Looking for Mr. Right
"I am it."
So says sixties-radical-turned-eighties-conservative David Horowitz, with a chuckle, when asked to describe conservative political activity in Hollywood. It's a boast and a lament. A decade ago, Horowitz took it upon himself to challenge the political atmosphere of this stronghold of liberalism. For years, he had been decrying The Leftin his mind, a well-oiled, coherent and influential movement deserving capital lettersand its power in the media and academia. Setting his sights on Hollywood, as if a right-wing nudzh could alter the tenor of Tinseltown, was a mark of Horowitz's hubris. But he has had a dash of success. There is now an organized, if small, conservative outfit in town. It has no discernible influence on the product of Hollywood, no noticeable impact on electoral or issue-oriented politics. But about once a month, Horowitz pulls together a couple of hundred right-of-center people from the entertainment industry and elsewhere to hear a speaker from the world of politicssay, George Will or Newt Gingrich. This group gathers at a fancy hotel, schmoozes and listens. It does not raise money or agitate for conservative causes or candidates. It merely offers a haven for Hollywooders who don't fit the liberal Democrat stereotype. In a community where only a few actually bother with politics and fewer do anything that can be considered right of center, the 60-year-old Horowitz has created a cell of his ownwith cocktails.
To open the Hollywood front in his crusade against The Left, Horowitz formed the Wednesday Morning Club, a group that now has about 170 members. The group was established the morning after Bill Clinton's victory in 1992hence the namebut its origins stretch back to 1980. That year, Lionel Chetwynd, an accomplished screenwriter (The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz), was working with the Ronald Reagan campaign and hosting meetings where Reagan boosters talked up their candidate before Hollywood denizens. After a session featuring supply-side guru Arthur Laffer, Stanley K. Sheinbaum, a prominent LA liberal, chastised the attendees for flirting with Reaganism. "Sheinbaum pointed his finger and said, 'You are consorting with people who ran the Hollywood blacklist. I know who you are and I know where you work,'" Chetwynd recalls. "It was chilling. No one came back. A lot of people said, 'I'm with you, but don't tell anyone.'" (Sheinbaum vaguely remembers the event but does not recall being openly hostile.)
After that, Chetwynd, who was born in Britain and raised in Canada, backed away from electoral politics. Following the 1987 release of his film The Hanoi Hilton, a movie about American POWs that conservatives embraced, Horowitz sought out Chetwynd. It took Horowitz several years to persuade Chetwynd to saddle up for his effort to break The Left's hold on Hollywood. After Clinton won in 1992, Chetwynd was willing to take another stab at corralling Hollywood's cons. "I had had nightmares about the Sheinbaum episode," Chetwynd, 55, says. "But I felt that if we cannot have an alternative view here, it's bad for the Republic. We create the popular culture here, and there's no political debate in Hollywood? That cannot be healthy."
The two set up the Wednesday Morning Club in the office that houses Horowitz's think tank, the Center for the Study of Popular Culture. (In 1997 the center received $500,000 from right-wing billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife.) Horowitz and Chetwynd recruited actor Tom Selleck, entertainment power-lawyer Bruce Ramer (who represents Steven Spielberg) and writer-producer Bob Gale for the steering committee. Soon the club was drawing A-list politicos, mainly Republicans, as speakers. Occasionally a star or two were present at the events, but sometimes Pat Sajak was the most recognizable face. Last April, Texas Governor George W. Bush spoke at a club breakfast before 500 people. He assailed "moral decay" in America but steered clear of Hollywood-bashing. "I advocate abstaining from sex until you find your right life partner," he remarked. Senator Orrin Hatch appeared before the group and griped, "When I come out here [for a fundraiser] I get about $30,000. For Gore, it's about $2 million."
In January of 1998, Newt Gingrich addressed the club but ducked the hot-button, entertainment-related issues. (It had taken Horowitz three years of badgering to convince Gingrich to visit. "He felt Hollywood was a Democratic town, and the Republicans couldn't pick up any money here," Horowitz explains.) In March, more than 200 gathered at a club dinner at the Beverly Hills Hotel to hear journalist/pundit Chris Matthews. When he slammed Clinton and the "Vichy Democrats," the crowd applauded. When he referred to the "innate goodness" of his friend Al Gore, audience members hissed.
This is not hard-core politics. At the Matthews event, several participants said they valued the club because it allowed them to hobnob with like-minded individuals. "People come here for the enjoyment," one non-entertainment lawyer noted. "It's mostly social," said Midge Elias, a nutrition writer.
Horowitz claims only modest intentions for the group. "Lionel and I did not aim to change the Hollywood culture," he explains. "We have tried to end the McCarthy-like treatment of people in Hollywood who do not subscribe to the line of the liberal left. It was set up not to carry out a political agenda but to normalize Republicans." Horowitz's vision of Hollywood is harsh: "Republicans are treated like Communists during the cold war. Republicans are seen by The Left as indecent, lacking in compassion. The atmosphere in Hollywood is as bad as it was in the McCarthy period. True, there are no Congressional committees [pursuing conservatives] and no blacklist maintained by the studios, but a lot of people lose jobs daily in this town [because of their conservative beliefs]. Nobody can show you the proof of that for the obvious reason that no one wants to lose more work. The power in Hollywood is all on The Left. There's a graylist." And apparently this keeps conservative celebs from speaking out. "If there were a Susan Sarandon or Alec Baldwin of the right," Horowitz argues, "The Left would severely punish that person."
Can the power of The Left in Hollywood be that awesome? After all, Elia Kazan, who snitched on fellow Communists in the fifties, was voted a lifetime award by the Oscar pooh-bahs over objections from remnants of the old Hollywood left. "That the award would pose a problem," Horowitz says, "is an index of the power of The Left."