Hollywood Politics

james stewart in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington AP

Since the 1930s, when Hollywood sent Mr. Smith to Washington, there has been a kinship between actors and politicians, between the real and the make-believe. Correspondent Phil Jones reports for CBS News' Sunday Morning.



Jack Valenti knows all about raw and glamorous politics. He was White House special assistant to President Lyndon Johnson and now he's head of the Motion Picture Association.

"The great quest in Hollywood is a good story, and there are few better stories than the unpredictability and dazzle and the glamour of politics," says Valenti. "There is this mutual attraction and, as matter of fact, I think politicians and movie stars are sprung from the same DNA. They're attracted to publicity, they're always on stage, mostly reading from scripts written by somebody else."

Ever since President John F. Kennedy, there has been a special love affair between Democrats and Hollywood.

It was never more special than during the Bill Clinton years that began in 1992. And, based on all the parties that are planned to raise $14 million for a Clinton Library and for Mrs. Clinton's New York Senate campaign, Hollywood is still more excited about one last fling with the Clintons than about starting a new affair with Al Gore.

It's supposed to be Al Gore and Joe Lieberman's party. But as they head to the Staples Convention Center to make their acceptance speeches, Bill Clinton is still on stage, and some in Hollywood think they've spotted something different coming to town.

Says actress Sally Field, "What I see happening is, the Democratic group that are running right now seems more conservative, which may be a good thing as far as the country is concerned about getting elected. I don't know how that's going to translate to Hollywood."

Of course, Hollywood had early reason to believe Al Gore was no Bill Clinton. The first tip-off came from Tipper Gore years ago, when she fought for a warning label on recorded music with offensive lyrics.

Now, Al Gore is bringing his pick as running mate, Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, to Hollywood. This is the same Sen. Lieberman who stood next to Mr. Virtues, conservative Republican Bill Bennett, to pressure the entertainment industry to clean up its product.

At the time, Lieberman said, "Many of us here have separately and jointly pleaded with the entertainment industry to raise their standards and help us protect our children from harm. Each time, our calls have been met with prolonged busy signals… This is not an attack on Hollywood. This is an appeal to Hollywood to work with us."

Is this public scolding of Hollywood a problem for the Democratic ticket? Says Bob Strauss, 81, a former Democratic Party chairman and still one of its wise men, "Oh, I think it will be a bit of a problem. I think they'll have to deal with that. There will be a lot of people in Hollywood who are going to take a dim view of that anare going to want some answers to it. But I give Al Gore credit for going ahead and making his choice the way he made it. Rather courageous."

Actors like Richard Dreyfuss are listening but concerned. Hollywood tolerates criticism from politicians like Joe Lieberman, but only up to a limit.

"The creative community has always been, in the main, a liberal community," says Dreyfuss.

But Valenti defends Lieberman, saying, "He is trying to mount a crusade to elevate the morality, the daily moral grind, and I can't argue with that."

While Dreyfuss agrees that everyone should be concerned about moral values, he adds, "If you talk about legislation, I'll reach for my militia outfit. You know, if you talk about censoring, then that's something else."

Over the years, the movies have shown different images of politicians. In '39, Mr. Smith (James Stewart) was incorruptible. In Air Force One, Harrison Ford didn't need the Secret Service to deal with terrorists. But in Wag the Dog, the portrayal of a president couldn't have been more venal.

Art imitating reality? Or is it the other way around?

"We've come a long way from Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, when we had a more innocent, almost naive attitude about politics," notes Michael Genovese, a film historian and political scientist at Loyola Marymount University. "Some people blame Hollywood for destroying that naivete, but it's not Hollywood that's done it. Hollywood reflects what goes on in our culture and our society more than it leads it."

In the '60s, it was John Kennedy's Camelot.

In the '80s, it was Ronald "The Gipper" Reagan.

And Bill Clinton took his bow in the '90s.

They were all presidents who managed to court Hollywood successfully.

Now there's a new cast of characters headed to the set, hoping for their own political romance with Hollywood. There are hints that the rules of this glamorous game could be changing, that Tinsel Town this time may not rally so strongly behind a particular candidate.

Then again, this is Hollywood, and who knows better about happy endings?

Glamour and politics?

"Absolutely," says Valenti. "It's a marriage made in heaven and let no man try to put it asunder."

  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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