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Celebrities crave access with Barack Obama

Most give not because they seek an economic benefit but so they can speak out about Darfur, world hunger, global warming or some other issue.

January 09, 2009|TINA DAUNT

One of the things that makes Hollywood so attractive to politicians is not just the depth of its pockets, but the fact that its hand isn't out.

Collecting contributions from any other industry usually comes with an implicit understanding that it wants something in return, usually something that has an economic benefit. Yes, the entertainment industry cares about copyright and distribution, but these days nearly everybody is on the same page when it comes to those issues. What celebrities care most about are causes and the access that lets them speak conscience to power.

So as most of the town prepares to leave for the inaugural -- it will be easier to get a five-star suite in Cannes this year than D.C. -- Barack Obama and his aides don't have to worry about being button-holed by the glitterati over tax breaks or bailouts. What the new administration should expect -- and does by this time -- is a discussion of Darfur, hunger in America, global warming and all of the other issues that politically involved Hollywood has made its own in recent years.

Some longtime observers of the scene think that this reflects a generational shift in the industry itself.

"It's been a long time since the younger generation of Hollywood has been so excited and so involved," said Donna Bojarsky, veteran entertainment industry political consultant. "Hollywood isn't perfect, but it is one of the few places where the politics is not based on the industry."

So far Obama has been expert in how he has handled Hollywood, using the enthusiastic support he received from stars to generate funds and backing, especially among younger voters.

In part it's a natural match, because Obama cares about the same issues as Hollywood.

But let's be clear: Our new president is anything but star-struck.

Nobody should count on a night in a Lincoln Bedroom in return for a Brentwood fundraiser. (Although it is possible, if he likes you.) This will not be Bill Clinton's White House.

Michael Levine, who may have stage-managed more image makeovers than all the plastic surgeons on Camden Drive, sees a real difference in Obama's relationship to the industry.

Simply put: "Clinton basked in the glow of celebrities. Now celebrities bask in the glow of Obama."

A veteran's hand

It's already clear that Obama isn't the sort of guy to leave anything to chance -- and that includes the ceremony surrounding his oath of office.

Who better than to orchestrate the proceedings than a multiple Emmy Award-winning producer whose credits include the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics and the granddaddy of all annual events: the Super Bowl halftime show.

Hollywood's Don Mischer has been tapped by the Obama camp to help orchestrate the inauguration. Obviously, the producer's resume was vetted as carefully as the president-elect's Cabinet selections (some might say more so!).

But even a producer as honored as Mischer still must endure the unexpected nature of live events. Anyone who watched the 2004 Democratic National Convention on CNN remembers Mischer's colorful frustration over the failure of the balloons to drop on cue. Who could blame him, unpredictable balloons. (Luckily -- or not -- Obama is a fireworks fan.)

Expect a spectacular Washington welcome that puts the focus right on its leading man, who will be heralded by stars. Details are still to come, but don't be surprised if two of the voices onstage belong to Aretha Franklin and Beyonce.

Right now, only Mischer and Obama know for sure.

Donations flow

It won't come close to the stimulus package, but the tab for Obama's inaugural festivities won't be chump change. The president-elect's inaugural committee reported this week that it has raised more than $27 million (lots from Hollywood) for that historic day.

Donations are coming in so fast that even the Obama folks are having trouble keeping them straight. The campaign's website, for example, lists Matthew Palevsky as giving $25,000 when in fact the donor is his financier father, Max, the longtime Democratic activist and art collector. (You can all stop asking Matthew for money now.)

Los Angeles political strategist Kerman Maddox, however, absolutely did give $50,000 to the party team. Call him instead.


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