Things got off to a rocky start. It was erroneously announced that Elton John would sing at the Presidential gala. A miffed Michael Jackson publicly denied reports that he asked to be the sole star at the only official inaugural performance. Not only were a number of celebrities initially omitted from guest lists, but some high-powered names that made the cut decided to forgo the hassle and stay home.
Nevertheless, Hollywood is in the grip of Clinton fever, turning out in force for next week's all-star Inaugural festivities. Many are heading for LAX on Saturday--the same day that the four-car "New York Broadway Presidential Inaugural Train" will be transporting 200 of their East Coast colleagues, including Mickey Rooney, Lauren Bacall and Michael Douglas, to Washington's Union Station.
"That 'Camelot' feeling has surfaced again after all these years in the wilderness," notes Bob Burkett, a key Clinton fund-raiser who oversees mogul David Geffen's political, charitable and public interest work. "People personalize Clinton in the same way they did Kennedy. He relates to this community. He's comfortable with it. He has a lot of charisma."
Margery Tabankin, executive director of the Hollywood Women's Political Committee feels a revived sense of hope at the thought of a new generation coming into power. "We're seeing a kind of energy which never manifested itself under Reagan and Bush," she says.
Some skeptics suggest, however, that more than altruism is involved.
"Hollywood is pathologically drawn to power like moths to a flame," a prominent producer notes. "Finally people are getting a whiff of the real thing. Their best selves elected Clinton. Now their worst selves are kicking in. All this talk of private jets and what to wear. Hollywood thinks this party is for them. There's a lot of ego-tripping going on."
Among those scheduled to attend: John Cooke, president of the Disney Channel; Sony CEO Peter Guber; Mike Medavoy, chairman of TriStar Pictures; Democratic activist Patricia Duff Medavoy; independent producer Dawn Steel; producer Charles Roven, an early Clinton supporter; Ted Harbert, president of ABC Entertainment; Mark Canton, chairman of Columbia Pictures; Terry Semel, president of Warner Bros. Inc.; and producer Steve Tisch, chairman of AIDS Project/Los Angeles and a longtime friend of Vice President-elect Al Gore.
Performers--many of whom are scheduled to participate--include Barbra Streisand, Geena Davis, Anjelica Huston, Richard Dreyfuss, Bette Midler, Mimi Rogers, Christine Lahti, Sally Field, Goldie Hawn, Chevy Chase, Mary Steenburgen, Dana Delaney, Don Henley, Diana Ross, Michael Bolton and Kenny Loggins.
At the President-elect's request, the veteran rock band Little Feat has been asked to perform--a nod to the fact that the group's Fred Tackett played trumpet in the 1963 Arkansas All-State band in which Clinton himself played first tenor saxophone.
The strong turnout was not unexpected given the Democratic bent of the entertainment community and the "cultural elite" barbs slung by the current regime. Fully 40% of the current Grammy Award nominees are scheduled to play at inaugural dinners and balls.
"This is the hippest President we've had in decades," remarks Denzyl Feigelson, Loggins' personal manager, "a man who played sax on the Arsenio Hall Show and turned in one of his most effective campaign appearances on MTV. We just sent him a fax, asking him to play "Celebrate Me Home"--one of his favorites--along with Kenny at an inaugural ball."
In Hollywood circles, however, the eleven balls are among the less prestigious events given the number of people expected to attend--12,000 at the Arkansas ball alone--and the abbreviated appearances the First-Couple-to-Be is expected to make at each. Hot tickets include the "Rock the Vote" Benefit, MTV's Rock 'n' Roll Ball and Tuesday night's Presidential Gala featuring Streisand, Jackson and the Fleetwood Mac reunion. Hotter still is a decent place to sit or stand at the swearing-in ceremony at which luminaries such as Guber, Semel and Steel will be present.
The ticketing debacle arose, in part, from the late distribution of the 200,000 invitations, many of which didn't trickle in until last week, a few of them by fax. Some folks received a formal package inviting them to attend a variety of inaugural events, both paid and public.
Others who expected to make the cut fell through the cracks because each official event was overseen by a different producer. Invitations didn't reach Midler, Alec Baldwin, Peter, Paul and Mary and Robert De Niro until very late in the game. Actresses Jennifer Grey and Ali MacGraw, who stomped hard for Clinton, were also left out.
"There was no master list, no central group or individual in charge,' notes one high-placed observer. "It would have been easy enough to put everything in a computer, but, as it was, egos were bruised. Everything was a mess."
TV producer Harry Thomason ("Designing Women"), a Clinton crony and the chief talent coordinator of the inaugural, makes no apologies. "By opening up the event to so many people, I guess we brought this on ourselves," he says. "But half of the tickets were given away or sold to the general public. I'm pleased that we treated actors no differently from a farmer in Ohio."
Insiders point out that Hollywood was, in no way, singled out--that scores of labor organizers, civil rights activists and financial kingpins were also left off the list. "People seem to be treating the inaugural as a 'Batman' premiere," charges one studio executive. "For people to get their feelings bent out of shape because they weren't invited is just plain silly. People lent Clinton their time and support to see some political change, not to get a party invitation I would hope."
At least one industry higher-up understands the ruffled feathers. "I called Washington to clarify the terms of an invitation," she recalls, "and was told that Hillary Clinton had sent down an edict that no one was to be given special treatment. What a dumb thing to desperately solicit the help of all these stars, asking them to raise money and make speeches, then told them they're no different than anyone else. People felt used."
Patrick Lippert, executive director of Rock the Vote and a political coordinator for the entertainment industry for the past eight years, is overseeing two days of tours of the Capitol Building as well as the Rock the Vote benefit. To avoid any foul-ups, an individual was hired to insure that each celebrity performing at the festivities would get an invitation. Jason Berman and Jack Valenti, chiefs of the Recording Industry Assn. and MPAA respectively, called up record labels and studios to enlist their help.
"The problems, as I understand it, occurred with the official events rather than the private parties," Lippert remarks. "But, in any case, people in this town know how to pull strings. I doubt that anyone who wants to pay for a ticket to the Arkansas ball--despite reports that it's sold out--will be denied."
Pat Kingsley, president of PMK Publicity and a veteran Democratic activist, forecasts that the storm will be short-lived. "Bureaucratic oversights may be tarnishing Clinton's image for the moment, but they'll be forgotten before long," she maintains.
Longtime Clinton supporter Dawn Steel hopes that she's right. "Bill and Hillary told me that they want the inaugural to be 'inclusive' and putting that into effect was a logistical nightmare," she says. "After all these years of living under a very conservative Republican roof, I would hope that Hollywood can get past the 'I haven't been invited to this party' syndrome and enjoy the event for the very important moment in history it is."
But Wait! There's More!
Here are some of the big names set to appear starting Sunday . . . F9
A look at who has the televised events and how they got them . . . F9