January 31, 2008
Hollywood conflicted on candidates as California primary date nears
Steven Spielberg, arguably Hollywood's most influential citizen, co-hosted a fund-raiser early last year that netted $2.1 million for Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign.|
A few weeks later, Spielberg joined DreamWorks partners Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen in throwing a fund-raiser for Barack Obama, Clinton's chief rival for the Democratic nod, that yielded $2.2 million.
Spielberg has since formally endorsed Clinton and given the U.S. senator from New York the maximum donation of $2,300. But he has also contributed the same amount to Obama, a U.S. senator from Illinois, and the primary campaigns of Democrats John Edwards and Bill Richardson -- who has since dropped out of the race.
The director of "Schindler's List" may have been hedging his bets, but a more charitable explanation is that Spielberg, like most of Jewish Hollywood, has been genuinely conflicted in his choice of candidates.
Barbra Streisand, Rob Reiner, Michael Douglas, Bette Midler, and former Paramount chief Sherry Lansing are backing Clinton, but they also have contributed to Obama, Richardson and other Democratic candidates.
Katzenberg and actor Paul Newman are in the Obama camp, but they have signed checks as well for Clinton and other candidates.
"At this point, I still don't know what Democrat I'll vote for, I am still learning," said Deborah Oppenheimer, an Oscar winner for her documentary on Jewish refugee children.
Similarly, director Paul Mazursky noted, "I am leaning toward Hillary, but I wouldn't be upset if Obama won. The first priority is to find the best person who can undo the damage of the last eight years," referring to President Bush's tenure.
With the California primary coming up on Super Tuesday, Feb. 5, the time to make up their minds is running out.
Andy Spahn, the veteran political adviser to Spielberg and other top Hollywood Democrats, said, "There is tremendous excitement this year, but also indecision because all our front-runners are so attractive. Furthermore, by moving up the primary date, Californians will finally have a real say in the selection of the Democratic standard-bearer."
Hollywood loves a new face and talent, which partially helps account for the Obama strength in what has been considered solid Clinton territory for the past 15 years.
More Obama supporters and contributors in the movie, television and literary world include actors Larry David, Leonard Nimoy, Gene Wilder, Rosanna Arquette, producer Norman Lear, ex-Disney chief Michael Eisner and author Michael Chabon. Another author, Norman Mailer, sent a $200 check shortly before his death.
The Illinois senator's most glamorous fan is actress Scarlett Johansson, who has a Jewish mother and lists her religion as Jewish. Natalie Portman is also reportedly backing Obama.
Lined up behind Clinton are actors Billy Crystal and Fran Drescher, fashion designer Calvin Klein, Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone, studio head Harvey Weinstein, talk-show host Jerry Springer and media mogul Haim Saban.
Republicans, particularly Jewish Republicans, have always been a modest minority in Hollywood, and most for now are leaning toward former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, according to writer-producer Lionel Chetwynd, the dean of Tinseltown's Jewish conservatives.
Actor Adam Sandler has attended a Giuliani fund-raiser and contributed $2,100 toward his campaign. Giuliani's list of supporters also includes actress Melissa Gilbert and director David Zucker.
Another of his backers is Jon Voight, who is not Jewish but has appeared on many Chabad telethons and has close ties to the Jewish community. An e-mail under Voight's name has been widely circulated asserting that no other candidate has "closer ties and understands, respects, and loves the Jewish people as does Rudy Giuliani."
In a class by himself in terms of spreading his support is singer Barry Manilow, who has contributed equal sums to such disparate candidates as Clinton, Obama and another Democrat, Joe Biden, as well as Republican Ron Paul.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the entertainment industry has funneled $386,000 to McCain and $376,000 to Giuliani, with no other Republican candidates listed.
If anything has lessened the focus on politics, it is the drawn-out writers' strike, which has deeply affected all crafts and ranks in the entertainment industry.
Casting director Margie Simkin reported that some writers are using their enforced unemployment to campaign in other states.
"I have a writer friend who told me he was going to New Hampshire to campaign for the Democrats," Simkin said. "When I asked him for which candidate, he said, 'Whoever will have me. I just want to be part of the process.' "