RETIRED Gen. Wesley K. Clark, highly decorated and a Democrat, took Hollywood by storm four years ago when he ran for president. Now he's back, this time rallying the troops for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Clark has spent so much time on the Westside in recent weeks, between trips to Iowa and New Hampshire, that industry politicos (the few who aren't on the picket lines or worrying about them) have started rumors: Clark could be Clinton's running mate. Or maybe secretary of state.
Hollywood may be liberal, but it's always been a sucker for a man in uniform. Clinton could name Clark the emperor of all Cathay, for all they care. The fact that Clark has stepped back onto the political stage gives them something new to puzzle over. (And frankly, that whole Obama-Clinton thing had become a bit of a bore.)
During a trip through town last month, he called on the Democrats' Beverly Hills Medici, Ron Burkle. Burkle hosted a small gathering for the general in the foyer of his palatial Green Acres estate. Clark addressed the crowd, which included Ted Danson, Mary Steenburgen and former Gov. Gray Davis, from the grand staircase.
Clark read from his new book ("A Time to Lead") and then lavished praise on the current Democratic front runner. "She's the most qualified candidate to lead this country," he said.
Clark seems so fresh and interesting, again, like Clint Eastwood emerging from a long respite in Carmel to return as an auteur.
"It's that strong chin, steely eyes and gray hair," said glitterati publicist Howard Bragman. "He's bright, enlightened, fairly progressive. It was like he was out of Central Casting. We thought, 'This is it, this is the kind of guy who can win.' "
Obviously, Clark didn't win four years ago. He didn't even come close. But there's no sense in holding that against him. (Martin Scorsese was nominated six times for an Oscar before he won, after all.) It's all about staying in the game.
Burkle said he believes that Clark, who served as the supreme allied commander of NATO during the Clinton administration, is an excellent ally for Hillary.
"In addition to his natural charisma, people are drawn to Gen. Clark's foreign-policy expertise," Burkle said.
"At a time when our country has been taken to war with no exit strategy, Wes is someone who has had a successful track record of conflict resolution," he said.
In fact Burkle was so impressed with Clark during his presidential run that he ask him to head the Burkle Center for International Relations at UCLA.
"Wes Clark's class and credentials make him a vital player in the global conversation about war and peace, especially these days," Burkle said.
In addition to his appearance at Green Acres, Clark made a stop in Malibu, where he reached out to the geographically isolated but ultra-connected kingpins there. Then he was off to the Bill Maher show, where he sparred with conservative political commentator Andrew Sullivan and former tennis star Martina Navratilova about the socio-philosophical implications of the burka.
He also stopped by the historic Hollywood Methodist Church for a Q&A with the congregation. And then he was back on the road to Iowa and New Hampshire, where the race is tightening.
In his wake, he left a lot of buzz among industry political watchers. "Maybe she's looking at Clark instead of Bill Richardson for vice president," speculated one politico. "Besides, have you noticed that Richardson's suits never fit right? Why is that? You have to have suits that fit."
Norman Lear was one of Clark's biggest boosters in 2004. Others impressed enough to give money to the general's campaign included contributors Madonna, Robert De Niro, Danny DeVito, Steven Bochco, Alan Alda, Jennifer Garner, Richard Gere, Brad Grey, Quincy Jones, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Peter Farrelly, Barbra Streisand, Meryl Streep, Meg Ryan, Haim Saban, Aaron Sorkin and Kris Kristoffer- son.
If Clinton wins the nomination, Hollywood Democrats will support her regardless of her running mate, but having Clark on the ticket would be a boost to their enthusiasm.
(If only they could be so united about ending the writers strike.)