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A look inside Hollywood and the movies. : A Hollywood Ending for That Meeting

April 25, 1993|JANE GALBRAITH

Even in the entertainment industry, where yelling and screaming is considered acceptable behavior, some behavior apparently crosses the line. And no one now knows that more than James Carville, President Clinton's campaign strategist and presidential adviser, who has suffered a symbolic spanking by his superiors following a recent rancorous White House meeting with high-powered Hollywood types.

"Anthony Perkins playing Fidel Castro on acid," is how producer-director Gary David Goldberg ("Family Ties" and "Brooklyn Bridge") recounts Carville's profanity-peppered rantings at the group on March 27. The group had flown to Washington at their own expense to advise the Clinton Administration on selling health-care reforms to the nation.

At the receiving end of Carville's barbs: MCA President Sidney Sheinberg, TriStar Chairman Mike Medavoy, Geffen Foundation President Bob Burkett and Marge Tabankin of the Hollywood Women's Political Committee, among others. Not people one wants to cross--in or out of Hollywood. After all, they were invited guests whose ideas about slogans and marketing and their ability to mobilize celebrities the Clintons have come to appreciate.

The fallout from the encounter with the sometimes-abrasive Carville? "It's safe to say we won't be sending Carville out to meet with these folks again," a White House source said, commenting further that Clinton (who breezed through the Roosevelt Room meeting to shake hands) doesn't want to alienate his celebrity pals, who regularly troop through 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Carville's remarks were so laden with four-letter words that Washington gossip columnists could only paraphrase what he said at the meeting.

But according to some of those present, what was most offensive was Carville's lecturing-turned-condescending tone that suggested the wealthy, famous Hollywood types were in no position to offer advice to ordinary middle-class Americans struggling to pay escalating medical costs.

Goldberg became so angry during the meeting that he threw his notes at Carville and said, "I may be in this room now, but I wasn't born in this room. . . . My mother died because she didn't have adequate health care. How dare you speak to us this way?" Goldberg has since resigned from the voluntary advisory group.

The apparent cavalier attitude toward the group members carried over to aides organizing the meeting. A producer said he was amused when a twentysomething aide in jeans asked Sheinberg to repeat his name and occupation. "That's probably the first time in history those words have ever been uttered to Sid Sheinberg!"

Only Medavoy, who, with the "Designing Women" television producing team of Linda Bloodworth-Thomason and Harry Thomason, was an early and very visible Clinton supporter, still defends Carville.

"Frankly, it would be Hollywood's loss not to have Mr. Carville involved (in future meetings). . . . Maybe he's a little rough, but I admire his ability to cut through it."

Privately, however, some feel betrayed by Medavoy's siding with Carville against them.

Goldberg, meanwhile, has gone public with his outrage in response to Carville's comments to the press over the same incident.

"I didn't want to talk to anybody about it . . . but then Carville goes and plants stories about how we're a bunch of spoiled people. He's just an arrogant (expletive deleted)," he said.

Comments made by the campaign strategist (who also worked on the unsuccessful L.A. mayoral campaign of Richard Katz) showed up last week in Time magazine: "If a Hollywood producer who makes $20 million a year thinks I'm arrogant, that's unfortunate. If a $20,000-a-year computer programmer in Holly Springs, Miss., thinks I'm arrogant, that's a tragedy." He made additional comments to People: "Some saw what I was trying to do, which was provoke responses. I'm not somebody that goes in and says, 'Let's all hold hands in an encounter session.' They probably do a lot of touchy-feely stuff. I'm sure that works in their culture. Ours is 'What can we do today?' "

Now Carville sounds a little more contrite. Reached in Atlanta last week, where he was giving a speech, the Louisiana native accepted being labeled a "country bumpkin" as compared to sophisticated Hollywood image-makers.

"I'm the ultimate hayseed. If they don't like me, that's fine. I can go through life without ever having lunch with those producers. What's important is to help the President. That's my concern. This little disagreement, you know, it just leaves everybody a little empty. It don't think it's anything important."

Apparently, others on the advisory panel are also willing to forget the whole mess and move on.

Smoothing the way is Ira Magaziner, the day-to-day manager of Clinton's health-care task force, who ran the daylong session, and has since sent a follow-up thank you letter to the Hollywood participants for their input that day and asking for their continued support.

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