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The Rock Activist : Danny Goldberg Is on a Roll, Coalition-Building for a Dazzling Array of Causes

February 10, 1989|ELAINE WOO | Times Staff Writer

It was a typical morning for Danny Goldberg, rock entrepreneur and political activist extraordinaire.

In a Universal City office that looked as if a mild earthquake had just rolled through it--the gold albums and celebrity-inscribed photos of Don Johnson, Sheena Easton and other clients all slightly askew, and wads of paper and loose cassettes scattered on the floor--Goldberg was glued to the phone.

One minute he was talking to an agent in Denmark about whether Johnson, the "Miami Vice" star who recently launched a singing career, should do a concert tour in Europe; the next minute he was calling Joan Baez about an upcoming awards dinner.

Then he switched gears and moved to politics, agreeing to set up a meeting for San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos with two local Democratic bigwigs: "Irving" (as in Irving Azoff, the MCA Entertainment head and Democratic contributor) and "Stanley" (as in Stanley Sheinbaum, the influential economist, publisher and lion of the political left).

An Intense Investigator

An hour later, Goldberg was trooping up and down the antiseptic corridors of MacLaren Hall, Los Angeles County's emergency shelter for abused children in El Monte, with a lawyer from the American Civil Liberties Union and a five-member welcoming committee of top administrators. He was intent on getting a handle on the kinds of children who wind up there--and whether MacLaren needs any prodding to serve them better. A few months earlier, he had toured the jails with the same intensity.

"I don't golf, I don't ski, I don't play tennis," Goldberg, a tall man with a slight paunch and longish, tousled hair, said recently. "The time other people put into what they would call their hobby, I put into this stuff"--by which he meant an array of social and political issues that concern him, from stopping U.S. aid to the Nicaraguan Contras and fighting censorship of rock lyricists to stumping for the ACLU.

Goldberg is president of Gold Spaceship Management, which manages stellar rock and pop names such as Belinda Carlisle, Bonnie Raitt and Johnson. He also is president of two record companies: Gold Castle, aimed at the "Big Chill" generation reared on Joan Baez, Judy Collins and Peter, Paul and Mary; and Gold Mountain, which features newer artists such as ex-Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones.

But, as his recent morning schedule indicates, Goldberg is not just a successful rock 'n' roll entrepreneur. At 38, he is fast becoming the Norman Lear of the baby-boom generation, an outspoken activist who is marshaling the resurgent activism of Hollywood's brightest young stars behind progressive causes.

Recently, Goldberg was reelected to a second term as chairman of the Southern California American Civil Liberties Union Foundation, the youngest person ever to hold the position with the ACLU's legal and educational arm.

Some who have witnessed Goldberg's rapid ascent in local and national political circles say he has carved out a niche for himself as someone who not only can put money and celebrities together for a candidate or cause but who has some fresh ideas about communicating the progressive point of view to the public.

Lear--the television producer who founded People for the American Way, the liberal lobbying group formed nine years ago to counter the influence of the Fundamentalist Right--calls Goldberg one of Hollywood's new leaders who is encouraging social and political involvement by young entertainers, including the "Brat Pack" crowd.

"He is a terrific role model for that generation of young performers . . . the Meg Ryans, Rob Lowes and Ally Sheedys," Lear said.

Goldberg--with film producer Patricia Duff-Medavoy, deputy chief city attorney John Emerson and Betsy Kenny, vice president for public affairs at Act III Communications, Lear's TV production company--is a founder of the SHOW Coalition, an entertainment industry network for the baby-boom-and-younger generations. The coalition sponsors educational forums on political issues.

Recruiting New Blood

He has already begun to reinvigorate the ACLU foundation board, recruiting, among others, actor Richard Dreyfuss and "Family Ties" television producer Gary David Goldberg (no relation).

The rock manager's under-40 status was a major reason, members say, why the board of the ACLU foundation picked him two years ago as its chairman.

Said Sheinbaum, an ACLU stalwart who nominated Goldberg for the chair Sheinbaum held for almost a decade in the 1970s: "The ACLU membership and leadership had gotten to be as old as I am, which is 68. It was time to reinvigorate the organization with younger people, who were showing signs of (shedding) the apathy of the '70s and the yuppiedom of the '80s. Danny, with his wide range of contacts and the stature he has with younger people inside and outside of entertainment was a natural choice" to lead the group into the next decade.

Sheinbaum added, "He's one of the smartest people I have ever known."

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