BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Ronald Brownstein, author of "The Power and The Glitter: The Hollywood-Washington Connection", why a book?
RONALD BROWNSTEIN, AUTHOR, "THE POWER AND THE GLITTER: THE HOLLYWOOD-WASHINGTON CONNECTION": I went out in 1986 when I was still living in Washington, working for National Journal covering politics here, and spent some time in Los Angeles writing about the early fund raising for the 1988 presidential campaign. One of the things I was most struck by, initially, was this incredible confluence of money and politics and celebrity at every event. I mean, politics in Washington is sort of a chore often. It's like part of the job. In LA, it was like part of the social life. It was like one of the ways that people who had money but really didn't have a social cachet could mingle and rub shoulders with the most celebrated and most famous people in our country, in some ways. It sort of crystallized for me at one moment.
I had a dinner to meet some of the younger fundraisers in Hollywood. We were sitting around at a friend's house and talking about politics, and I realized about halfway through this dinner that everyone at that table had been to Ted Kennedy's house except me, and I was the one who lived in Washington. I said that there may be something going on here, and, in fact, as I began to research the history, I found that there was this incredibly diverse and rich relationship that goes back seven decades.
LAMB: How did you approach writing the book?
BROWNSTEIN: Well, I started with the history. I tried to do a great deal of background reading on the formation of Hollywood, on what I call the Communist detour, the role of the Communist Party in Hollywood in the 1930s, the black list. Then I began to look at some less traditional sources. I tried to use archival research quite a bit to examine the ways that different presidents related to Hollywood and interacted with Hollywood. Herbert Hoover, who we do not think of as sort of a glamour or glitzy guy, in fact was quite close to Louis Mayer and William Randolph Hearst, two of the original powers in Hollywood. In fact, Mayer was his first overnight guest in the White House. So, I would spend time at the Herbert Hoover Library in Iowa, at the JFK Library in Boston, at the LBJ Library in Austin. Then I began to interview people -- Hollywood figures, political figures, talked to Tom Dewey's campaign manager, Louis Mayer's nephew, his daughter who has since died. I began to try to construct what this relationship was like in the 1920s and 1930s and 1940s and how it has evolved over time, which I think it has.
LAMB: What was the original draw between Herbert Hoover and Louis Mayer and who was Louis Mayer?
BROWNSTEIN: Louis Mayer was the founder of MGM. He was brought in by the Loew's interest to run MGM. He became the most powerful man in Hollywood in its first generation. He was the pinnacle. Through much of the 1930s he was the most highly paid man in America. Mayer was someone who understood power, who was very autocratic, very determined to run his studio his way, and yet who also keenly felt sort of the ostracism of Hollywood. I mean, they simply were not accepted in Los Angeles society, a very conservative place at the time. They had no social position. And I think they saw politics initially in the 1920s as a means of establishing themselves, of giving themselves a legitimacy. The fact is that Louis Mayer could not get his daughter into the best private schools in Los Angeles, partially because he was Jewish, partially because the studios in Hollywood were not seen as something that respectable people did. But he could get himself into the White House as the first overnight guest of the president. You can imagine, I think, the kind of social force that that approval had. In the 1930s the social lure of politics is reinforced by a very hard-headed business need. The studios are becoming a major industry. Hollywood is becoming a major industry, and, as such, they have more at stake in their dealings with the government. They learned, as many businesses since have learned, that it pays to have friends in Washington.
LAMB: I know you've been on the book tour and you're near the end of it, so I've got to ask you the question about all the people you write about in here. Who's the one or two that you found on the shows you've appeared is everyone the most interested in?
BROWNSTEIN: Warren Beatty and John F. Kennedy.
LAMB: In that order?
BROWNSTEIN: In that order. Well, that's interesting. I'd say it varies, in that order. I think people are fascinated by the Beatty-Hart relationship because for this generation, I think like the Kennedy-Sinatra relationship, if we were doing this 25, 30 years ago, it really is the emblematic interaction between these two very different and yet fascinated communities. Beatty and Hart, the lure between them, the pull that they felt toward each other, the friendship, really sort of embodies much of what Hollywood and Washington have found interesting about each other for 70 years.
Warren Beatty, a very successful actor, director, producer, nonetheless craved something more tangible. He wanted a more tangible kind of influence over this society. He felt that he had something to say. He had ideas about where this society should go and how campaigns should be run, how you sell a message to the public, and he wanted the ability to exercise that. Gary Hart wanted, in addition to political power, the glamour and the glitter and the excitement that comes with life among the famous. And partially because it came to such a sour end and to really a tragic end in some ways, people are quite fascinated with that relationship. Kennedy-Sinatra was somewhat similar in the kind of attraction, although Sinatra did not have the ambitions of Beatty to be politically influential. He just really wanted to be around the president. I think it was more like Louis Mayer. He wanted the social approval. He wanted to overcome his past by associating with Kennedy, but, in fact, Sinatra was more indelibly stamped with it than ever because Kennedy was forced to break off the relationship rather abruptly when evidence accumulated of alleged ties between Sinatra and the mob.
LAMB: There's a minor mystery in your acknowledgements I want to ask you about. You say, "At a crucial moment, Mark Glitchman and Graham Huber stepped in to unravel a technical tangle that might have held up completion of the manuscript." What was the technical problem?
BROWNSTEIN: Oh, in this computer era, we're all writing -- most of us anyway; I know some of your guests have talked about writing on legal pads, and I've been impressed by that -- we're writing on computers, and I had some trouble switching systems to get out the draft of the book when I finished it last year. They helped make these computers talk to each other so that I could get out a clean draft. It's funny, because when you're finishing a book, it really feels like you're climbing to the top of this mountain and, at last, here you are sliding down. I remember feeling, "Great, this is all I need. I've written this book, and I can't get it out of my computer." But that was a crucial moment that helped me get onto the point where I would actually have a book to talk about.
LAMB: You also write about your wife.
LAMB: You suggest she had a rather large role in all of this.
BROWNSTEIN: Well, my wife, Nina Easton, who I've written an earlier book with in 1982 when we both lived in Washington that profiled the top hundred people in the Reagan administration, not only had to put up with me as all wives or husbands do during the writing of books, but during the course of my writing this book, she took a job at the Los Angeles Times before I did. She had been at Business Week and took a job covering Hollywood. She began spending her time, really, dealing with the film community and quite graciously included questions sometimes I would have in interviews. I remember when she interviewed Bette Davis toward the end of her life, added a few questions -- Richard Gere, other people who I either did not have the time or did not have the access to.
One of the things that was most difficult about writing this book is that moving from Washington to Los Angeles for a journalist is a dramatic decline in status. In Washington, journalists are seen as part of the process. Talking to reporters is seen as part of what you do in the way that you advance your political or policy agenda. In Los Angeles in general and certainly in Hollywood in particular, the press really isn't seen as having much of a function. To Hollywood the press is a marketing tool. It's seen as a way of promoting movies. The idea that people will sit down and make themselves available for historical inquiry or legitimate press scrutiny is a very alien one, and so there was quite a bit of fencing and maneuvering and networking that went into getting people like Warren Beatty and Robert Redford to sit down for interviews. It was a very exhaustive process. But, Nina, my wife, at some crucial moments was able to step in and provide some really dramatic assistance in addition to the usual assistance of basically living with a person that can be very difficult to live with when they're writing a book.
LAMB: Did you make anybody mad with this book?
BROWNSTEIN: Oh, yes. I think I made a lot of people mad. An outgrowth of what I was just saying that Hollywood does not have a tradition, really, of legitimate press scrutiny is that people are very sensitive. They're not used to being criticized in any way, and I do have some criticisms of the attitude and the approach of people in Hollywood to politics. The basic trend that I think exists in the 70 years of this relationship is moving from the Louis Mayer vision of politicians where you put them up on a pedestal and you looked up to them as a way of establishing your own social credibility to a growing sense in Hollywood of its own political legitimacy -- the sense that they have in this television era where the lines between entertainment and politics seemed to be blurring, that they have every right to be out there, in fact, that they are in some ways more serious about their politics than these flighty money-obsessed politicians who are constantly besieging them for checks.
I think there is an arrogance and an insularity and elitism that permeates part of Hollywood politics. I think it's quite -- not really dangerous in the sense of having an enormous impact on the fate of the republic, but is demeaning to the politicians and leads these people sometimes in strange directions. I've been critical of people like Norman Lear at times for this, of the Hollywood Women's Political Committee, and some of the other powerful liberal fund raisers for sort of pursuing what I think is a contradictory vision of politics -- sort of an egalitarian agenda pursued through elitist means.
LAMB: We're looking at a picture of George Bush and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Is Hollywood left or right?
BROWNSTEIN: For the last three decades or so, Hollywood has clearly leaned to the left. One of the most interesting things in researching the book was finding that in the '30s and '40s and even through the '50s, there was a very strong conservative contingent in Hollywood, especially when you consider the country, itself basically leaned Democratic in those years with the predominance of Roosevelt. People like Wendell Willkie and Tom Dewey had very enthusiastic followings in Hollywood. But by the time you get to the 1960s with John F. Kennedy and then Johnson, there's a sort of realignment in Hollywood. The younger generation of the '50s, people who rose up through the '50s in the shadow of the blacklist, which I think is important, basically enlisted in the Democratic Party almost entirely.
Beginning in the 1960s, you see the pattern that pertains to this day, where there are still conservatives in Hollywood, but by and large they're a smaller group and they're an older group. Ronald Reagan just had his 80th birthday party and you look at the people who were there. It's very familiar faces -- Jimmy Stewart, Merv Griffin. There are some younger people, Tom Selleck. But, by and large, beginning in the '60s, the younger Hollywood has moved to the left. Even the Brat Packers coming the age in the age of Reagan in the '80s when young people were very Republican by and large have enlisted in Democratic politics.
LAMB: In the introduction, first page, you say something I want to ask you about. You say, "Creative Artists Agency President Michael Ovitz, a talent agent generally considered Hollywood's most powerful man." Who is he?
BROWNSTEIN: Michael Ovitz is the head of Creative Artists Agency, and he is the person who engineered the deal by which MCA was sold to the Japanese. He is someone who is seen as really at the center of all the different tracks that run through Hollywood. One of the things that I discuss in the book is that the breakdown of the studio system that governed the first decades of Hollywood rearrange not only the political life of Hollywood, with profound consequences for the things that I talk about in the book, but also the actual business life of Hollywood. When the studios -- MGM, 20th Century Fox and so forth -- lost their dominance of Hollywood, power shifted to the agents. The first agent who really understood this was Lew Wasserman, the head of MCA and really the most powerful political figure in Hollywood of the past 30 years. Wasserman understood that in this new era, and the basic rule of the new era, was that the studios no longer held stars under binding contract, which was the way the early decades of Hollywood were run. Agents, by brokering and putting together stars with projects would have enormous power. Wasserman really understood this. He used it. He became the most powerful man in Hollywood in his time. Ovitz is seen as his successor.
LAMB: I just want to jump in and tell the audience. This is Lew Wasserman at what age, do you know?
BROWNSTEIN: Boy, this must be at around 40. I believe it's in early 1950s. He must be in his 40s.
LAMB: If I walked around Hollywood and walked up and down -- I don't even know what the main street is -- Hollywood and Vine and asked everybody that came by who's the most powerful man in Hollywood, would they all say Michael Ovitz?
BROWNSTEIN: If you walked up and down the main street of anywhere in LA, no, but if you went to lunch at the right places, I think they would say Michael Ovitz by and large, especially because he is seen as someone who is, like Wasserman before him, very conscious of the exercise of power. Now Ovitz is interesting because he represents something to me in terms of the politics of Hollywood and the political role of Hollywood. Ovitz, after being very apolitical, is being drawn gradually into greater involvement in politics, in Bill Bradley's presidential or senate efforts. Whatever we see out of Bill Bradley, Michael Ovitz, along with Michael Eisner, the head of Disney, will be there. What's been happening over the last generation is that it sort of institutionalized the idea that if you are powerful in Hollywood, whether a star or an agent or a studio head, that you should have friends in Washington, you should be part of the political system. It was not as direct a need, perhaps, seen in the '30s and '40s, but today virtually everyone of note in Hollywood feels the need to get involved in politics. Someone like Robert De Niro, who has no causes, is sort of an oddity.
LAMB: Michael Ovitz, what's he like and where's he come from and does he have real power when it comes to things outside of Hollywood in the political world?
BROWNSTEIN: Well, I don't think Ovitz has a lot of political influence yet outside of the Hollywood community itself where his influence is tremendous. Ovitz is sort of a veiled and very secretive -- may be too strong a word -- guy, but someone who keeps to himself, like Lew Wasserman before him. Again, following the model established, I think, by Wasserman, he tries to keep himself out of the press, keep a very low profile and yet exercise tremendous power behind the scenes. I think that as he continues to be drawn into the political world, he will continue to follow in that way. If you leave out Wasserman for a moment -- Wasserman has been close to Democratic presidents for three decades, Johnson and Carter in particular, and yet he is someone who has been extraordinarily averse to publicity. I describe in the book, he was seen by the people around presidents as the rare guy who did not want his photo taken with the president. He'd rather just know that he could pick up the phone if the occasion ever arose.
LAMB: Page 183, "In 1952, the company aggressively lobbied for and won a blanket waiver from the Screen Actors Guild, freeing it from the union's prohibition against agents acting simultaneously as producers. The waiver was arguably the most important event in MCA history, beginning its metamorphosis from a talent agency to a studio. The agreement also marked a turning point in the fortunes of MCA client Ronald Reagan."
BROWNSTEIN: Yes, absolutely. This has been an event that was not only in some ways the pivotal event in the history of MCA, which has been a crucial player and perhaps in some ways the most important player in Hollywood over the last several decades, but it's something that's caused controversy for decades. I mean, Ronald Reagan, MCA client, fading career, at this point. MCA wins a blanket waiver from SAG, the Screen Actor's Guild, a prohibition on agents simultaneously acting as producers and goes on to become a dominant force in network television production in the '50s and begins the evolution from a talent agency into a studio, which it completed in the 1960s, under duress from the Kennedy Justice Department to some extent. Reagan's career then revives, and people forever have alleged that there was a deal. The Justice Department investigated. Reagan testified in a rather blurry manner, as can be his style on occasion, to the events of the earlier time. There has forever been this debate.
The defenders of the deal point out that MCA did agree, for the first time, to give actors residual payments for the repeated showing of television programming, and that, whatever the relationship with Reagan, that something very important was given to the film community in the deal. One agent said to me, "All of these writers and directors and actors should be down kissing Reagan's feet because half the homes in the San Fernando Valley were built on the residuals that they won in that deal." That deal, I think, has been enshrined in Hollywood lore and is one of the things that is often cited by the left in Hollywood as why they never trusted Reagan. There's sort of this longstanding antipathy to Reagan on the Hollywood left. I quote someone in the book who was told by William Wilder, the great director in the 1960s, after Reagan was elected governor, "If we'd only given Ronnie a few more good parts, maybe none of this would have happened." So, there's always been an antipathy for Reagan. This is one of the moments at which it began.
LAMB: Lew Wasserman, a Democrat, heavily involved in the Johnson administration and fundraising and what he is, 74, 75 years old?
BROWNSTEIN: Yes, 76 probably by now.
LAMB: Often credited during the Reagan years as being one of those that helped Ronald Reagan, like you're saying here. Were they close?
BROWNSTEIN: Well, it's very interesting. I think one of the most interesting things to me in doing the research was they were close when Wasserman was his agent but their relationship had clearly frayed by the time that Reagan arrived in the White House. I think that Wasserman, preoccupied with the duties of building a studio, had less time for Reagan in the '50s when Reagan's career was sort of on the ropes, and Reagan, I think, felt somewhat hurt by this. Wasserman in turn, I was told, was hurt when Reagan bickered over taking his last role in The Killers in 1964 because he felt that Reagan should be grateful and take the role, and I think that Reagan was worried about playing an unsympathetic character right before going into a political career. So, there was this frayed relationship, which I think very few people in Hollywood were aware of. But, Wasserman, with the skill and subtlety that really are his trademark, rebuilt the relationship when Reagan was in the White House. I was told that he provided some subtle assistance in the 1980 campaign, even while essentially helping Jimmy Carter. In 1984, spoke more favorably about Reagan, perhaps opened some doors, and then got very heavily involved in the fundraising for the Reagan library, to the point where, when Ronald Reagan left the White House and returned to Los Angeles, the first man he had lunch with was Lew Wasserman.
LAMB: You paint a picture of Lew Wasserman on one of your pages in here of a man who had a rather interesting temper. Is that new information or is that something that is well-known in Hollywood?
BROWNSTEIN: I think it's reasonably well-known in Hollywood and not discussed. As I said before, Hollywood is not a place used to publicly discussing the way things really run. Wasserman's an interesting figure because if you've ever seen him in public on the rare times we do see him in public, he is so icily self-controlled. He's a man in just perfect control -- very soft spoken, very quiet. But, in private, he can get quite enraged and he has a temper that was quite fearsome. He's a real taskmaster. He was a real driven man. If you look at Wasserman in the '50s and '60s, as I say in the book, he really is the only one of the successor generation to the moguls who display their same kind of brute ambition. There's just sort of this ferocious desire to build an empire with all of that entails. That is really led him into the political arena because he found as a Mayer and Zanuck before him that his interests could be affected not only by the people in Hollywood that he had basically cowed, but also by the government. In 1962, when the Justice Department begins and forces the final severing of the talent agency of MCA from their studio operation, the feeling as has been enshrined in MCA lore, the company lore, is that was the moment, really, at which Wasserman understood that the low political profile that MCA had been famous for in its early decades really couldn't apply anymore. They needed to have juice. They needed to have friends, and they went out and rather dramatically acquired them.
LAMB: "His temper was legendary. Stories percolated through the company of men who fainted under tongue lashing from Wasserman or who were rushed from his office dazed and humiliated and promptly threw up."
LAMB: "Wasserman enraged was fearsome to watch. His voice would rise, and in his agitation, he would begin to lisp and slur his words." Is that a normal kind of activity on the part of a Hollywood mogul?
BROWNSTEIN: Well, it's a little excessive, even for the Hollywood moguls of today. Louis Mayer was so fierce at times that Dore Schary, who succeeded him as the head of MGM and was quite close to Adlai Stevenson and became an important political figure in his own right, wrote in his memoirs of being in Louis Mayer's office while Louis Mayer berated someone else so ferociously that Schary left the room and threw up. So, there is a history of perhaps retching in the executive suites of Hollywood. But, Wasserman is a figure of such personal power in the film community that he can get away with an awful lot. I talk about it in the book. He could very hard on politicians, also. He could press his case with a vigor and intensity that is very rare, because he had these relationships, he had this self-confidence. I tell a story of a fundraiser for Dick Gephardt, trying to interest him in the 1988 presidential campaign at a time when Dick Gephardt was supporting the directors in their efforts to stop the colorizing of old films. This was very much opposed by the studios. Wasserman sort of howls into the phone, "What does Dick Gephardt care about the colorizing of movies. Tell him if he doesn't like color movies, to go around and take the goddamn color knobs off every television." You know, that kind of thing -- the kind of very assertive behavior that very few people can get away with.
LAMB: Ronald Brownstein of what native city?
BROWNSTEIN: New York City. New York to Washington to Los Angeles, sort of a trifecta here on centers of disparate American communities.
LAMB: What was family life like in New York City for you?
BROWNSTEIN: Grew up in Queens. Father was an electrician. Attended public schools. I went to the state university, public university in New York.
LAMB: Studied what?
BROWNSTEIN: Studied English literature and history, but always was involved in journalism, was editor of my college paper, editor of my high school paper. Came down to Washington after graduating. Worked with Ralph Nader for a few years. Then worked at National Journal here in Washington, covering the White House and national politics before moving to LA to write this book and get a little air.
LAMB: What did you do for Ralph Nader?
BROWNSTEIN: I wrote. When I came out of school, in '79, there were, like planes stacked over O'Hare, all of these manuscripts and books and reports that had been either half finished or three-quarter finished. I hired a group of writers and edited and basically put out a number of these books and reports and then wrote a couple of my own. Put out a book on the environment, coauthored, and then in 1982, wrote a book with Nina Easton, my wife, called Reagan's Ruling Class, that profiled the top hundred people in the Reagan administration in considerable depth and involved interviewing about 60 of them and several hundred other people. Then I went to work at National Journal.
LAMB: Are you a believer in Ralph Nader?
BROWNSTEIN: I think Nader has been one certainly one of the most remarkable forces in Washington and in America. I was talking to someone the other day about when you think about some of the subtle impacts that Nader has had -- just the sheer idea of influencing debate in Washington without any institutional base. I think he really cemented that idea. He's gone through his up periods and his down periods, but he's persevered and he has an idea, which is something very few people in Washington really have, and he has a vision of what he's about.
LAMB: Would Ralph Nader ever get caught up with the Hollywood types?
BROWNSTEIN: Oh, that's funny. There was an excerpt of the book in Vanity Fair about the Beatty-Hart relationship, and they had this photo of Ralph and Warren Beatty together in matching sunglasses. I think it was my favorite photo in this whole wall of photos that they had collected about Beatty with every politician under the sun. I think Nader, like anyone else -- I mean, really it's striking that anyone involved in advancing political causes, particularly without, as I said before, a large institutional base, inevitably finds themselves in Hollywood. Yes, Nader has been out there. He's raised some money. He's worked with celebrities to publicize his causes. You look at virtually any cause that basically has to attract attention -- and that really is the ante in the modern political era. Essentially to attract the attention of TV is the way that you begin to shape public debate in this society and, as I talk about in the book, that inevitably leads you to Hollywood because these celebrities are magnets for the camera and also there are people there. There's an unusually large concentration of people in this community who are willing to fund politics around ideology, not parochial business interest. There's a large contingent of them. There's the Wasserman wing of Hollywood which has an ideology but essentially is primarily involved in protecting their business interests. That's not very unusual. That's anywhere -- Detroit, Atlanta. What is unusual is that you have this other group of very affluent people who are willing to put money into ideological causes such as those that Ralph Nader pursues and insurgent candidacies. George McGovern raised a lot of money in Hollywood. You can find support for crusades that are not at the comfortable center of the American political spectrum in Hollywood.
LAMB: Anything about the Hollywood-Washington connection that really bothers you as far as the future's concerned?
BROWNSTEIN: Yes, absolutely. I don't think that Hollywood itself trivializes American politics. I don't think that Arnold Schwarzenegger or Charleton Heston or Richard Gere or Richard Dreyfus are powerful enough to demean our politics, as some people have suggested. I think, though, that the trend that we're looking at here of a blurring of the lines between entertainment and politics, of the sense in Hollywood of these people that we belong in this debate, reflects a broader problem which is the marginalization of politics in American life. The fact is that causes, I don't think, are being irrational when they say we have to bribe the public to pay attention by occasionally putting a famous face atop one of these debates. But the fact that they are in that position does trouble me.
The other thing that troubles me is it reflects, again, a broader problem -- the focus on fundraising, the obsession with raising money that afflicts these politicians, which puts them not only in the very demeaning position of coming on bended knee to studio moguls or producers, but also forces them to spend a disproportionate amount of their time hanging around rich people. As I said before, one of the things that's most troubling about the Hollywood political scene is this almost unconscious but incredibly pervasive elitism. There is a notion that the people who want to be president should have to pass through our living room and pass our muster. I find that quite offensive. You can probably see this in other communities, but to some extent it's more purified here, that when politicians come to LA, they don't spend time, by and large, in East LA. They don't spend time with the new immigrant communities. They're forced to spend an awful lot of time beseeching these people in Bel-Air and Brentwood living these very comfortable lives to open their checkbooks. I think that is a troubling trend, also.
LAMB: Besides the Gary Harts, which is a past story, which politicians of today are the most tied to Hollywood?
BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think that there are a number of Democrats who will have quite a bit of support in Hollywood should they choose to run for president. Bill Bradley clearly has a strong financial base in Hollywood. I start the book, as you mentioned before, with a story of Bill Bradley raising $600,000 on a single night in Los Angeles -- not all of that from Hollywood, but much of it from Hollywood and also from these surrounding liberal communities that interact with it. Bob Kerrey, I think, will do very well in Hollywood should he choose to run for president. He could expect a lot of support, not only because of his relationship with Debra Winger, which gives him an in to the film community, but also because he fits the model of what Hollywood likes in a politician.
You look at the kind of politicians who appeal to Hollywood, by and large -- Gary Hart, John F. Kennedy, Adlai Stevenson -- there's style there, there's a glamour, there's more than just substance. I think Hollywood does like to be charmed. They like to be wowed, and I think Kerrey has a little bit of that. Chris Dodd has done well out there. John Kerry has done well out there. Joe Kennedy, for obvious reasons, has a lot of friends in Hollywood and raises money. Just about anybody who sits on the relevant committees can have a luncheon at one of the studios and do very well, too.
LAMB: Any Republican?
BROWNSTEIN: Well, Orrin Hatch, for example, and Alan Simpson -- very unlikely, but have raised money because they've had a say on some of the issues that concern the studios. George Bush has a share of support in Hollywood also, I think. You know, Arnold Schwarzenegger is sort of interesting figure because he's someone who clearly enjoys this and is likely to play a larger and larger role in conservative politics in the '90s. In the '80s, just about every conservative cause tapped on Charleton Heston. Heston was there for everything. He was there defending Reagan, he was there for the NRA, he was there on El Salvador. He was the conservative poster boy in Hollywood in the '80s. I suspect that in the '90s he is going to be supplanted by Schwarzenegger, not only because he's a bigger star but also because he has a lot of enthusiasm for this. I think he enjoys being out there and enjoys being part of the process.
LAMB: Who in Hollywood would you expect to run for office and possibly be successful, and do you see any Hollywood figure ever doing what Ronald Reagan did in the near future?
BROWNSTEIN: I have trouble envisioning that. I talked to people like Beatty and Redford at length and they are often mentioned -- Robert Redford -- as a potential candidate. Warren Beatty in 1976 even publicly mused about running for president as a stand-in for Humphrey or Kennedy against Carter. But, I think inevitably, they're drawn back away from the starting gate because the life of the actor is very different from the life of the politician despite the surface similarities that some have recorded. The fact is that you have enormous control as an actor over the kind of exposure you have to the public and the press, and you can always get behind the gate and close the door. You can decide to answer what you want to answer and when you don't like the question, you can say, "Next question." Politicians have to put up with an awful lot that Robert Redford or Warren Beatty of James Garner, who was talked about as running for governor in California last year.
I think the people who actually cross over, the changelings like Reagan and George Murphy will remain very much the exceptions. On the other hand, I do believe that in this era of politics where the key is the ability of how well you can present yourself on TV, your ability to project truthfulness, to project sincerity on TV, there will be a continuing draw to that. I can think of a number of stars who look at the politicians and say, "I can do that. And I can do that better."
LAMB: When did you finish writing? What was the last date that you put words on paper?
BROWNSTEIN: Well, last January I turned in the finished manuscript, and then I revised it again through May and June. I would say sometime in June, with some reconsideration of the role of Helen Gahagan Douglas in the 1940s and how that influenced Hollywood, I was finished.
LAMB: And how's it done? You mentioned Vanity Fair.
BROWNSTEIN: Yes, we had extensive excerpts. It's been excerpted in Vanity Fair, the New York Times Sunday Arts and Leisure, LA Times, Lear's and Mother Jones magazine. We've had, I think, pretty good reviews. I mean, we've been reviewed in the Washington Post, the New York Times, LA Times, Boston Globe, Time magazine. We're out there just trying to find an audience.
LAMB: How will it affect your own career?
BROWNSTEIN: I don't know the answer. I seem to take my career junctures at the completion of books. When I finished Reagan's Ruling Class, I left Ralph Nader and went to work for National Journal. When I finished this, I left National Journal, where I'd still been associated as West Coast correspondent, and went to work at the LA Times as a national political correspondent. I'd like to continue alternating between journalism and books.
LAMB: I've got three pictures I want to ask you about, and they're some old timers. Helen and Melvin Douglas, who are they?
BROWNSTEIN: Melvin Douglas, star of light screen comedy at MGM in the 1930s and '40s and perhaps the key Democrat in Hollywood of that era. Helen Gahagan Douglas, his remarkable wife, who was an actress herself, who starred in the original version of She, a cult classic, and was also a singer of great renown who became drawn to politics even more than her husband. At first her husband was the one who had the contacts in the White House and in the New Deal and was the one who campaigned around the state.
But, beginning in 1938 with the formation of something called the Steinbeck Committee, which John Steinbeck had founded to help the Okies that he wrote about in the Grapes of Wrath living this terrible life in California at the time, she was drawn in by the misery and became very active in that speaking around the state and found herself increasingly drawn to the political world to the point where in 1944 -- with the encouragement of Franklin Roosevelt, who saw her as a counterweight for the Democrats to Claire Booth Luce, who had been elected to Congress as a Republican two years earlier -- she ran for Congress and won and served three terms before going down in defeat in 1950 in a remarkable and legendary Senate race to Richard Nixon.
LAMB: Why was it legendary?
BROWNSTEIN: Well, it was really a ferocious contest and one in which Nixon acquired the label of Tricky Dick. It was one in which Helen Gahagan Douglas was mercilessly red-baited, first by her Democratic opponent, a newspaper publisher in Los Angeles, during the primary, and then by Nixon. This is an extremely important period in Hollywood's political development in which the idea of alliance between liberals and Communists, which was very prevalent in the 1930s, which really dominated Hollywood's political participation. The popular front of liberals and Communists against Fascism had collapsed with the Cold War, and then the Conservatives at the House un-American Activities Committee came in and began to pick through the debris really of what was already falling apart and begin the persecution of Communists in Hollywood. Helen Gahagan Douglas, merely by association with the Hollywood of the Depression era, the Hollywood of the prewar era, was subject to attack for allegedly associating with Communists. In fact, both her and her husband were among the most skeptical in Hollywood from the beginning of alliance with Communists, and Melvin Douglas sometimes found himself under attack from both sides. He was accused of being a Communist, and then he was attacked by the Communists.
LAMB: Did their marriage last and how long did they live?
BROWNSTEIN: Their marriage did last, although, the sense that I had from the interviews that I conducted was that he never fully adjusted to her succeeding him as the dominant political voice. He was invisible in her campaign. He played a very little role and also receded from politics entirely once she emerged. It was clear that it was very difficult for him to walk into a room, I think, and have her be the person that people were looking for in politics. Their marriage endured and they lived a long life. I believe she died in the late '70s or early '80s.
LAMB: Orson Welles. Who are these people?
BROWNSTEIN: Orson Welles. The people surrounded around him in the picture are the reporters interviewing him on the occasion of his "War of the Worlds" broadcast in 1938 where he shocked the nation. Orson Welles is really an incredible figure. As I say in the book, there seemed to be more hours in his day. He was on radio, he was a hit in the theatre, he was coming out to Hollywood to make Citizen Kane, and yet he found time to be involved in a whole panoply of liberal causes -- writing for a magazine called The Free World, which was involved in international affairs, campaigning feverishly for Roosevelt in 1944, so feverishly that he literally collapsed with a 104 fever 10 days before the election. Welles was someone who, I think, envisioned, at this point in his life that he could do anything. I think he could have imagined himself being a senator -- he thought about running for Senate in 1946 out of California -- who could have envisioned himself being a national candidate at some point. There was a rally in 1944 where Henry Wallace, after he'd been dumped from the ticket for Harry Truman, spoke at Madison Square Garden with Orson Welles and a number of other Hollywood celebrities. Hollywood was very involved in that Roosevelt campaign. But on the way out of the rally, Welles is mobbed by fans who rock his car and chant, "Wallace and Welles in '48." Orson Welles would have thought this quite reasonable.
LAMB: What was the "War of the Worlds" broadcast?
BROWNSTEIN: Oh, on Halloween night, 1938, he did a mock invasion from Mars which became legendary because it generated panic all up and down the East Coast. He broadcast the "War of the Worlds" as if it was really occurring, with news broadcasts cutting in and so forth. It proved to be a sensation that really for the first time made him a national figure. He was a theatrical hit in New York, but this incredibly audacious stunt which was much in character for him at that point in his life. He had not yet been beset by entropy and scattered energy. This was something that first brought him to the public's attention.
LAMB: Did he do that for political reasons?
BROWNSTEIN: No, that was sort of the great showman at that point. But Welles had that showman's skill when he came to politics. He was a very ornate speaker. He was very dramatic. He would stand in occasionally in the '44 campaign. He would appear for Roosevelt. He appeared at one forum opposite Thomas Dewey, the opponent. He was someone who really had a great gift for this sort of thing. He even wrote a column after the '44 campaign. He wrote a five-day-a-week political column envisioning himself moving more deeply into this world, but it never really happened. His life begins to sort of fall apart in the second half of the '40s and he ends up leaving the country.
LAMB: The gentleman on the left?
BROWNSTEIN: Wendell Willkie.
LAMB: On the right?
BROWNSTEIN: Darryl Zanuck.
LAMB: What's the reason for this picture?
BROWNSTEIN: Darryl Zanuck of the first generation of moguls was in some ways the most brilliant filmmaker. He was respected the most by people like Orson Welles as someone who was really a brilliant filmmaker in his own right. Like Warren Beatty a generation later -- he really is the antecedent to Warren Beatty -- he believed that the insights that he had of the public through making films fully equipped him to plot the strategy of a modern presidential campaign. He was very much involved in 1940, the Willkie campaign, and in the '44 Willkie attempt to get the nomination, and also in the '52 Eisenhower campaign in peppering the senior campaign staff with memos, strategy suggestions, ideas. He was so close to Willkie that he engineered Willkie's appointment as chairman of the board of 20th Century Fox and was someone who saw in himself, really, the prototype of the modern political strategist. He would send memos to Nixon in 1952 talking about -- quite shrewdly, I think -- how television had changed the rules of campaigning and how politicians had to begin to understand that.
LAMB: Let's pretend for a moment that you're going to be a candidate for Congress, the Senate or even the presidency. Who's the first person you would call in Hollywood for money and support?
BROWNSTEIN: Well, historically, it would be Lew Wasserman as a Democrat.
LAMB: Even today, you'd do that today?
BROWNSTEIN: I think you would start with that as a mark of respect. There is that sort of don-ish aspect to Hollywood where you demonstrate respect. But I think that in a practical sense you look for someone -- especially the congressmen and the senators, you're not really going to get Lew Wasserman, I think, or some of the other studio chiefs to put out a lot of effort for you unless there's a very particular reason. Bob Graham from Florida does very well at Disney for obvious reasons. People support him. You look for an angel. You look for someone who is trying to make their name even as you are making yours, because, much as how well politicians do depends on the quality of the sponsor they find in Hollywood, people in Hollywood achieve a certain status based on the quality of the people they sponsor. So you find people who are on the way up.
Bill Bradley's a good example. In the dawn of his political career, he makes friends with Michael Eisner, who then is a young executive at Paramount. Michael Eisner goes on to bigger and better things as the head of Disney and arguably the most powerful studio person in Hollywood. Michael Eisner raises money for Bill Bradley over the years, and he introduces him to his friend Michael Ovitz, and together Michael Ovitz and Michael Eisner introduce Bill Bradley to their friends, which is just about anybody who matters in Hollywood. You have this network that expands. I think Hollywood has become somewhat jaded. They're so besieged by politicians that it's very hard to start at the top. You have to find someone in the middle level who will rise with you.
LAMB: Let's go back again, though. Let's say you don't know Lew Wasserman, you don't know Michael Ovitz and Michael Eisner. Who else can you call? You say, "There's some money out there for me and I need to get into that community." Who else?
BROWNSTEIN: This has become an absolute profession at this point. In Washington this would be an unusual verb, but in Hollywood there are people who "do" politics. That's what they do. They do politics. Stars and producers alike now have people on their staffs who do politics. Norman Lear has an aide who does his politics. Richard Dreyfus has an aide who does his politics. Michael Ovitz has an aide who does his politics. Ted Field has an aide, an adviser, who does his politics.
LAMB: Who's Ted Field?
BROWNSTEIN; Ted Field is a producer, a multimillionaire heir to the Field fortune.
LAMB: Marshall Field?
BROWNSTEIN: Marshall Field fortune, and certainly among the wealthiest men in Hollywood. Basically what you do then as a candidate is you call these people.
LAMB: Do you know any of the names of the doers of politics?
LAMB: Name one of them.
BROWNSTEIN: Bob Burkett, who works for Ted Field, used to work for Norman Lear, and is very heavily involved in Democratic fund raising, is someone whose phone does ring with Democratic candidates all the time. He once told me the story about having a lawn sale at his house, a garage sale to get rid of some stuff, and he started pawing through all these curios from his garage and there is Representative Tom Daschle who wants to be Senator Tom Daschle. That's the kind of thing that happens in Hollywood. People in Hollywood, as I said, have become so barraged by the politicians pursuing money that they become somewhat jaded, and they expect an awful lot of stroking and courting. The rule of thumb in the political community, I think, in Washington is that you have to go out and make several trips. They have to spend time getting to know you.
I talked about Sidney Pollack, the director, who said, "You do a little something. You hold a fund raiser at your house, and all of a sudden the calls start -- 'Sidney, I'm going to be out in Los Angeles, maybe we could have lunch.'" Sort of like they're just dropping by as if they're on their way to the beach. Senators and congressmen are always passing through, always trolling around, always looking for a new angel -- someone who can unlock these golden doors and produce some cash.
LAMB: Bob Burkett, is that what his name was?
BROWNSTEIN: Bob Burkett, yes.
LAMB: Do you call Bob on the phone. You tell him your situation. What's the first thing he's going to do? How does he shake you if he doesn't want to deal with you or how does he immediately help you if he wants to?
BROWNSTEIN: I think if Bob doesn't want to deal with you, he just doesn't take the call. Eventually he will.
LAMB: But he's going to take it if you're a congressman.
BROWNSTEIN: If you're a congressman he's going to take it. What they do is they will meet with these people and depending on how much they want to help them, they will either talk about how overwhelmed they are and how barraged they are or they will arrange a small fundraiser and gradually arrange a larger fundraiser. By the way, it's a two-way process. I think the people like Bob Burkett, who's very shrewd about his politics, go out and seek rising politicians as well. They went out -- likewise Eisner and Ovitz went out -- and built some links to Bill Bradley, did some fundraising for him because they want to be connected as well. They want to be part of the process of shaping the leadership, in this case, of the Democratic Party. One of the fundraisers, a guy named David Stein, who was a very important fundraiser for Gary Hart in 1984, a real estate developer in Orange County, very tied into the Hollywood political scene, I thought really encapsulated it well in one quote when we were talking once. He said, "You know, if you got a congressman who has a tough race, he'll call you up and he'll say, 'David, the Republicans have targeted me. I've got this tough race. Can you raise me $10,000?' And you say, 'We'll do what we can.' If somebody wants to be president someday, he'll call you up and say, 'David, you want to go camping?'" There is this building of relationship that goes on there, and there's this bizarre courting ritual. It's strange to think of people who want to be president spending time courting the people who spend their time constructing celluloid fantasies. But the fact is that it is an accepted and almost inevitable stop on the path to the White House.
LAMB: Has it paid off for Hollywood?
BROWNSTEIN: For Hollywood? Yes, well, I . . .
LAMB: The industry.
BROWNSTEIN: There are really two separate ways to measure that. As an industry, protecting narrow industry interests, Hollywood is very good. Hollywood, in their perennial battles with the networks over the control of syndicated programming, does very well. Hollywood puts a lot of money into politics. The studios I'm talking about -- institutional Hollywood puts a lot of money into politics and, yes, defends its interest quite effectively. Jack Valenti is widely regarded as one of the most effective lobbyists in Washington. Now, on the other hand, the other side of Hollywood, the ideological side of Hollywood, I think is often disappointed. I think they feel that these politicians never really carry through, aren't really serious, aren't willing to go to the last inch of ground in fighting on El Salvador and Nicaragua or abortion. Hollywood tends to be, in its political expression on both left and right, rather militant, rather extremist, rather purist, for reasons that I talk about in the book. I think that as a result, they are constantly disappointed by the politicians.
The Hollywood Women's Political Committee, for example, which is a very powerful organization, raises a lot of money for Democrats, often treats the politicians who come out there as people who've strayed from the true path. They sort of view them as not quite as committed as they are. In some ways, maybe they're not.
LAMB: You mention in your acknowledgements that you've interviewed 325 people for this book. Who wouldn't talk to you, and the same question is who was your biggest disappointment that wouldn't talk to you?
BROWNSTEIN: The biggest disappointment was Harry Belafonte because I believe that he really played a crucial role in the evolution of how people in Hollywood viewed fame -- how the idea took root that fame could be a kind of political tool. That's really what I track in the book. In some ways it's a social history of fame and the way that fame and celebrity has become seen as a form of social power in this society because of the platform that it gives you. Belafonte, as a black actor, black star, had something that very few blacks in America had in the 1950s and 1960s. He had a platform to address white America, and I think although he felt resentful almost that he had to shoulder this responsibility, he really did shoulder it and he used the platform extraordinarily effectively. Very heavily involved in the civil rights movement. I would have liked to have talked to him.
LAMB: Why wouldn't he talk to you?
BROWNSTEIN: Stars can be very difficult to get to. As I said before, the stars tend to view the press primarily as means of promoting what they do, and it can be very hard to cut through all the layers and get to them. It took enormous persistence to get to the people that I did like Beatty, like Redford, John Houseman -- a number from all different eras. The other disappointment was Sinatra.
LAMB: Wouldn't talk to you?
BROWNSTEIN: Wouldn't talk to me.
BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think because at this point Sinatra doesn't want to have to justify his life to anybody. Even though I think the treatment of him in there is rounded, I don't think it's one-sided -- I mean, there's a whole chapter in the book about the Kennedy-Sinatra relationship -- I don't think he wanted to go through it, answer all the old questions again.
LAMB: What was your favorite one or two interviews where you walked out of there with that stenographer's notebook and said, "This is it?"
BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think probably my single favorite interview was the Beatty interview because it was so difficult to finally get Warren Beatty to sit down. It was like corralling smoke, as they say. It just took months and months of conversation back and forth, but when we finally did sit down, we talked at great length. We talked for a day and a half. Beatty is really a fascinating figure. He's very elliptical. He can be very vague, he can be very difficult to pin down, but his insights can be quite surprising as well, and I enjoyed the sparring that was going on.
This was, at that point, before Dick Tracy, and he had not done a one-on-one interview in five years. That was very worthwhile. I also enjoyed very much talking to some of the older writers, some of the people who had been in Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s, about what life was like in the studios and how politics really first came to Hollywood in the tail-end of the Depression with the rise of the Fascists really being the key in Europe and how the Communist Party took root and what is was like in these very uneasy alliances between liberals and Communists in the '30s and '40s. I really enjoyed that history as well.
LAMB: You mentioned it took you a year and a half to talk through an appointment with Warren Beatty.
BROWNSTEIN: About a year, actually.
LAMB: About a year, whatever. I mean, you'd talk to him directly and say I want to do this and he'd say no?
BROWNSTEIN; No, he wouldn't say no. First of all, in Hollywood, people only refuse you by saying yes. That's one of the things about Hollywood. No one ever says no. They just say yes until you go away. They just keep saying yes, yes, yes -- but nothing ever happens. Beatty's a little different. As I say in the book, Gary Hart called him the phantom. Beatty is a very elusive character. It's hard to figure out where he is. He's sort of this disembodied voice over the telephone. What would happen would be that he would agree to do the interview and he would say, "Call me in a week and we'll set it up." I'd call him in a week and he'd say, "Call me Monday." And I'd call him Monday and he'd say, "Call me Tuesday" and call him Friday. At one point, we were virtually talking every day on the phone but without getting any closer or further away from actually having this interview.
When we finally set it up, it was during the latter stages of Dick Tracy. Finally set it up, finally got it sort of pestering him, making a pest of myself. Finally he agreed to meet me at his office at 4 o'clock. Get there about quarter to four, and I'm sitting there in the office and I'm waiting for Warren Beatty. An office is really too grand a term. It's like basically this empty room with a desk and a couch. At ten to four, Madonna walks in. At this point, I realize that I am in trouble because, as is often the case, Warren Beatty has double-booked, and if it came down to me or Madonna, you can imagine which one is going to stay and which one is going to be told to return. In fact, after a few minutes of sitting across the room looking at each other with her really unsure of what I was or what I was doing there, Beatty arrived and very apologetically asked me to come back.
LAMB: And you came back?
BROWNSTEIN: Finally, I came back about a couple of hours later and we spend two hours that night, went over to his house and spent almost the entire next day together. He really talked at great length. He likes talking off the record as well as on the record and had quite a lot to say.
LAMB: Almost out of time. Got another book you're ready to write?
BROWNSTEIN: Not quite yet. I'm looking forward to covering the '92 presidential campaign for the LA Times, and I'll think about something after that, but not until then.
LAMB: Got any predictions on who think would be the Democratic standard bearer?
BROWNSTEIN: Boy, they're going to have to get somebody to run. It's very hard to say. You can't even measure the field because there is no field.
LAMB: Who does Hollywood -- and I don't know if you can use the word Hollywood all-encompassing -- think will be the candidate and who will they support?
BROWNSTEIN: I don't know who they think but I think that Bob Kerrey would be the one they'd most like to see out there on the Democratic side.
LAMB: Not Bill Bradley?
BROWNSTEIN: I think Bradley would do very well, too, but I think Kerrey inspires a little more excitement among the non-financial people among the stars. I think Kerrey would do better in the long run.
LAMB: Our guest is the author of this book called "The Power and the Glitter", all about the Hollywood-Washington connection, Ronald Brownstein. Thank you very much for being with us.
BROWNSTEIN: Thanks for having me.
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