With Warren Beatty drawing an Oscar night-sized media mob for his will-he-or-won’t-he-run speech one thing was quite clear Wednesday night: This town takes its politics seriously — and politics takes Hollywood’s money very seriously.
The Beatty event was not the only show in town to underscore the point. Showbiz bigwigs on Wednesday hosted events for Presidential hopefuls John McCain and Bill Bradley.
But the small dinners for those two declared candidates couldn’t compare to the hubbub over Beatty’s speech, which reminded a crowd at the Beverly Hilton that he may or may not be a candidate, but he certainly knows how to play the part.
In answer to the big question, Beatty didn’t say he would and he didn’t say he wouldn’t run for public office. Beatty said he “liked making movies” and that he “wanted to continue making them.” On the other hand, he began by addressing the audience as “My fellow Americans …”
In a 35-minute address, Beatty railed against big money in America, and said that “what we’re witnessing is a slow-motion coup d’etat of big money interests over the public interest.
“The life of the patient — American democracy — is in mortal danger of expiring on the table.”
His other principle target was the state of health care in the United States. He said the next president “should not let Congress go home until every American has health care.”
Beatty and his wife, Annette Bening, were exceedingly gracious as they were pushed and mauled by TV and press, and bombarded with questions as they entered the BevHilton’s Empire Room. The size and vehemence of the media mob rivaled a presidential visit, or even a public appearance by Hollywood royalty.Beatty and Bening were joined on the podium by Lila Garrett, prexy of the Southern California chapter of the Americans for Democratic Action, and Norman Lear, who had flown in from his own White House honors earlier in the day.
Also at Beatty’s table were Jack Nicholson with Lara Flynn Boyle, and Garry Shandling.
In the lobby outside the main room there were two dozen political propaganda posters — including one of President Lyndon Johnson and Lady Bird dressed in “Bonnie and Clyde” outfits.
The Southern California branch of the liberal advocacy group Americans for Democratic Action gave Beatty its Eleanor Roosevelt Award “for a lifetime of creative and political integrity.”
ADA prexy Garrett warmed the celebrity-studded crowd by giving Beatty credit for forcing the other candidates to address liberal causes.
“Because of Warren the liberal agenda is suddenly warming up,” she said. “We’ve had crumbs for 18 years. Now what we want, what we need, what we demand, is the whole loaf.”
The text of his 20-minute speech was kept such a secret that it seemed at times a matter of national security, though his friends hinted it would touch on campaign finance, social justice and global trade.
However, the big question was whether he would declare his candidacy. So far, it’s not clear if Beatty is sincere about his Presidential chances, but the media sure is.
On Wednesday, NBC’s “Today” led its news with a setup on the Beatty speech, while USA Today and the New York Times did major stories on him. C-Span will be airing the speech Sunday as part of a spec on the road to the White House, and dozens of reporters from national and international news outlets flocked to the BevHilton to cover the story.
Meanwhile across town, Rupert Murdoch was hosting a McCain fundraiser (which was closed to the press, according to his campaign staff) and producer John Davis was welcoming guests to a Bradley event that was set up by Sydney Pollack.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, McCain has the most catching-up to do. Vice President Al Gore raised $479,245 from the film, music and TV industries; he’s followed by Republican front-runner George W. Bush ($357,802), Bradley ($320,874) and McCain ($124,460). Those figures are based on donations released by the Federal Election Commission on Aug. 1.
While Bradley and McCain are declared candidates, the most media excitement was reserved for the movie star. “It’s kinda weird,” said one Hollywood activist.
However, Larry Berg, who was founding director of Jesse Unruh Institute of Politics at USC, said, “Maybe the fact that Warren Beatty is drawing all this interest reflects on the candidates: There really isn’t anybody from the progressive left in this campaign.
“Beatty is attractive and articulate, whether you agree with him or not.” And, in a subtle reference to Ronald Reagan, he added, “We have a tradition in California of supporting people who have not have previous political experience.
Former Ed Muskie press secretary Bob Rose added, “We’ve had these sideshows in politics for years. It’s fun, and there’s no harm in having fun in politics. In a race when candidates have not yet joined in debates or mano a mano encounters, what else are the media gonna report on?”
Rose, who’s currently working on energy and environment projects, shrugs about Beatty, “I’m old enough to remember the Pat Paulsen campaigns and the ones for Alfred E. Newman (the Mad magazine mascot). Frankly, I think Newman is the most credible of the three.”
Berg summed up, “What draws the political community to Californians: they’ve got money, and if they don’t have it, they have access to it. Plus, the entertainment community offers instant visibility.”