“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 Left–in his mind, a well-oiled, coherent and influential movement deserving capital letters–and 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 politics–say, 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 own–with 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 1992–hence the name–but 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.”