When Sen. Bill Bradley (D-N.J.) hits Los Angeles next week, he'll be the first in a line of political power players courting show-business power players early and ardently.
About 500 A-list guests will gather for a $1,500-a-couple party hosted by Michael Eisner, chairman of Walt Disney Studios, and Michael Ovitz, head of the dominant Creative Artists Agency. Dustin Hoffman, The Times has learned, is scheduled as emcee and Whoopi Goldberg and others will entertain. The purpose of the affair is ostensibly to raise money for Bradley's 1990 senate race.
But party chatter doubtlessly will turn to presidential politics and Bradley's future. No wonder: The question surrounding the former Knick basketball star is not whether he will run for President, but when.
Later this year, powerful producer Jerry Weintraub ("The Karate Kid") says, "We'll do a big dinner" for Vice President George Bush, the man Weintraub is backing in 1988. "George has been a great team player and a great vice president," says Weintraub. "He has to remain loyal but he also has to assert himself and tell the people what he stands for. He is about to become his own man."
In April, department store heir and movie producer Ted Field ("Critical Condition," "Outrageous Fortune") will host a bash for Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) at the Harold Lloyd estate. Biden has not officially declared his candidacy but should he announce before the party, the occasion will be used to raise funds, says Bob Burkett, public affairs liaison for Field.
With a full year before the New Hampshire primary, Hollywood's key movers and shakers--including stars, studio moguls and top producers--are gathering their troops and lending their formidable money-raising skills for the 1988 race. Says Weintraub, a veteran political insider: "It's clear the battle lines are being drawn."
Because of changes in federal political contribution laws and a heightened interest in politics, Hollywood's influence and participation in the election process has been steadily growing in the last 10 years. More and more stars have been stumping for candidates and the competition for their services is intense.
"There's some kind of implied credibility that comes with Hollywood dollars," says Seth Jacobson, a public affairs consultant who worked closely with Walter Mondale in 1984. "There is a fascinating connection here--politicians are enamored by Hollywood and Hollywood is enamored of politicians."
Political activism, like the popularity of horror movies, seems to run in cycles. These days, with a lame-duck President and a number of critical legislative issues that could affect show business, politics is strongly in vogue, not just with the established players but also among Hollywood's under-35 yuppie set.
"Activism is on the rise," says Patricia Duff-Medavoy, a member of the Hollywood Women's Political Committee and wife of Mike Medavoy, executive vice president of Orion Pictures. "It's a grass-roots movement filtering up, as opposed to the celebrities starting it."
Still, to politicians, celebrity stumping can be an invaluable no-strings-attached fund-raising asset. After all, what can Gary Hart (who will declare April 13, according to insiders) do for a Hollywood movie star if elected? Most of these celebrities have larger constituencies than the candidates they are assisting.
"Los Angeles is the only place in America where the people attending fund-raisers are a bigger draw than the candidates being honored," wrote Ronald Brownstein, a political reporter for the National Journal in a recent piece for the New York Times Op-Ed page.
Actresses Donna Mills and Debra Winger repeatedly stumped for Hart in 1984 but the senator's major celebrity trump card is Warren Beatty. Beatty, who has been politically active in Hollywood for years, will back Hart again, the actor told The Times through a spokesman.
In addition, actress Jane Fonda and state Assemblyman Tom Hayden appeared at a recent Hart fund-raiser here and a spokesman said they endorse the candidate. Mike Medavoy, who has been a Hart fund-raiser in the past, refused an interview request, but insiders say he too is a Hart backer.
Producer Irwin Winkler (the "Rocky" films) is an old friend and longtime contributor to New York Gov. Mario Cuomo. "There is no campaign right now as far as I know," Winkler said in a telephone interview from Paris. "If and when he decides to seek the Democratic nomination, I'll be happy to do whatever I can because he is a very good man."
Winkler says the confluence of Hollywood and Washington powers is really nothing new. "Throughout the history of Hollywood, there has been a long tradition of political involvement," he says. "Part of it is the extension of the need for power which is part of the Hollywood mentality. What is more powerful than politics?"
Laws have changed the way power brokers here operate their political activities. In 1964, MCA Chairman Lew Wasserman and then United Artists Chairman Arthur Krim reportedly raised an astonishing $10 million for Lyndon Johnson's campaign against Barry Goldwater. Johnson went on to win in a landslide victory that landed him the largest percentage of the popular vote in the 20th Century.
Watergate changed that. In 1974 the government limited individual contributions to $1,000. As politics moved out of the back room, celebrities and rock stars took center stage. Promoters discovered that proceeds from benefit rock concerts could be donated to a candidates' coffers--each ticket is regarded as a separate contribution--and the entire proceeds from the concert were eligible for matching federal grants.
With the cap on personal donations, there are more players involved here. "The federal laws have made political activism cheap," says one veteran talent agent. "One thousand dollars is not a lot of money in this town. The irony is Michael Eisner is not allowed to donate any more money than you or me."
New activist groups with strong social concerns also have emerged. The Hollywood Women's Political Committee, formed in 1984, has 72 active members, many of whom, like MGM's Paula Weinstein and Barbara Corday, president of Columbia Pictures Television, are active players in the movie business.
In September, Barbra Streisand hosted a $5,000-per-couple concert at her Malibu ranch that raised about $3 million (including proceeds from video sales) for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the women's political group. The committee has yet to endorse anyone for 1988, but a spokesman on its 10-member policy committee says they will soon begin interviewing the candidates.
Young Hollywood is also quickly getting involved. In September, producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron came up with the idea of a caravan of 39 stars, including Chevy Chase, Michael J. Fox and Whoopi Goldberg, among others who toured the state helping to push for Proposition 65, designed to restrict the discharge of toxic chemicals into drinking water.
The campaign was an enormous success and the proposition passed with ease. Most of the organizers for the event came from a 500-member letterhead organization called The Network that was formed by Hayden and Fonda. The purpose of the group, according to coordinator Patrick Lippert, is to provide a link between the entertainment community and progressive issues and candidates.
"We won the initiative by a landslide," says Zadan. "That was encouraging to a lot of us. Seeing we could really affect change will lead us to do other things in coming years."
While Hollywood has a reputation as more cause-oriented than candidate-oriented, there are a number of specific issues that could have a potent impact on entertainment revenues in coming years. Music makers are closely watching the digital audio tape battle, for example, fearing that if the high-quality tape players are allowed to be manufactured here, the bottom could once again fall out in the sale of recorded music. On another front, the Directors Guild has been fighting against colorization of motion pictures, an issue that could wind up being settled in Washington.
Still the question arises: Is this resurgence in political activity reflective of a passing trend or a deeper commitment on the part of Hollywood? "It's idealism," says Duff-Medavoy, who worked for political pollster Pat Caddell in Washington for eight years before marrying Medavoy and moving here. "Celebrities want to do something bigger than themselves. Maybe they feel it's part of their civic duty, but they want to use their celebrity in a constructive way."
In the coming months, as candidates announce their presidential ambitions, Hollywood's kingpins will make their choices, gather their stars and put their money down.