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Agent Won't Take Star's Call to Join Campaign

Schwarzenegger had said CAA endorsed his run for governor. The firm denies it.

August 23, 2003|Joe Mathews and Michael Cieply | Times Staff Writers

In his transition from movie star to political candidate, Arnold Schwarzenegger this week ran afoul of someone close to him: his Hollywood agent.

While rolling out his team of economic advisors Wednesday, Schwarzenegger and his representatives at the powerful Creative Artists Agency wound up contradicting each other. Schwarzenegger said his agency was endorsing him for governor. (The agency said no.) Schwarzenegger's people had named CAA Managing Director Bryan Lourd as an economic advisor to the campaign. (Lourd's spokesman said he wasn't participating.)

All sides downplayed the flap, but it highlighted what Schwarzenegger aides say is a serious challenge: how to harness the volatile mix of Hollywood and politics.

Schwarzenegger has tried to blend entertainment people into his campaign. Yet that strategy carries risks for a politician who must control his message in a running battle -- a mission far different from protecting a star's image through a tightly scripted film rollout.

"Because his enterprise is not just a campaign enterprise, he has on the payroll all the people from his Hollywood life, and many of them are only partly subject to his guidance," said Marty Kaplan, director of USC's Norman Lear Center, which studies the nexus between entertainment and politics. "This is a little bit like a corporate merger. The question in a corporate merger is whether the cultures of the entities can mesh."

By week's end, Schwarzenegger's contretemps with his agency was still creating more mess than mesh.

A New York Post columnist wrote Friday that superstar Tom Hanks, a Democrat and a CAA client, was furious that his agency was helping Schwarzenegger. Hanks responded with a statement denouncing the column, which had put him atop a list of Democratic stars who are supposedly mobilizing against their Republican peer.

As Schwarzenegger later met with small-businesspeople in Huntington Beach, hoping to put a spotlight on the economy, some TV reports led with the disavowed Hanks piece instead.

Meanwhile, Hollywood continued to buzz about the midweek collision between the campaign and CAA.

Lourd, one of the most prominent agents in Hollywood, had appeared on the seating chart for the economic advisors' first meeting, but he was a no-show. Asked about CAA in a post-meeting news conference, Schwarzenegger said, "They believe in me, they endorse me, and they will be behind me 100%."

By midafternoon, however, CAA had issued a statement that said, "As official company policy, Creative Artists Agency does not endorse political candidates."

A CAA spokeswoman -- who has since declined to comment -- was by then insisting that Lourd wasn't on Schwarzenegger's council.

By 6 p.m., the agent's name was pulled from the campaign's press materials. Sean Walsh, a campaign spokesman, said Lourd "had originally been a member" of the economic advisory panel but no longer was. He declined to elaborate.

Rob Stutzman, another campaign spokesman, said Schwarzenegger had invited Lourd to participate, but the agent decided otherwise after reading a Times article Wednesday about CAA's support for the actor's gubernatorial bid.

Whether any of Schwarzenegger's agents now intends to lend a hand in the race is unclear. And the go-round left some Hollywood players wondering whether show business and politics really do mix.

"I would not let a divergence in my political opinion prevent me from servicing the client," veteran entertainment lawyer Eric Weissmann said. "But, basically, I would try to stay away from it."

CAA hasn't shied away from politics in the past, though it has usually played on the Democratic side.

The agency contributed $50,000 to Democratic committees in 1999 and 2000, according to federal records.

The agency's facilities also have been used for political activity. In 1998, for instance, then-candidate Gray Davis rehearsed for debates with Republican Dan Lungren in videotaped sessions at the CAA building, a Davis aide confirmed.

Schwarzenegger's Hollywood and campaign staffs concede privately that tensions have arisen as they tend their boss' diverse interests as a bodybuilder-actor-philanthropist-businessman.

Yet they continue to believe that any snafus are bound to be minor.

"It's natural," said Schwarzenegger publicist Jill Eisenstadt, "that there would be a process to bringing together all the facets of the world of Arnold."

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