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CAMPAIGN 2000

In Hollywood, Being John McCain Is Paying Off

Contributors: With a life that's a scriptwriter's dream, senator is attracting the attention, and donations, of many in the entertainment business.

March 01, 2000|AMY WALLACE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

John McCain the fighter pilot, the war hero and the blunt-spoken reformer--that's the dramatic story-line that seems to be luring a growing number of A-list actors, directors, producers and studio and network executives to take a closer look--and in many cases donate money--to the Republican's insurgent presidential campaign. And in heavily Democratic, liberal Hollywood, that's saying something.

Among the industry players who have given the Arizona senator money: actors Harrison Ford, Bob Newhart and Tom Selleck; directors Milos Forman, Sydney Pollack and William Friedkin; producers Brian Grazer, Norman Lear and Richard Zanuck; producer-manager Brad Grey; and singer-songwriter Burt Bacharach.

Among executives, DreamWorks SKG co-founder (and Clinton consigliere) David Geffen has given $1,000. So have Universal Studios president Ron Meyer, chairman emeritus Lew Wasserman and Seagram chief Edgar M. Bronfman, Viacom chief Sumner Redstone, Warner Bros. president Alan Horn and former chief Bob Daly, former MGM chief Frank Mancuso, Paramount Studios Motion Picture Group president John Goldwyn and Paramount TV Group chairman Kerry McCluggage, Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun, Motown founder Berry Gordy and top executives at MTV and HBO.

At Hollywood's highest levels, where many give just to hedge their bets, a donation does not necessarily indicate ideological fervor. Mancuso, for example, also gave money to McCain's rival for the GOP nomination, George W. Bush, while Selleck donated to Democrat Bill Bradley. And many McCain donors--including Geffen, Gordy and Lear--also wrote checks to Vice President Al Gore, whose candidacy has drawn far more entertainment industry money than any other aspiring chief executive in the race.

"I stop short of endorsement," said Ford, a $20-million-a-picture leading man who said he donates to several candidates (he gave $1,000 to Bradley and Gore as well as McCain) "because I want to see the debate conducted to some effect."

Dennis Miller Rant: He's Owed Presidency

But McCain is beginning to garner more than monetary support. Late night rant king Dennis Miller has praised McCain's heroism on TV, saying voters "owe" him a trip to the White House after his 5 1/2 years in a Vietnamese prisoner of war camp. Even actor-director Warren Beatty, who himself considered running for president on a liberal platform, has sought McCain out, inviting the candidate and his wife for dinner at his home a few months ago.

"I've known John for a long time. John is a friend of mine. I love the guy," Beatty said, cautioning: "But make no mistake: He is a conservative Republican."

Last week, at a $1,000-a-person fund-raiser for McCain in Beverly Hills, several recognizable Democrats were in attendance. Actress Morgan Fairchild, who once campaigned for liberal candidates like Sen. Alan Cranston, sported a McCain button on the lapel of her bright orange blazer. She still likes Gore and may end up voting for the Democratic front-runner, she said, but there is something about McCain that made her want to help.

"His is a voice that needs to be heard," she said as a few other Hollywood Democrats--actresses Connie Stevens, Shirley Jones, Lainie Kazan and Diane Ladd--milled around a crowded banquet room at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

As for McCain's appeal to the entertainment community, she said, "people in the industry--even hard-nosed Democrats--all know star quality when we see it."

McCain's personal story--or at least the parts that are most widely known--certainly has the makings of a Hollywood blockbuster. McCain was a Navy fighter pilot when he was shot down during a bombing mission over Hanoi in 1967. He was tortured in a POW camp for more than five years, at one point refusing an offer of early release because other men had been imprisoned longer than he.

No wonder Barry Diller and USA Films bought the film rights last fall to McCain's best-selling memoir, "Faith of My Fathers." Pundits have noted Diller's motivations could be twofold: he holds a major interest in broadcast deregulation issues pending before McCain's Senate Commerce Committee. (Diller, meanwhile, has hosted a book party for McCain, but has only opened his personal bank account to one presidential candidate: Bradley).

Some well-known Hollywood Republicans, meanwhile, are hanging back. While Bush has a cadre of industry supporters, from singer Wayne Newton to actor Chuck Norris, from producer Jerry Weintraub to former Warner Bros. chief Terry Semel, there are some notable omissions. Actor Bruce Willis, an outspoken conservative, appears to be sitting out this year's presidential contest. And action star Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has been close to the Bush family since President Bush made him chairman of his Council on Physical Fitness, says that even if he had been contacted by the Bush or McCain campaigns (he hasn't been), he wouldn't get involved at this time.

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