Hollywood. Here is where officeholders can meet to meet potential supporters and contributors, and where Hollywood activists can find outlets for their political energy.

At first glance, Show Coalition presents a paradox. Here are Hollywood liberals dining at the private Regency club on $25 breakfast muffins, demanding answers to the questions of hunger and homelessness. Here are Hollywood liberals, in cashmere and silk and gold, raising questions about the “scourge of Republican materialism.”

Spurious, you say?

Perhaps, or probably. But it is possible to view these men and women as scarred veterans of the acquisitive wars, those who won big but who still find themselves unsatisfied–and therefore are eminently qualified to question obsessive materialism.

“A lot of these people are coming to a moment in their lives where they are taking serious stock of who they are, what they are, and the environment in which they live. It’s been a fast-line ride for a lot of them to make themselves professional successes. Now, they’re taking a second look,” said Robert L. Burkett, who is full-time political and philanthropic operative for multimillionaire newspaper heir and movie producer Ted Field.

Some of them are impatient to do more than just look.

Patricia Duff Medavoy, a producer and coalition chair, said the group begins a significant transformation from talk to action at a general membership meeting Oct. 21. She said she will encourage a down-to-earth game plan that emphasizes local problems–“to look here at the urban problems right here in front of us . . . problems like the homeless, or libraries in the inner city.”

“We don’t want to be involved in just elitist politics, but also to look here in our own back yards,” Duff Medavoy said.

In addition to Show Coalition, a select few entertainment leaders have taken the step of establishing their own political organizations. Norman Lear is a modern pioneer of the idea with his People for the American Way. That group now claims 300,000 members and operates on its own. But, with his full-time political aide Betsy Kenny, Lear remains an organizational force in the industry. Producer Ted Field has done much the same thing by hiring Burkett.

More recently, Richard Dreyfuss hired a political lieutenant, Donna Bojarsky, a prominent figure in the Westside Jewish community. Among Dreyfuss’ political passions is the quest for peace in the Mideast. Gary Goldberg, the creator of “Family Ties,” and his wife, Diana Meechan, have hired political organizer Marlene Saritzky, formerly executive director of the Hollywood Women’s Political Committee, to run their foundation. Their concern is primarily family issues.

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