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L.A.'s Long, Strange Tryst With the Democrats

Over the past 40 years, this city and this party have shaped--and been shaped by--the sexual revolution.

August 09, 2000|REED JOHNSON | Times Staff Writer

The Playboy Mansion party hounds are hopping with anticipation. An ex-prostitute turned onetime Libertarian Party hopeful is urging call girls to "minimize their risks" when scoping out the action around Staples Center because "an election year is a very hot year." The L.A.-based Advocate, the nation's oldest gay- and lesbian-oriented newsmagazine, is busily interviewing out-and-proud convention delegates. And a USC sexologist is declaring that, in Los Angeles next week, America will be seeing its own "sexual future."

In case you were too busy watching Britney Spears' navel to notice, the Democrats are coming to town. And, boy, has L.A.'s sex life, along with the nation's sense of erotic right and wrong, changed since the party of Bill Clinton last bedded down here en masse.

Marilyn Monroe was already John F. Kennedy's main Hollywood squeeze, but Beverly Hills' own Monica Lewinsky was barely a gleam in her parents' eyes when Los Angeles welcomed the virile JFK and his best and brightest to the brand-new Sports Arena in 1960. Though still ruled by an elite junta of straight white men, the Democratic Party was about to usher Americans onto the sexual New Frontiers. The pill went public the year Kennedy beat Richard Nixon, and thereon followed an impassioned coo heard 'round the world that ultimately would beget the Summer of Love, the Stonewall riots, Ms. magazine, Roe vs. Wade, "Deep Throat," the bathhouses of Castro Street in San Francisco and the birth of test-tube baby Louise Joy Brown.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Monday November 20, 2000 Home Edition Southern California Living Part E Page 3 View Desk 1 inches; 32 words Type of Material: Correction
Photo credit--An Aug. 9 photograph of President Clinton and Hugh Hefner that was credited courtesy of Playboy should have been credited to Nathanson Photography, which The Times is advised owns the copyright for the photograph.

Forty years later, to the consternation of some in Middle America, sexuality and sexual civil rights issues have burst from America's bedrooms, boardrooms and closets, and many once-taboo matters have moved front and center in the nation's political consciousness: AIDS, art and censorship, sexual harassment, domestic violence, Internet privacy, even public breast-feeding. More and more it appears that any measure of the U.S. body politic must encompass its erogenous zones. And any tour of America's erogenous zones must begin, or perhaps end, in Los Angeles.

"I think America is really seeing the future here in L.A., including the sexual future," says Vern Bullough, a history professor at USC and author of some 30 books about sexuality. "I think the rest of the United States is following close behind us. When you have Bob Dole talking about Viagra, you know things have changed."

Of course, it's always been California's sun-bleached vanity to see itself as the cutting edge of all sensual endeavor, the place where the continent turned inward to contemplate its own frazzled eros.

Yet even a casual investigation of the city--from the "exotic dance" parlors near Los Angeles International Airport to West Hollywood's gay and lesbian coffee-house scene to the bare-midriffed women of "Coyote Ugly" casting come-hither stares from Sunset Strip billboards--confirms L.A.'s stature as a hothouse of sexual frankness and tolerance, a strip-malled Amsterdam-on-the-Pacific. The last time the Democrats came here, Los Angeles was one of the most prudish cities west of the Bible Belt, despite the lore of its "Hollywood Babylon" nights.

Today L.A. presents a landscape of boundless erotic possibilities and lifestyle alternatives that probably would've shocked JFK and his Hah-vad cohorts right out of their wingtips.

Playboy Mansion Will Be a Hot Spot

Like smog, the aphrodisiac of power will hang over Los Angeles next week. For some Democratic Party faithful, the Playboy Mansion will be an unavoidable stop on the Thomas Guide of sexual politics, L.A. style.

"Listen, how could you envision a convention being in town the size of the Democratic National Convention without thinking what role the Playboy Mansion is going to play?" says Cindy Rakowitz, vice president of promotions for Playboy Enterprises. Indeed, lately rediscovered by Young Hollywood, the mansion has been pronounced L.A.'s hottest spot by no less an oracle than Vanity Fair.

Maybe a little too hot for Al Gore's taste. Last month, the rambling Gothic-style Holmby Hills estate where company founder Hugh Hefner works and plays became the locus of a Democratic Party family feud. Rep. Loretta Sanchez, the Orange County Democrat, was rebuked by some party colleagues for planning to host a Tuesday fund-raiser for Hispanic Unity USA, a political action committee, at the bunny homestead. Leading the critics was Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy of Rhode Island, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, son of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and nephew of JFK--not a clan normally associated with monastic living, a Playboy spokesman noted dryly last month.

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