Looking for Mr. Right
Alone in the Desert
There is only one conservative celebrity in Hollywood committed to serious partisan activism: Charlton Heston. Each election, he slogs along the campaign trail for GOPers across the country. Last year he aided a dozen Republicans, eight of whom won. He has his own political action committee, which in 1998 raised $168,000. (He has solicited donations at fundraisers by reciting the Ten Commandments.) Heston realizes he is one of the few Hollywood stars who devote themselves to the heavy lifting of politics. "Most people in the film community don't really understand what being politically active means," he says. "They think it is just doing interviews." And that includes Hollywood liberals: "I'm content that the Hollywood left thinks being a political activist means riding Air Force One and hanging out with the President."
But Heston doesn't let politics interfere with work. He has been cast in Oliver Stone's next film, and he just finished acting in a Warren Beatty movie. "We had a lot to talk about," he says of Beatty. "We agreed on a few things." Such as? "Beatty is nontypical of Hollywood liberals," Heston replies. "He thinks Clinton is an idiot." And many prominent liberals in the film industry, he adds, "are hunters, skeet shooters or gun collectors, or keep a handgun because of their public prominence. It is not widely known that one of the finest gun collections on the West Coast is Steven Spielberg's. He shoots, but very privately."
Apart from Heston, the Hollywood right is not that right. Most folks associated with Horowitz's club are pro-choice. At the Chris Matthews event, several participants said the Republican Party had to go moderate to rebuild. Steering committee member Edgar Scherick noted that he "hates zealotry"; he was put off by House impeachment manager Bob Barr and opposed removing Clinton from office. Sitcom writer Rob Long concedes there may be a legitimate reason for right-leaning Hollywooders to eschew public identification with the GOP: "The Republicans can be kind of weird. Arnold Schwarzenegger has to worry that at any moment the Republicans will issue a platform calling for all gay people to be exterminated, and it would be very difficult to do business in this town if people think you believe that. If you look at Hollywood Republicans, you'll find pro-choice, country-club Republicans."
The Horowitz Gang is also at odds with the national conservative movement in the culture wars. Not surprisingly, Horowitz and his comrades do not wail about the culture manufactured by the hometown industry. "Hollywood deals in basic archetypes that are fundamentally conservative," Horowitz asserts. "The great empowering American myth is the individual against the system. That's Star Wars. It's a conservative message. I'm rather sanguine about Hollywood's product." One of his favorite films is Pulp Fiction; he claims he enjoys South Park, a raunchy animated cable show. He has urged self-appointed values-czar Bill Bennett to lower the volume on his public attacks against Hollywood. "I'm not in sympathy with ratings, the picketing of films, attacks on films," Horowitz explains. "The bottom line is what consumers want. If they like garbage, garbage will reign." Indeed, the Hollywood right can be downright liberal when it comes to content. "Nobody should tell anyone else what to produce," says Scherick. "That's the end of democracy. It's what Hitler did." Rob Long roots against the censors of the right: "I am a loyal Republican, but I don't want to see a show I'm working on lambasted by someone in my party." And even Heston, perhaps the only Hollywood rightist in complete sync with the social conservatives, dismisses efforts to control Hollywood's output. "I'm not going to be the monitor of my colleagues' choices," he remarks. "I have enough enemies as it is."
Eyes Are the Prize
What institutional Hollywood cares most about is putting eyeballs in front of televisions and backsides in theater seats. "Obviously, people interested in politics go to Washington, not Hollywood," Chetwynd observes. But for decades there has been a connection between the capitals of politics and entertainment. There's money in the showbiz community for candidatesmostly Democrats, but not exclusively. (Last October the Center for Responsive Politics noted that in the 1998 election cycle, movie, television and recording studios had so far donated $6.5 million to federal candidates and parties, with two-thirds going to Democrats.) A small number of stars speak out on issues they may or may not know well. Infrequently, a movie or TV show will handle a social or political issue. So the politics of the entertainment business attracts more attention than that of the paper-products industry. Yet, as Horowitz notes, "98 percent of the people in Hollywood have no politics to speak of, or their politics are an inch deep. People do what they have to do to get ahead in this town."
In Horowitz's script, that means they kowtow to The Left. But at least he has provided a chat group for those who don't. "We have created a platform in the entertainment community where a Henry Hyde can come and get a warm welcome and respectful hearing," says a justifiably proud Chetwynd. "The group is respectable. In that sense, David Horowitz has accomplished what he set out to do." The next frontier, Chetwynd reports, is to show the worldmeaning Hollywoodthat all conservatives are not the same. "Bill Clinton and his minions in Hollywood," Chetwynd explains, "have been successful in grouping conservatives as a monolithic band of extremists." Think of a mirror image of Horowitz's view of The Left. "We now have a social burden," Chetwynd continues. "I have to be allowed to be a conservative without people imagining I dress up in a bedsheet to have dinner with Bob Barr. People have to be able to believe you can be a conservative and still be a good person."
In Hollywood, that is the battle conservatives believe they are fighting. It is a skirmish unlikely to affect what occurs in Washington (or Sacramento), or what happens on the campaign trail, or what is coming soon to a theater near you.