MINNEAPOLIS — The GOP's uninvited guest, Hurricane Gustav, initially cast a pall over festivities at the Republican National Convention this week, but by Wednesday the party was popping.
Actor Jon Voight made the rounds; so did singer Pat Boone (easy to spot in white suit and boots). Former Nixon speechwriter turned actor and columnist Ben Stein worked the convention floor between appearances on CNN. Five for Fighting's John Ondrasik, a John McCain fan who donated to the senator at a fundraiser in Beverly Hills in June, performed at a downtown nightclub. Singers Aimee Allen and Sara Evans serenaded political maverick (a popular word here this week) Ron Paul at his parallel gathering of the faithful across the river from the more conventional Republicans, who somehow had resisted Paul's charms.
Longtime McCain supporter Robert Duvall made an aural appearance as the narrator of one of the convention's mini-documentaries, and LeAnn Rimes sang for the GOP faithful at the party aptly called "Red, Rhythm & Rimes."
In Denver, where the Dems gathered, the parties were nonstop and the celebrity wattage was high enough to light the Las Vegas Strip. No one expected that sort of glitz here. But that meant that the celebs who did show up became major attractions on the convention scene.
Maybe the biggest star of the week was Fred Thompson, the only participant with one foot firmly planted in Hollywood and the other in electoral politics. (Thompson is unique because unlike, say, Ronald Reagan or Arnold Schwarzenegger, he came to Hollywood from politics, rather than the other way around.)
Thompson, who delivered a rousing speech Tuesday night at the convention, joined a group of reporters for breakfast Wednesday morning, where he talked about his Hollywood plans. This led to a discussion of an alleged blacklist against McCain supporters and other Republicans in the entertainment industry.
"I would be happy just to be listed," he said with a chuckle, dismissing the possibility that Hollywood is discriminating against anyone who could make money on camera. Producers and casting directors are "more interested in the bottom line than they are your politics," the former Tennessee senator said.
When asked by a reporter if he planned to return to acting, he quipped: "I'm gratified you think I never stopped."
"I'm with William Morris now," he said, making clear that he still has his Hollywood bearings. "I plan to do some things in the future. With all the strike talks, things are kind of slow right now." (Thompson may be the only former presidential candidate who keeps track of Screen Actors Guild negotiations.)
He says he's working on an autobiography. (The only question is whether the book will be filed in the political or the entertainment sections at Barnes & Noble.) And he says he's been busy on the lecture circuit.
Thompson's own brief campaign kicked off with a brilliant TV sendup last year of Michael Moore, the documentary filmmaker who came in for a bit of abuse from Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman on Tuesday night. Moore, who angered Republicans when he said Hurricane Gustav's arrival during the convention was "proof there is a God in heaven," fired back at the GOP with a long e-mail ridiculing the party's performance over the last eight years.
Thompson had his own message for Moore at the Wednesday breakfast: "Yes, Michael, there is a God, and you should be scared. Very, very scared."
A couple of hours later and a few miles away, another of Hollywood's Republican stalwarts, Pat Boone, wowed a congenial crowd at a brunch thrown by the Virginia delegation at the Calhoun Beach Club, a picturesque spa overlooking Lake Calhoun. (No sipping whiskey here; bellinis were the drink of choice.)
For all his wholesome image, Boone has a wicked political wit, and the Virginians, gentle folk that they may be, loved it.
"I'm here to dethrone the man who would be king," Boone said of Obama. (The crowd cheered.)
He said he saw no problem with McCain's age. "I'm two years older than he is," Boone said.
Boone also saw no problem with the McCain campaign's controversial television commercial comparing Obama's celebrity to that of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears.
"Where's the beef?" Boone mused. "They have identical records of accomplishment in the Senate." (More laughter from the Virginians.)
Boone, who has been a celebrity for longer than most Obama supporters have been alive, says he just isn't impressed with the Democratic candidate or his party. And he has no problem expressing his views to his neighbors in Beverly Hills. "It's all about image," he said. "Obama's like an actor who portrays a role. . . . He's been doing that masterfully. I don't understand why people in the entertainment business don't see that."