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Notes on Obama in Hollywood

Early verdicts on Barack Obama’s fund-raising appearance: He dazzled some, drew mixed reviews from others and, from Jennifer Aniston, drew the comment, “He’s lovely.”

Obama presided over Hollywood’s first major fund-raising event with swarm of attention rivaling that which will given to any of Sunday’s Oscar winners. With press outlets and camera crews camped outside the Beverly Hilton ballroom, it was easy to forget that the event itself actually was just a cocktail party.

Jeffrey Katzenberg spoke first, and informed the crowd that it looked like they would raise some $1.3 million for the evening, to which political fund-raising vet David Geffen joked something along the lines of, “$300,000 of that will go to the candidate.” There was no question that it was a big haul, even in the annals of Hollywood fund-raising, and there are bound to be comparisons made to Hillary Clinton’s take at her March 24 gala at the home of Ron Burkle.

So how did Obama do? While one attendee thought his speech sounded canned and strained, another was impressed that he gave a very different type of speech at a political fund-raiser, as he stayed away from applause lines and instead described a way of thinking and feeling about the country. He even mixed “uhs” and “ahs” and appeared “real.” The question will be how that translates in an industry where image and spin are the norm.

According to the pool report filed by the San Francisco Chronicle’s Carla Marinucci, Obama reminded the crowd about the impact of their work and said, “Don’t sell yourself short. You are the storytellers of our age.”

Obama’s wife Michelle earned raves for giving an introductory speech where she seemingly brought her husband down to earth after his spate of whirlwind publicity, pointing out that he tended to do such things like leave the bread container open. (He’s already got to shape up on his smoking habits).

“I actually thought his wife was amazing,” said the Dixie Chicks’ Natalie Maines, according to the pool report. “It’s a great balance between the two of them.”

If you weren’t going to Geffen’s home, there was little on-on-one time with the candidate, given the size of the crowd. (The pool put it at 300; organizers estimate it at 450.) Even so, guests were invited to bring copies of Obama’s books for him to sign, in a ballroom with dramatic displays of cut flowers and bathed in a peach light.

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