The first time Ruth Goldway visited the White House, she looked at the carpet in the Oval Office. “This isn’t right,” she said. “The color of this rug is wrong.”
The rug in President Clinton’s office is a lovely blue. But the Oval Office carpet that Goldway was already familiar with was the one on the set of the hit movie “Dave.” Authenticity be damned. For Hollywood purposes, the President has a warm brown carpet, the better to please the art director.
In a small way, Goldway is right at the spot where Hollywood and Washington converge, a place where many want to be these days.
She is, after all, a genuine former mayor of Santa Monica and a card-carrying Friend of Bill who is married to a real Clinton appointee, albeit one who quit after less than 100 days as a deputy undersecretary in the Commerce Department. Moreover, Goldway is, if not exactly a movie star, at least a woman with a film credit. In “Dave” she plays the only female member of the Cabinet of fictional President Bill Mitchell (although she hasn’t given up her day job as manager for public affairs of the J. Paul Getty Trust).
No, says Goldway, whose husband, economist Derek Shearer, helped shape Clinton’s economic policy during last year’s campaign, she doesn’t think Washington is looking toward Hollywood for answers, despite the number of celebrities reported to be using the White House phone. But the people she knows in the White House are mostly baby boomers, and Boomers take their pop culture seriously.
“The current Administration is made up of people who are younger than those in the last two administrations and people who have more enthusiasm for popular culture,” she said. “I think it’s generational. I don’t think Bill Clinton is star-struck.”
Goldway got the part through “Dave” screenwriter Gary Ross, who was a speech writer for former Democratic presidential hopeful Michael S. Dukakis.
“Gary and Derek were both on the Dukakis joke team during the end of the campaign,” she said, a task that must have made writing a successful movie look like a snap. When Goldway was asked if she would like to play the token woman in the fictional Cabinet, she was also asked what department she thought the character should head. “Since I’m the token woman,” she said, “it should be education.”
In costuming the film, director Ivan Reitman and his crew decided Beltway dowdy was the way to go. Goldway was given a choice of dress-for-success looks from Talbot’s. She consented to the classic navy blue blazer and the gray skirt that extended well below her knees, but she drew the line at the blouse proposed by the wardrobe department. It was, she recalled, a prim little flowered number that closed at the neck with a bow. “I really can’t do this,” she said, arguing for the attractive white silk shirt she wears on screen.
“Dave” was shot last fall during the presidential campaign. Each morning, she said, her husband would receive a copy of Clinton’s daily campaign schedule via the fax at their Santa Monica home. One day she grabbed the dozen or so pages that outlined the candidate’s exhausting itinerary and brought them with her to the set at Warner Bros. in Burbank.
“This is what a real President has to do,” she told Kevin Kline as he was being made up to play the presidential stand-in of the movie’s title. Kline seemed genuinely impressed that Clinton managed to talk to so many different individuals and groups without benefit of a script.
Although Goldway, like most Angelenos, sometimes tweaks the film business, “I was thrilled to be part of it,” she said. She would love to do it again, although she knows it will never make her rich (she made about $1,000 for her few days’ work). “Derek’s been telling all our friends I have to be very careful about picking my second role.”
Shearer, who will be back teaching at Occidental College in the fall, told reporters recently he left the Clinton Administration for personal reasons, including Goldway’s health. She declined to elaborate, but assured that “I am not on my deathbed.”
“We have a life here and commitments,” she said.
When the movie opened recently at a theater on Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, one after another of her friends whispered, “There’s Ruth.” They all howled when her character was identified as Ruth Shearer, knowing that Goldway never uses her married name professionally.
She loved the buzz.
“I should have been standing outside on the sidewalk signing autographs,” she said, then laughed, “but I’m too cool for that.”