The Players: Behind the Glitter, the Movie Industry Is Just Another Favor-Seeking Special Interest

By Denny, Jeffrey | Common Cause Magazine, Spring 1993 | Go to article overview

The Players: Behind the Glitter, the Movie Industry Is Just Another Favor-Seeking Special Interest


Denny, Jeffrey, Common Cause Magazine


Behind the glitter, the movie industry is just another favor-seeking special interest.

Hollywood has long eyed Washington - the other city of power and illusion - with hungry fascination. As the Clinton administration dawns you can almost hear studio moguls licking their chops.

Maybe Bill Clinton wasn't the first presidential candidate to attract the Hollywood swarm, but he clearly won the '92 battle of the stars. So many big names in film and TV made campaign appearances that several reportedly were forgotten when inaugural invites went out, prompting a scramble to salve bruised egos. Still, so many stars showed up inaugural week that some of Washington's own celebrities were cast into shadow. "Having watched Hollywood descend ... makes me more convinced than ever that the vice president was right," William Kristol, Dan Quayle's chief of staff, carped to the New York Times. "Hollywood's utter preoccupation with image, and their disdain for real problems and real issues, is amazing even to those of us who have been around Washington for a while."

And who knows how many voters warmed to Clinton because of TV's hitmaking dramedy team, Harry Thomason and Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, who produced Bill and Hillary's cinema verite convention entrance, the gauzy "The Man From Hope" bio-pic and the inauguration festivities to boot. As if the Clintons' close friends hadn't done enough, their company, Mozark Productions, gave the Democratic ticket $60,000 toward the president's win.

Washington itself seems like Studio East these days. Eddie Murphy's The Distinguished Gentleman, written and produced by former Mondale speechwriter Marty Kaplan, features cameos by numerous Washington well-knowns, including Union Station and National Public Radio's Nina Totenberg. The shooting of Ivan Reitman's comedy Dave, due out next summer, involved a half dozen U.S. senators, various Inside-the-Beltway somebodies and a Who's Who of Washington media, including the entire McLaughlin Group and - again! - Nina Totenberg. (The president is replaced by a look-alike; Kevin Kline stars). Also due next summer is the Clint Eastwood thriller In the Line of Fire. (The president's Secret Service agent hunts down a political assassin played by Nina Totenber. Actually, it's John Malkovich.)

The two cities have played off each other practically since Garbo spoke, as Ron Brownstein's 1990 book, The Power and the Glitter, chronicled in fascinating detail. But he may have been too quick to conclude that "Hollywood's participation in national elections is less important for its influence on who wins than for what it reveals about the mysterious interaction between culture and politics."

In fact, the Hollywood movie-star glamor diverts attention from the more earthly political interests of the motion picture industry. In the halls of Congress and the regulatory agencies, the big movie studios are no different from big oil, the tobacco kings or any of the other corporate interests seeking favorable treatment while plying Washington with political money and lobbyists. And we're not talking about Dustin Hoffman giving $25,000 to the Democrats last fall, or Richard Gere testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as a special envoy of Tibet's exiled Dalai Lama.

The movie industry, along with tobacco, liquor and Wall Street, was a top special interest contributor to the Clinton effort. Sony Corp. led the pack with more than $200,000, including $75,000 from Sony Pictures Chair Peter Guber. MCA, together with chair Lew Wasserman, contributed $150,000. Walt Disney Studios and its chair, Jeffrey Katzenburg, chipped in more than $120,000. So did producer David Geffen. The Jon Peters Organization contributed $80,000. Twentieth Century Fox was in there with 50 grand.

The industry's last-minute effort to snuff the cable TV regulation bill last fall offered a rare public glimpse of its political pressure tactics, even if it didn't win that round. …

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