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CONVENTION 2000 / THE DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION

Hollywood Turns Out in Force for Party in Its Backyard

From the podium to the convention floor, film-industry types wave the flag for Democrats. Many show up just to watch.

August 18, 2000|AMY WALLACE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Tommy Lee Jones, Al Gore's college roommate and the irascible star of such movies as "The Fugitive" and "Double Jeopardy," had come all the way from San Antonio to publicly endorse the Democratic presidential nominee. So it was perhaps impertinent to ask if he would ever vote for a candidate simply because a celebrity told him to. The question didn't faze him.

"No. I don't believe in it," Jones said, with the same blunt, no-bunk delivery you've seen on the big screen. A few hours before his address to the convention, Jones was swigging bottled water in the hallway at Staples Center--just one of scores of Hollywood heavy hitters who came this week to wave the flag for the Democrats. Jones said he was there because his friend the vice president had asked him to be.

"But there is really nothing about being an actor or a movie star or just being famous," he said with trademark impatience, "that makes you more qualified to address political issues than anybody else."

That didn't stop a lot of celebrities from weighing in for the better part of a week. After all, while some in Hollywood have stayed in the Lincoln Bedroom or addressed congressional hearings in Washington, for many others, having the Democratic National Convention in town was a first real chance to be in the political thick of things.

For four long days, there were actors speaking from the podium (Jimmy Smits and Dylan McDermott), actors on the convention floor (Warren Beatty, Annette Bening, Sarah Jessica Parker, Sean Penn), actors doing political analysis on CNN (Sharon Lawrence) and actors on panels ranging from Hollywood violence (Juliette Lewis) to health care (Anthony Edwards).

Paramount Pictures chief Sherry Lansing was a delegate (California). So was supermodel Christie Brinkley (New York). And lots of entertainment industry titans showed up at Staples Center just to watch--from directors Ron Howard and Rob Reiner to producer Brian Grazer to DreamWorks SKG co-founders Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen.

Outside the convention walls, there were nagging realities to face. It was the 16th week of the strike by the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists against the advertising industry. In addition, some in Hollywood are nervous about Gore's choice of a running mate, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, who has been a harsh critic of the entertainment industry.

"This party comes here on an almost weekly basis and drains us [for donations] . . . then goes off and trashes us royally in the heartland," Eugene Boggs, a member of the SAG board of directors, said at a panel discussion hosted by the liberal wing of the party. "They take our money and then just laugh at us."

But Boggs' willingness to express frustration definitely put him in the Hollywood minority while the Democrats were in town. For many in the creative community, the convention was a place to party, to rub shoulders with the powerful and, yes, to stoke their own idealism.

"I'm having a great time," said producer Bruce Cohen, a political junkie who won an Oscar for "American Beauty" this year and who spent almost every evening this week at a convention-related event, including fund-raisers for Gore and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Screenwriter "Carrie Fisher and I have this dream that when Hillary's president, we're going to go to Washington and be her social secretaries," he said. "You laugh, but I'm not kidding. We figure it'll be in about 2012, so we'll be ready by then for a change of career."

At swank parties around town, the meeting of political and cinematic minds made for some odd juxtapositions. Producer Lawrence Bender opened his spacious Holmby Hills home for a 500-guest shindig hosted by the Creative Coalition and George magazine. Mingling outside on the lawn were political consultant Bill Carrick, lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Andrew Cuomo.

But it was hard to spot them, what with the trickle of studio executives (Miramax's Harvey Weinstein and Fox Searchlight's Peter Rice, to name two) and the flood of stars: Billy Baldwin, Michael Douglas, Frances Fisher, Robert Forster, Harry Hamlin, Salma Hayek, Milla Jovovich, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Camryn Manheim.

In a weird stab at humor, Cuomo said it was fitting to hold the event at Bender's lavish residence because "this is a HUD home we developed--a new model."

Standing near Bender's spacious kitchen, which all by itself could nearly house a family of four, Cuomo said, "This is the new public housing, brought to you by Clinton/Gore!"

Of course, if during the Clinton years all Americans had lived as well as the producer of "Pulp Fiction," Gore would be a shoo-in. As it is, GOP nominee George W. Bush is making Gore sweat, and Democrats in Hollywood are determined to help out however they can.

"There are many really good people. There is only one most qualified person: Al Gore," Jones said in one of several network TV interviews that his publicist had scheduled back to back. "I think he's gonna win."

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