The emails are starting to fly. “Call the White House to protest,” urged one last week. It had been dispatched by a studio executive to scores of other Hollywood players.
“The Bushies have us marching off to war like so many automatons,” protests a TV producer, pausing between sets on his tennis court.
“The anti-war anxiety is mounting,” advises a top writer, who’s an avowed Republican.
War with Iraq may seem inevitable to the White House, but not to the entertainment community.
Indeed as Washington heightens its readiness, Hollywood heightens its nervousness. As a result, the post-9/11 amity that’s been carefully nurtured between the Bushies and Hollywood has been all but shattered.
Last November when deputations from the White House began meeting with movie and TV hierarchs to map out anti-terrorist strategy, their approach was both cautious and tactful. We’re not going to encroach on free expression, they said. We’re not asking you to grind out World War II-style propaganda films. We just want your help in the war effort.
Their mission was well received. Until, that is, they switched wars.
Hollywood likes clear storylines. It gets nervous about 11th-hour rewrites, especially when there’s a shift in the “heavy.”
Osama bin Laden got written out of the script. Saddam Hussein got written in. The problem with Saddam is that we’ve all seen that movie before. In the end, he’ll vaporize just like Osama.
Besides, showbiz people don’t know what to make of Dubya after two years.
The reason is that the Bush White House is the antithesis of showbiz. There are no grandiose state dinners, no glitzy commemorations. The Bush White House resembles the Bush ranch: It’s arid.
Dubya rarely runs movies. Unlike Ronald Reagan, he doesn’t hang with movie stars. Unlike Bill Clinton, he doesn’t covet the company of studio or network chiefs.
Laura Bush, a professed bibliophile, invites writers to drop by now and then to chat about Willa Cather or other Western authors of the past. Needless to say, her husband never shows up. On those rare occasions when an entertainer is invited to the White House, Dubya manages to have an urgent meeting.
Dubya’s studied absenteeism is not a new trait. In his younger years, he managed to hang at fraternity parties so long that he completely missed the ’60s, not to mention Vietnam. His personal style is so ’50s that it would surprise no one if he turned up on the White House lawn with Dwight Eisenhower’s old golf clubs.
Old-timers in Washington remember when the White House was great theater. The Kennedys instilled a new public regard for the arts by inviting artists, musicians and other intellectuals to state occasions. There were memorable concerts and dramatic performances on a portable stage installed in the East Room. Jacqueline Kennedy even imported French chefs to improve the White House cuisine.
All this played a key role in creating the mythology of “Camelot.” The White House wasn’t just a place for war games. It was a cultural force.
Hollywood doesn’t understand the Bush White House. Its chief inhabitant runs laps, but he doesn’t run movies. He makes speeches about defending our free society, but doesn’t demonstrate much interest in that society.
That explains why the emails are starting to fly and why the Hollywood “chatter” is proliferating along with the terrorist “chatter.”
War may be in the Bushies’ script, but Hollywood wants script approval.