Inside the Love Affair Between Hollywood and the Presidency
As far back as 1930, when studio mogul Louis B. Mayer invited Calvin Coolidge to visit MGM, the entertainment industry has been attracted to D.C.'s power base as business concerns, political idealism and bragging rights beget an interwoven sphere of influence.
This story first appeared in the Nov. 2 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
As election day approaches Nov. 6, some of the biggest players in Hollywood, led by DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, have thrown their lot behind Barack Obama. From MGM co-founder Louis B. Mayer, who courted Republicans like Calvin Coolidge, to MCA mogul Lew Wasserman, who backed Democrats like Lyndon Johnson, industry executives have cultivated Washington power brokers out of both political idealism and practical business concerns.
Hollywood liberals may support Obama because of his stance on social issues, but the MPAA also is looking to the administration to protect intellectual property rights. Politicians turn to Hollywood to share in its limelight and for its deep pockets: TV, movie and music donations to Obama's campaign and the Democratic National Committee amount to $26.2 million so far this season.
Calvin Coolidge: Currying favor with Washington, in 1930, studio mogul Mayer (center) invited President Coolidge (left) to visit MGM, where the former president watched the filming of the musical The March of Time. Actress Mary Pickford (far right) also was on hand.
John F. Kennedy: In 1960, presidential candidate John F. Kennedy visited Frank Sinatra at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas to watch the Rat Pack perform. The two became so tight, Sinatra recorded a special version of "High Hopes" as a JFK campaign jingle. But the relationship soured in 1962, when, visiting Palm Springs, the president -- on the advice of his brother Robert Kennedy -- steered clear of Sinatra because of his alleged mob connections and instead bunked at the home of rival crooner Bing Crosby.
(Left) Lyndon Johnson: Suffering from Kennedy envy, President Johnson was delighted when he got his own campaign tune thanks to Carol Channing, who sang "Hello, Lyndon!" to the tune of "Hello, Dolly!" at the 1964 Democratic convention. To thank her, in 1967 he invited her to perform at the White House, where the two took a turn on the dance floor.
Richard Nixon: In 1970, Elvis Presley showed up unannounced at the White House -- after writing a letter to President Nixon, saying, "I have done an in-depth study of drug abuse and communist brainwashing techniques, and I am right in the middle of the whole thing, where I can and will do the most good" -- asking to become a "Federal Agent at Large" in the war against drugs. While the men appeared equally ill at ease, the president later gave Presley a Bureau of Narcotics badge, calling him a "special assistant."
Sammy Davis Jr. -- whom Sinatra removed from the list of performers at Kennedy's inauguration because of Davis' interracial marriage to actress May Britt -- threw his support behind Nixon in 1972, spontaneously hugging him at a youth rally shortly after the president was nominated for re-election.
Gerald Ford: Although Chevy Chase's pratfalling impersonation on Saturday Night Live popularized the image of President Ford as a clumsy bumbler -- and might even have contributed to his 1976 electoral defeat -- the two, seen here at the Radio/TV Correspondents Dinner in 1976, became genuine friends.
Ronald Reagan: Just as Nixon indulged Presley, President Reagan presented a military-dressed Michael Jackson with an award on the South Lawn of the White House in 1984 in recognition of the performer's role in a national campaign against drunk driving.
Bill Clinton: It was at a White House dinner for Russian President Boris Yeltsin that President Clinton hosted in 1994 that Steven Spielberg, David Geffen and Katzenberg decided to form DreamWorks. Here, Spielberg returns for another visit with Clinton as they relax in 1998 at Maryland's Maple Run Golf Course.