Actresses’ Role in Farm Issue Stirs Criticism

Associated Press

Three actresses who played distressed farm wives are being brought to Capitol Hill by House Democrats in an attempt to revive interest in the farm crisis--but there is some unease about having wealthy stars speak for real-life troubled farmers.

Jessica Lange, Sissy Spacek and Jane Fonda are scheduled to testify Monday before the House Democrats’ farm task force on the emotional toll of the financial stress experienced by farm families--something akin to their roles in “Country,” “The River” and “The Dollmaker,” respectively.

But the session already is provoking some criticism on Capitol Hill over whether such a publicity stunt might trivialize the very real problems of farmers.

Rep. Tony Coelho (D-Merced), who used his show-business connections to help arrange the event, said the actresses have every right to testify before Congress on the farm crisis.


White House ‘Actor’

“They probably have a better understanding of the problems of agriculture than the actor in the White House,” Coelho said.

But other than Coelho, few would claim more than passing knowledge of the event.

The Agriculture Committee distanced itself from the plan, saying it did not have the panel’s official sanction. A House Democratic Caucus staff member said the caucus had little to do with arrangements.


A Republican Agriculture Committee member, Rep. Pat Roberts of Kansas, questioned the need for such a session and said he feared it might be “counterproductive.”

“Apparently we’re going to play ‘Hollywood Squares’ in the Agriculture Committee,” Roberts said.

In recent years in Congress, actor Jack Klugman, who played a medical examiner in the series “Quincy,” has advocated support for development of drugs to treat rare diseases. And Ed Asner, who played newspaper editor Lou Grant, testified on behalf of the Freedom of Information Act.