Escaping the Shadow of the Silver Screen : ‘Salvador’ Portrayal Dogs Screenwriter in Bid for Assembly Seat
Screenwriter Richard David Boyle wrote about his experiences as a hard-drinking, dope-smoking, womanizing journalist in the 1986 movie “Salvador.”
Now he is running as the Democratic nominee in the 42nd District against Assemblyman Richard L. Mountjoy (R-Monrovia), and he concedes that his movie persona, although it won actor James Woods an Oscar nomination, is not what a political manager would order for a campaign film.
Critic Leonard Maltin put it this way in a book of capsule movie reviews: “Salvador” is a compelling drama, but doesn’t grab hold initially because the lead characters are “such incredible sleazeballs.”
The film, which earned Boyle an Oscar nomination for screenwriting, also shows him as courageous, clever, daring and good-hearted.
Nevertheless, it would seem like a politician’s dream to have a political opponent depicted as a “sleazeball” in a Hollywood movie that voters can rent in neighborhood video stores. But it hasn’t worked out that way for Mountjoy.
Mountjoy was quoted in the Pasadena Star-News on Aug. 27 as remarking about Boyle: “In his movie, he admits he’s a womanizer and a drunkard.” A sister publication, the Arcadia Tribune, seized upon that quote to attack Mountjoy editorially on Sept. 7 for “intemperate remarks” and to accuse him of confusing Boyle, the person, with Boyle, the character in a movie, and of hitting “below the belt.”
Citing that editorial, which also ran in the Tribune-affiliated newspapers in Temple City, Monrovia and Duarte, Boyle issued a press release last week claiming that “Mountjoy’s smear campaign” has backfired and promising to take the campaign “out of the gutter toward the high road of talking issues.”
Mountjoy said he was bewildered by the editorial criticism because he had done no more than repeat what Boyle had said about himself. The assemblyman said he had based his remark not on the movie, which he has not seen in full, but on a newspaper story that said Boyle acknowledged that he was accurately portrayed in the movie as a hard-drinking womanizer.
Mountjoy said he finds it “incredible” for a candidate to say something derogatory about himself and then denounce his opponent for repeating it.
After Mountjoy complained to the editors, the Arcadia Tribune and its affiliated newspapers published another editorial Wednesday withdrawing the accusation that Mountjoy had engaged in gutter campaigning, saying the editorial had been based on an “ambiguous report.” But the papers said they hoped the candidates would concentrate on issues, records and ideas, rather than “personal sniping.”
Mountjoy said a friend loaned him a videotape of “Salvador,” but he viewed only the opening scenes. “I watched about 20 minutes of it,” he said. “It’s not my type of movie . . . (with) the string of four-letter words and the whole nine yards. I clicked it off.”
The assemblyman said that all he knows about Boyle is what he has read in newspapers. “I don’t know the guy,” he said. “He might be a perfectly decent dude.”
Boyle moved to Sierra Madre in September and is pursuing a career in the film industry, including a television project based on his experiences in Vietnam. In politics, in addition to his own campaign, he is working on television commercials for Proposition 98, a school funding initiative. He also teaches classes at the USC film school.
Boyle said “Salvador,” which depicts his adventures as a free-lance journalist amid political strife and terrorism in El Salvador in 1980-81, is an accurate portrayal of himself, although the names of other people were changed and various incidents were condensed and rearranged.
Boyle said he wanted to depict what life is like as a foreign correspondent. “I wanted to be fairly realistic. So, if I’m hard on myself, I would rather be that way than the other way. Sure, I’ve done all those things in the film. But I’m now in a relationship, and if I’m a womanizer, I’m a womanizer with one woman. If I’m a drunkard, that’s a man’s opinion. That’s all relative.
‘Tried to Be Truthful’
“I tried to be truthful,” he said. “I’ve done some good things in my life and I’ve done some bad things.
“I didn’t make the film with the idea of using it as a vehicle to launch a political campaign,” he added. “But I think Mr. Mountjoy ought to meet me before he makes scurrilous charges.”
Besides, he said: “What voters have to ask themselves is: Who’s going to do the job for me? Who is going to get things done? If I’m a single mother, who’s going to help me get child care?’ That’s going to be a bigger issue than (whether) somebody ever smoked dope or had relations with more than one woman.”
Boyle said he would like to turn the campaign to the real issues by engaging in formal debates with Mountjoy.
“If Mountjoy has an ounce of guts, he’ll debate me,” Boyle said. “I’ll even buy a half-hour of TV time and pay for it if he will debate me.”
No Interest in Debating
Mountjoy rejected the offer. He said he has no interest in debating Boyle, but would hire a hall if Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) would come into the district for a debate. Mountjoy said he believes that Boyle has been sent to run against him by Brown since Boyle moved into the district recently, claims a long friendship with Brown and is preparing television commercials for an initiative campaign that is being managed by Brown’s political associate, Richard Ross.
Mountjoy said Brown, whose hold on the speakership has been weakened by the defection of five Assembly Democrats known as the Gang of Five, needs to elect new allies in November to retain power.
“Willie has to win a couple seats to survive, so he’s looking all over the state,” Mountjoy said. “He’s looking for someone with their guard down.”
Mountjoy said that even though he represents a district with a large Republican edge in registration, he is “not taking this one for granted. Let me tell you, Dick Mountjoy is working this district.”
But Boyle scoffed at the suggestion that he moved to Sierra Madre at Brown’s behest.
“If Willie Brown is going around placing people,” Boyle said, “he wouldn’t place anybody here.”
Brown agreed. “I’d have to be a lunatic,” he said, to spend time and money trying to beat Mountjoy, an incumbent Republican in a district with a Republican majority. Although Boyle has suggested that he expects help from Brown because “Willie and I are old friends,” Brown said he has not seen Boyle in years and recalls him only as “a newspaper guy” he knew 20 years ago.
Mountjoy remains suspicious. He said Brown could feign a lack of interest in the district and still pour in money at the last minute.
Free-Lancer in Vietnam
Boyle, 46, grew up in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Boyle said he was only 19 when he started a chain of neighborhood weekly newspapers in San Francisco. In 1965, he said, he sold the papers and went to Vietnam as a free-lance journalist.
He traveled to Vietnam four times, was wounded twice while working as a war correspondent, got involved with a South Vietnamese underground movement against the war, was thrown out of the country twice and wrote a book, “The Flower of the Dragon,” which received critical praise for chronicling worsening morale and mutiny among American troops.
Boyle ran for office twice in San Francisco, losing an election for state Senate in 1976 and for the Board of Supervisors the next year.
Mountjoy was born in a house on the Monrovia-Arcadia border 56 years ago and has lived in the area all his life. With his brother, he founded a highly successful construction company, which is now run by his two sons.
Lost Chairman’s Post
He said he got into politics almost accidentally. He had “been through every chair in the Elks,” he said, and was looking forward to a respite from community activities when friends insisted that he run for the Monrovia City Council. After eight years on the council, he ran for the state Legislature in 1978, defeating a Republican incumbent who had held the office for 32 years.
In Sacramento, he has been a strong supporter of Gov. George Deukmejian and a dedicated conservative. For a time, he was the second-ranking assemblyman in the Republican leadership. But he lost his post as caucus chairman in 1984 when former Assemblyman Robert Naylor was ousted as Republican leader by Assemblyman Pat Nolan (R-Glendale).
Mountjoy proudly points to his background in the construction business and is disdainful of legislators whose entire job experience is in politics and whose expertise is political fund-raising.
‘Totally Different Plane’
Just by talking to Assembly members on the floor, he said, he can tell which ones have a business background. Those who have been in business, he said, “are on a totally different plane than the guys who are down there trying to hustle a buck and trying to build their image and do all those great and glorious things.”
Mountjoy differs from many legislators in shunning speaking fees, free trips and other gifts. He characterizes himself as one of the Legislature’s poorest fund-raisers.
But he has built a strong political network in his district, attracting 400 volunteers to work with him on initiative campaigns and voter registration drives. He keeps in touch with constituents through newsletters and opinion pieces that are mailed at the expense of his political fund.
Coffee Shop Chats
Mountjoy flies his own plane to Sacramento for legislative sessions, stopping in Tehachapi to pick up another assemblyman, Phillip D. Wyman (R-Tehachapi). He is an expert mechanic and maintains his own plane. He also rebuilds old cars and builds model airplanes.
Mountjoy likes to wander into coffee shops in his district and chat anonymously with people at lunch counters to find out what they are thinking. He also conducts formal surveys, which he said show that his conservative views are in line with district voters 87% of the time.
But challenger Boyle said the district, which takes in Arcadia, Azusa, Bradbury, Duarte, Irwindale, Monrovia, San Gabriel, San Marino, Sierra Madre, South Pasadena and Temple City, is changing, and voters may agree with him on such matters as reinstating a state program regulating worker safety and increasing education funding.
“I’m not a wild-hair radical,” he said. “I’m a member of the National Rifle Assn. I believe people should have the right to have weapons in the home to defend themselves. I’m a fiscal conservative. I don’t believe in raising taxes.”
Smog and Congestion
But, he said, he does believe the state should be doing more to deal with such problems as smog and traffic congestion.
Boyle said his strategy is to register Democrats, draw attention to the campaign and then take a poll in mid-October to find out if he has a chance of winning.
Republicans outnumber Democrats 51% to 40% in the district, but Boyle said he hopes to register thousands of new Democratic voters. If his poll shows he can win, he said, he will seek fund-raising help from friends in the entertainment industry to mount a major campaign push.
Mountjoy said he plans to ignore Boyle and talk about his own record, including sponsorship of an initiative to keep local elections nonpartisan, and bills dealing with child molestation and gang violence.