No star turns in Obama’s sweep

It can be dangerous to diss an entire town of divas.

When it comes to his relationship with Hollywood, though, President Obama seems willing to run the risk. Industry support for the new president is broad and deep and the film and television communities not only raised money for his presidential campaign at crucial junctures but also provided celebrities who worked the ground campaign in some of the toughest state primaries. After Obama’s victory, Hollywood types virtually went on location to Washington, D.C., helping to stage the new chief executive’s inaugural and turning it into a star-studded, Oscar-wattage event.

Is it any wonder that many of Obama’s industry backers were left puzzled this week by what many see as a decision to hold Hollywood at arm’s length?

The why-are-we-being-left-out feelings began Tuesday, when the White House turned its annual St. Patrick’s Day party into the new administration’s biggest social bash yet. The huge guest list was top heavy with Chicagoans -- including Mayor Richard Daley and wife Maggie, of course -- and East Coast Irish American pols and notables. They got the chance to raise a glass with Brian Cowan, the Irish Taoiseach (that’s pronounced Tee-shuck and means “chief” in Gaelic -- it’s what the Irish call their prime minister), Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams (Hollywood loves rebellious types) and even a famous Irish poet, Paul Muldoon, now on the Princeton faculty. Despite the longtime Irish fondness for Hollywood, there wasn’t a star, studio exec or even agent to be found on the guest list. (Isn’t Clooney an Irish name?)


In fact, only a handful of Californians made the cut. Nicole Avant, doyenne of L.A. Obama-ites, was among the invited, along with political strategist Kerman Maddox. The only elected official from the Golden State was Simi Valley Republican Elton Gallegly, one of the House’s stalwart opponents of immigration reform. (Are we still doing the bipartisan thing?) La Jolla resident Christine Forester, the architect turned management consultant, is an old Chicago friend and Obama fundraiser from the president’s days as an Illinois state legislator.

The other Californians who were invited are all Democratic fundraisers with no visible ties to Hollywood: Obama’s co-finance chair Charlie Rivkin from Santa Monica, technology consultant Steve Spinner from Menlo Park, Montecito’s Nancy Koppelman (she gave the other fundraising reception the day of Oprah Winfrey’s famous garden party) and Tom Unterman, chief executive of the Rustic Canyon Partners in Santa Monica. (He’s also a longtime advisor to the Los Angeles Times’ former owners, the Chandler family.)

From Hollywood’s perspective, Obama’s slight was accentuated during his two-day barnstorming swing through Los Angeles and Orange counties Wednesday and Thursday. There were no significant social get-togethers with his many industry supporters and fundraisers. It was a marked contrast to the last Democratic administration. Bill Clinton always found time to meet with the entertainment community and often stayed at the homes of billionaires Ron Burkle and Haim Saban. Obama chose the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza.

Invitations and face time are thank you notes of presidential politics and by this morning, there are a number of industry activists looking at their empty mailboxes and wondering whether they were overlooked or undervalued? Or perhaps they’re too glitzy for the president’s A-list. In case you haven’t read, the rich aren’t in vogue this season.


Richardson’s charitable legacy

Natasha Richardson, who died this week at age 45 after a tragic ski accident, was not only a gifted actress but a committed fundraiser for AIDS-related causes.

The actress was on the board of the U.S.-based American Foundation for AIDS Research charity (amfAR). It was a cause particularly dear to her heart in part because her father, film and theater director Tony Richardson, died of AIDS in 1991.

Paying tribute, a spokesperson for the charity said on the group’s website: “Natasha Richardson was a dedicated AIDS advocate and an eloquent spokesperson for amfAR. She generously contributed her time and resources to amfAR for over 15 years. Natasha’s passion for the cause and tireless efforts gave hope and inspiration to the scientists and healthcare workers on the front lines of this deadly epidemic, as well as to the millions of people living with HIV/AIDS around the world.”


In 1999, the actress spearheaded “Unforgettable: Fashion of the Oscars,” an auction of Academy Award dresses that raised more than $1.5 million for AIDS research. In the U.S., she also worked with the groups Bailey House, Elton John AIDS Foundation, God’s Love We Deliver and Mothers’ Voices. In the United Kingdom, she was involved in the AIDS Crisis Trust and National AIDS Trust, for which she was ambassador. In November 2000, she was honored with amfAR’s Award of Courage.