First fund-raiser expected to bring in $1.3 mil

Hollywood opened its wallets to Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential bid on Tuesday, as Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen threw the first major show biz fund-raiser of the 2008 campaign in an event expected to take in $1.3 million.

A $2,300-per-person cocktail reception at the Beverly Hilton drew stars and studio chiefs, including Eddie Murphy, Ron Howard Morgan Freeman, Jackson Browne, Jennifer Aniston, Natalie Maines and Ben Stiller along with Universal’s Ron Meyer and Paramount’s Brad Grey. Also present were writer-director J.J. Abrams, producer Lawrence Bender and producer Norman Lear.

The event was followed by a private dinner at Geffen’s home for fund-raisers who brought in at least $46,000 for the evening.

The fund-raiser was closed to the press, although a handful of political reporters and news crews staked out entrances to the hotel, and guests stood behind a rope inside, snapping pictures as stars went by. Absent, though, was the paparazzi, unusual given the star quotient of the evening.

Earlier in the day, Obama had separate meetings with employees of United Talent Agency and the William Morris Agency, and then spoke to a public rally at Rancho Cienega Sports Complex in South Los Angeles.

The fund-raiser kicked off a flurry of activity in Hollywood this week among presidential contenders that threatened to overshadow the buildup to the Oscars on Sunday. “Everyone’s speaking about politics now,” said Irena Medavoy, who plans to throw her own fund-raiser for Obama next month.

Joseph Biden was scheduled to attend a fund-raiser tonight at the Beverly Hills home of real estate magnate Richard Ziman, and Hillary Clinton is skedded to visit Thursday for a series of smaller receptions with donors in advance of a March 24 gala at the home of Ron Burkle. Sen. John McCain, who raised money in January at a fund-raiser at the home of MGM’s Harry Sloan, is scheduled to appear in Terminal Island today with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for a press conference on climate change.

But media stories have zeroed in on this being a race between Obama and Clinton for Hollywood dollars, even though many donors say that they are uncommitted at this early date and plan to donate to multiple candidates, even from both parties. Grey, for instance, attended a fund-raiser earlier this month for former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who is seeking the Republican nomination. And Spielberg, although a co-host of Tuesday’s event, plans to also co-host a fund-raiser for Clinton at a later date.

“I am very anxious to max out and do whatever I can to get the message out for all the candidates,” Sherry Lansing said outside the Tuesday event. “I think the Democrats have a wonderfully high class problem of incredible candidates.”

Introduced in a sharp, humorous introduction by his wife, Michelle, Obama spoke to the crowd of about 300 for about 25 minutes, tailoring messages frin the stump to the audience of moviemakers and moguls, according to a pool report filed by the San Francisco Chronicle’s Carla Marinucci.

“Hollywood has this reputation for glamour, ” Obama said. “We had 10,000 people rallying in (South Los Angeles), and the only thing people wanted to know about” were the details of the star studded event at the Beverly Hilton.

He cited not only Hollywood’s power to attract attention but its ability to create change, singling out “An Inconvenient Truth,” which Bender produced, and other influential movies like “Schindler’s List,” “Hotel Rwanda” and “Philadelphia.”

“What an enormous power that is,” Obama said. “What an enormous responsibility.”

But he said that the country now faes its own drama — with huge decisions ahead — and “the starring roles don’t go to me. They go to the people of America.”

Others who attended included Universal’s Marc Shmuger, producer Phil Rosenthal and CAA’s Richard Lovett. Others who sent checks for the fund-raiser included Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, George Clooney and Barbra Streisand along with William Morris’ Jim Wiatt, the Walt Disney Co.’s Dick Cook and News Corp.’s Peter Chernin.

“The surprise is the breadth and the scope of the support,” said political consultant Andy Spahn, who represents Spielberg and Katzenberg and helped set up the event.

For her part, Clinton has amassed a list of fund-raising heavyweights that include Haim Saban, producer Steve Bing and Burkle, along with an extensive organization and network of donors, many of whom have doubts about Obama’s electability and lack of experience. But some of Obama’s Hollywood supporters say they have their own concerns about Clinton’s electability, and were drawn to Obama’s call for a “different kind of politics.”

“His position on the war is no baloney,” said producer Max Palevsky, one of the event co-chairs. “There was no constant changing. What he believes, he believes.”

Of Clinton, Palevsky said, “on the war, she’s been terrible, and she’s always double-talking. She doesn’t inspire.”

Jodie Evans, one of the founders of the peace group Code Pink, said of Obama, “Hollywood sees someone who has charisma and who is a leader. That is what Hollywood has always been able to see. He’s kind of a cross between Jack Kennedy and Martin Luther King.”

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