The Hollywood Money Palaces
It’s high season for politics in Hollywood, with the presidential primaries just weeks away, and that means the glitterati are engaged in their favorite recreational drama: political fundraising at the homes of the rich and famous. There are so many events these days, you need a closet full of pressed suits, a detailed knowledge of Beverly Hills’ winding canyon roads and enough money to cover the campaign donations ($2,300 a pop). From the outside, it may look like pay-per-view politics, but you must be on some serious person’s serious guest list to get a seat at these soirees. The trend began in the 1960s as a way for Hollywood to secure its interests in Washington, and then to advance its own generally liberal agendas. Nowadays, dozens of industry executives are lending candidates across the political spectrum their support as well as their homes as campaign platforms.
THE HOUSE: The billionaire’s stunning Green Acres estate in Beverly Hills is to contemporary political fundraising what Versailles was to European royalty. Formerly the home of silent movie star Harold Lloyd, it has become the premier gathering spot for mega-money Democratic Party events.
THE DISH: This is Old Hollywood opulence upgraded with good taste--and museum-quality art collections. (The Hockneys in the living room are to die for.) Some believe it’s worth the political donation just to wander the corridors, even if it means being trailed by security guards who look like Secret Service agents (maybe because they are).
The haul for a Clinton event (Bill’s or Hillary’s) often exceeds $1 million. Aides for Burkle, a one-time bidder for The Times’ owner, Tribune Co., estimate that he’s raised $100 million since buying the house in the early 1990s. The entertainment alone is a huge draw: Barbra Streisand has performed there for Bill Clinton, and the Eagles played for Al Gore during his presidential run.
The Tuscan-style villa has 44 rooms. Better bring your GPS, or you could find yourself lost on the estate until the next round of presidential contenders comes through in 2012.
THE HOUSE: If you believe in karma, Rob Reiner’s Brentwood home is sacred ground for the ghosts of liberal Hollywood. (Henry Fonda and Norman Lear were owners.)
THE DISH: Reiner hosted a birthday party/fundraiser for Hillary Clinton last month on the back lawn, generating more than $500,000. He even took the stage to lead the crowd in singing “Happy Birthday” to the senator.
His yard is a prime gathering spot, but it doesn’t compare with the home’s screening room, with its tiered rows of comfy couches and chairs. Though there’s a price for admission (i.e. a campaign contribution), the popcorn is always free.
Legendary TV producer
THE HOUSE: After selling his Brentwood estate to Reiner in 1991, Lear moved a few miles away to a hilltop home. There his art collection commands attention: Diebenkorn, Graham, Rauschenberg and more.
THE DISH: Lear, a prolific donor to Democratic candidates, is constantly hosting parties. There are gatherings for his advocacy group, People for the American Way, and his get-out-the-vote effort, Declare Yourself. Everyone ends up lounging in the screening room. (Quincy Jones and George Clooney are occasional guests.)
There’s a joke among members of People for the American Way: Lear started his political efforts years ago in his garage. Now he owns one large enough to host a convention.
THE HOUSE: People don’t go to Huffington’s Brentwood villa for cash; they go for intellectual capital. These days, she runs Hollywood’s hottest salon, hosting luminaries such as Tina Brown, Rahm Emanuel and John McCain.
THE DISH: The Mediterranean-style home is feminine and comfortable. The living room is decorated with plush velvet settees and fabulous art: two paintings by Picasso’s mistress, Francoise Gilot, and paintings by an artist who has not yet been discovered, Huffington’s 16-year-old daughter Isabella.
Framed photos of friends and loved ones are displayed on every table. (You’d have to move dozens of them to open the grand piano.) She’s a gracious hostess--maybe it’s the Greek accent. Sisterhood never was so powerful or elegant.
Television and film producer
THE HOUSE: The Academy Award-winning producer of “American Beauty” is a serious Democratic fundraiser and longtime Hillary Clinton supporter who acquired an ideal setting for his activism when he purchased Lloyd Wright’s 1958 Mace House in West Hollywood.
THE DISH: “It has a very Sinatra-martini-bachelor-pad feel,” says Cohen, who is an executive producer of ABC’s “Pushing Daisies.” The living room--with floor-to-ceiling windows--and patio around the backyard pool have been the backdrops for two Hillary Clinton senatorial fundraisers, as well as for events supporting Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and legislation to legalize gay marriage in California.
Cohen and his partner, Gabe Catone, have decorated the residence with modern furniture and art. (A neon sculpture, expressionist paintings.) As for the architecture, Wright incorporated textile blocks into the design of the house and built some of the home’s corners completely of glass. After a rain, Cohen can see Catalina Island and Santa Monica Bay from his backyard. If only politics were so clear.
THE HOUSE: Haim Saban’s high-security estate is in the mega-mansion development of Beverly Park. (Producer Mike Medavoy and his wife, Irena, live next door. Denzel Washington also is in the neighborhood.)
THE DISH: Saban’s events are big moneymakers, a la Ron Burkle’s. He rallied Hollywood’s Democrats there at a fundraiser for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger during his reelection campaign (music courtesy of Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds).
A clear all-weather tent--lighted by chandeliers--is used as a central gathering spot behind the main house. But guests beware: The invitation should come with a Thomas Guide. You’ll find the exit after the watermill, the fountains and the topiary animals on the lawn.
AND LET’S NOT FORGET: Mall developer Rick Caruso and investment guru Brad Freeman, both in Brentwood, have become the Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin of Republican money men. Former Paramount head Sherry Lansing and her husband, director William Friedkin, have hosted this season’s top Democratic contenders at their Bel-Air mansion. Mogul David Geffen held a rare dinner party for Sen. Barack Obama at his Beverly Hills estate. Producer Lawrence Bender’s Holmby Hills house has become a popular hangout for national political hopefuls. . . . They don’t call it the Golden State for nothing.