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Can Backing Bush Hurt a Celebrity? : V.P.'s Campaign Aide Sees Hollywood Bias Against Conservatives

Times Staff Writer

Rene A. Henry Jr. says he’s “not going to name names.”

But the director of Entertainment USA for the Bush campaign wants to talk about how difficult it is getting celebrities, even “some very big names,” to go public with their support for the Republican candidates in this election.

“Very difficult,” he said.

Specifically, Henry believes that some personalities who are pro-George Bush are “misrepresented” by their “liberal Democrat” agents and public relations representatives, while other show business conservatives won’t join the vice president’s attacks on the ACLU out of fear “that it could jeopardize their careers.”

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Still, the vice president didn’t seem to have any trouble hauling out some Hollywood artillery for post-debate appearances around California last week.

There was Chuck Norris, seemingly stuck to Bush’s side like a Secret Service agent at pep rallies in Cerritos and San Diego on Friday as well as a 140-mile bus trip through the San Joaquin Valley on Saturday.

Norris’ fans needn’t worry that he is becoming a Republican fat cat: While Bush feasted on chili and chocolate milkshakes at a diner in Turlock, the waist-conscious Norris stuck to fruit salad.

“My producers are screaming at me for doing this,” Norris said about his first-ever campaign experience. “I’m in pre-production right now, and they want me to be getting ready for this film.”

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Because they’re Democrats?

“Um, I don’t know what they are,” he said. “They’re just movie makers.”

Greeting Bush at the Stockton airport was “Kojak’s” Telly Savalas. Among the boys on the bus were Beach Boys Mike Love and Bruce Johnston. They entertained crowds in cities along California 99 with a cappella renditions of “California Girls” and “Good Vibrations,” whose lyrics were changed to: “I’m picking up Bush vibrations / He’s the best guy to lead this nation.” (Surprisingly, the Bush campaign has played staunch Democrat Barbra Streisand’s tunes at other rallies.)

Former “Charlie’s Angel” Cheryl Ladd became George’s Angel on Wednesday when she accompanied Barbara Bush to the Shriners Hospital for Crippled Children. “I think there are a lot of people in this town who are going to vote for George Bush who don’t feel comfortable standing up and saying they’re going to,” said Ladd.

Why? “Because it’s unpopular.”

At a post-debate rally for Bush at Loyola Marymount College on Thursday night, paparazzi politics were in full swing. Joining Norris were Efrem Zimbalist Jr. and his daughter, Stephanie (“Remington Steele”); Jamie Farr (“MASH”); and Gabe Kaplan, the comedian and former Democrat who told Rene Henry: “My schedule is clear. When you need me, call me.” Andy Williams did his bit by crooning the “Star Spangled Banner.”

Where was Arnold Schwarzenegger? Out of the country. Charlton Heston? In China. Frank Sinatra? On tour. And Tom Selleck? “He has no time to do anything political,” his spokeswoman said. Plus, the vice president’s heaviest of hitters--independent producer Jerry Weintraub, Paramount’s Frank Mancuso and New World Pictures’ Harry Evans Sloan--simply don’t stump.

Even so, Henry and Reagan intimate A. C. Lyles, a producer at Paramount who is Hollywood coordinator for Bush, have replaced them with scores of other show-biz types, from newly converted Republicans Scott Baio and Yakov Smirnoff to longtime GOP-ers Bob Hope and Robert Stack. And the vice president boasted in the second debate how Crystal Gayle joined him for a farm-policy swing recently through the Midwest.

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Henry, a former Los Angeles public relations executive, said in a telephone interview from Washington that the roster of pro-Bush movie and TV celebrities totals 160 “as of last week"--only about half the estimated number supporting Michael Dukakis. But, in terms of celebrity status, Henry claims both lists are about equal.

“Our Lisa Welchel on ‘Facts of Life’ and Jill Whelan from the ‘Love Boat’ offset Justine Bateman and Rob Lowe. Our Loretta Lynn is as popular as their singer Paul Simon,” he noted. “And where do you put a Schwarzenegger?”

But Henry said the Bush camp still doesn’t know who are--and are not--supporters. “When we first started in the beginning of the summer, well before the conventions, it was tough. Because a lot of the P.R. people and the agents, who are liberal Democrats, tried to block us from getting their clients. Most of them have been absolute obstacles.”

He contended that “there have been cases where the people have said, ‘No, he’s not supporting (Bush),’ or ‘No, she’s not supporting (Bush).’ And, when we got through to the individual, the individual said, ‘Of course, I’m supporting (Bush).’

“And I’ve had cases where a P.R. person or an agent has called and said, ‘Look, this person may be involved but you can’t use his or her name.’ They should realize that we are going to get to the individual and the individual will say, ‘Yes, you can use my name.’ ”

The Bush campaign also had to scrap plans to counter the blitz of pro-ACLU ads by Burt Lancaster, Jill Eikenberry and Michael Tucker with a celebrity-studded series of TV spots supporting the vice president’s attacks on the civil liberties organization.

“I talked to several people, some very big names, who just had to decline,” Henry said. “They said they’d be glad to speak out on any issue, but ‘let’s leave that off the agenda.’ I would be willing to bet that it could jeopardize their careers.”

Henry said he doesn’t think that “because somebody is a Republican in Hollywood, somebody is going to get blacklisted. I don’t think anybody would blackball anybody for however they feel unless they came out (against) the ACLU.”

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To understand what’s happening, he counsels, “look at the David Begelman-Cliff Robertson situation. (Actor Robertson uncovered former Columbia Pictures studio chief Begelman’s cashing of phony checks.) There’s an unwritten law in Hollywood that makes it very difficult to buck whatever might be Establishment. And, obviously, it’s been known for years that generally most of the Hollywood Establishment are liberal-oriented.”

Henry’s charges echo those of a September article in the conservative National Review that professes that Hollywood is “institutionally leftist"--a place where “liberal sharks circle everywhere, and conservatives are short on lifeboats.”

The article contends that the film industry is “about 70 percent to 85 percent liberal” and quotes Tom Selleck as saying that the reason conservatives in Hollywood don’t speak out more is because “conservatives are gun shy. They still have families. They have to work for a living.”

The National Review also notes “widespread speculation” that Charlton Heston’s conservative Republican politics have “hurt his career.” Asked if Heston believes this, Heston’s spokesman told The Times: “He says no.”

Several pro-Bush celebrities contacted by The Times did not think their careers have been hurt by their vocal support for Bush. “I don’t think so, but then I’m not really part of Hollywood. I’ve never been one of the boys,” Chuck Norris said.

Cheryl Ladd says she “hasn’t gotten any threatening phone calls or anything like that.” And though she can feel like odd man out in political discussions on the set, “I don’t think in any way there is any kind of blacklisting because you vote for a different candidate.”


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