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Looking Up the Coast for Hollywood Backing

Arnold Schwarzenegger seems to be enjoying more support in Santa Barbara than in L.A.

September 08, 2003|Claudia Eller and Michael Cieply Times Staff Writers | Times Staff Writers

"Hollywood North" -- the high-profile cluster of show business players in Santa Barbara and neighboring Montecito -- has turned into a surprising pocket of strength for the Arnold Schwarzenegger campaign, while would-be industry supporters in Los Angeles still are getting their act together.

A $5,000-per-head fund-raiser at the Montecito home of film director Ivan Reitman remains the only event expected to be hosted by a major Hollywood figure as Schwarzenegger makes his run at the California governor's seat.

The gathering, set for Sept. 21, is likely to draw about 50 guests in support of the box-office superstar -- even as a Los Angeles fund-raiser, which was to be held at the home of Oscar-winning film producers Richard and Lili Fini Zanuck later this month, suddenly was scratched. Schwarzenegger's political strategists couldn't find an open date to hold the event between the Jewish holidays and the Oct. 7 recall vote.

Meanwhile, another Montecito dweller, TV talk-show host Oprah Winfrey, has been courting Schwarzenegger and his wife, Maria Shriver, both longtime friends, for a possible September appearance on her program. A mid-campaign turn on "Oprah" might rival the effect of Schwarzenegger's bombshell launch on Jay Leno's late-night program: It would let him speak directly to a largely female audience at a time when his behavior toward women has become a hot-button campaign issue.

"We're in discussions with Arnold and Maria about coming on the show, but we have nothing to announce at this time," Winfrey spokeswoman Lisa Halliday said Friday.

Mainstream Hollywood has been relatively slow to rally around Schwarzenegger, at least partly because his Republican affiliation cuts across the grain of a heavily Democratic film community. The latest campaign finance reports showed actor Kelsey Grammer, media mogul A. Jerrold Perenchio and Schwarzenegger's attorney, Jake Bloom, to be among the few entertainment industry contributors to the actor's campaign.

On Hollywood's northern front, however, Schwarzenegger is picking up support from friends, business associates and others who feel comfortable with him personally -- or are more sympathetic than their Los Angeles counterparts to the candidate's mix of fiscally conservative and socially liberal views.

Reitman, who as a Canadian cannot vote in the recall election, said he had made a "sizable" contribution to Schwarzenegger's campaign. His producing partner and Montecito neighbor, Tom Pollock, who also plans to be at the Sept. 21 fund-raiser, said: "I'm a very strong Democrat and I am not in favor of the recall. But of the candidates running, I think Arnold would be the best governor."

Rob Lowe, a friend of Schwarzenegger's and a Montecito resident, is working on fund-raising for the candidate, and comic Dennis Miller and producer Peter Douglas, who also live in Montecito, are said to be supporters.

Neither Lowe nor Miller plan to attend the Sept. 21 event, however, because both are scheduled to be in L.A. that evening for the Fox network's Emmy Awards broadcast.

Reitman said only a small percentage of his expected guests would be Hollywood figures. Most will be wealthy friends from the business community, including wine magnate Sally Jordan.

To a large extent, the Santa Barbara area's entertainment community is made up of senior players who are comfortable enough with their status to live 100 miles away from the industry hub and perhaps sufficiently independent-minded to buck the show business establishment on occasion.

If nothing else, the Santa Barbara bunch are upscale, even by Hollywood standards. The median home price in Santa Barbara currently is $825,000, and Montecito beachfront homes easily can fetch $25 million.

"It's a beautiful place to live, and a perfect distance from Hollywood," said Reitman, who directed Schwarzenegger in Universal Pictures' "Twins," "Kindergarten Cop" and "Junior" when Pollock headed the studio.

Other industry figures who have lived in Santa Barbara include "Law & Order" creator and executive producer Dick Wolf, director Robert Zemeckis, actors Kevin Costner and Dennis Frantz and TV executive Jamie Kellner.

Though not everyone in that generally close-knit community is a Schwarzenegger backer, some are open to his appeal -- often because they are closely acquainted with the actor.

"Politically, I support [Arianna] Huffington. Practically, I support [Cruz] Bustamante. But Arnold understands more about what inner-city kids are going through than anyone around," said filmmaker Andrew Davis, a Santa Barbara resident who directed Schwarzenegger in "Collateral Damage." Davis said he hasn't yet contributed to any of the campaigns.

Winfrey's connection with Schwarzenegger and his wife predates their 1986 marriage: She worked with Shriver years before at a Baltimore TV station.

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