The Hollywood Dreams of Mitt Romney's Secret Sister
This story first appeared in the Sept. 14 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
In November 2009, four actors gathered at the striking Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Ennis House in Los Angeles to shoot a short film called Love and War. The script was adapted from Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, and in this unusual production, the legendary Egyptian queen was played by a blond woman in her 70s, opposite a decades-younger Antony.
This Cleopatra -- who also adapted the script and served as executive producer and co-director -- was Jane Romney, older sister of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Jane Romney has attracted little media attention, as for decades she has pursued her love of acting. A longtime resident of Beverly Hills and previously a supporter of California Democrats Barbara Boxer and Jerry Brown, she has kept mostly to herself during her brother's run for the White House. However, she played a role in one persistent family drama: She claims to have taken in Seamus, the runaway family dog, after that controversial ride strapped to the roof of her brother's car. But sources now suggest that Jane, who lived in a relatively modest apartment at that time, might have been fibbing on her brother's behalf. She did not respond to THR's requests for an interview.
Love and War was a passion project for Jane Romney. Born in 1938, she made for an unconventional Cleopatra, according to cinematographer Filip Vandewal. "It was pretty interesting to see, actually," he says. "Everybody remembers Liz Taylor, and now we had a blond Cleopatra."
Vandewal remembers shooting a love scene between Romney and her Antony (played by character actor Bruce Nozick, who plays a shady corporate executive on Showtime's Weeds). "Very mild, not a hot love scene," he says. "They're just lying in bed, just one kiss." Vandewal worked to make Romney look younger. "Not to make her look like 30 years old," he says, "but like Desperate Housewives -- as young as possible."
For many years, Jane played the dutiful housewife in real life. She married a doctor, Bruce Hinckley Robinson, nephew of Mormon leader Gordon Hinckley, who served as church president from 1995 until his death in 2008. The Romney-Robinson marriage joined two leading Mormon families and appeared "picture perfect," according to a family friend. The couple settled in Sacramento and had four children. But in 1980, after 20 years of marriage, Jane's husband is said to have strayed, and a messy split followed.
Jane and her youngest son, Timothy Mitt Robinson, moved from Sacramento to a modest apartment in Beverly Hills, where he could attend public school while both pursued acting. The family friend remembers being baffled at the apparently limited financial circumstances of this daughter of wealth. The same friend remembers Jane as "very liberal." But when her brother announced plans to run for president in 2007, Jane promptly volunteered to help.
According to the 2011 book Mitt Romney: An Inside Look at the Man and His Politics by Ron Scott, Romney "insiders" considered Jane to be "the Billy Carter of the family" -- a reference to President Jimmy Carter's embarrassing sibling. The book reports that Jane begged her brother to be allowed to go on camera for him. He sent a crew, though the book questions whether there was any tape in the camera.
Jane's IMDb credits list only a 1993 episode of Days of Our Lives, in which she appeared as "Miss Lee." But in 2008, she also starred opposite Stacy Keach in two performances to benefit the Malibu Repertory Theater. The show was called A Love Like No Other, and, according to materials promoting it, Keach and Romney "created the script … from the letters and poems that Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett wrote to each other to create one of the world's most enduring portraits of romantic and conjugal love."
Romance again was the theme in Romney's Love and War. Cinematographer Vandewal and others on the crew had the impression that Jane was funding the film, and some didn't think the production was especially cheap. "Shooting in the Ennis house for two days -- I'm guessing that cost $30,000 to $40,000," says Vandewal. (The house was acquired last year by billionaire Ron Burkle, but Love and War producer Robyn Rosenblum, while declining to specify the cost of the rental, says the previous owners were "very kind.") There also was a crew of more than 19 including a gaffer, a hair and makeup person, wardrobe and grips.
Romney's co-director was acting coach Tim Phillips, who still works with Nozick. He and Romney have split; Phillips won't say why. Others who worked on Love and War describe Romney as "sweet" and dedicated to acting. "She's a special person," says producer Rosenfeld. "She's a very creative, artistic person."
Although Mitt might have been reluctant to use his sister to support his candidacy, she did star in one of his most attention-grabbing episodes: Jane told The Boston Globe in 2007 that she had taken in his family dog, Seamus, sometime after the Irish setter's now-infamous 1983 ride on the roof of the family's car. "He kept ending up at the pound," she told the paper in 2007. "They were worried about him getting hit crossing the street. We had more space, so he could roam more freely."
Jane provided a photo of the late Seamus, with a couple of kittens nuzzling close, to show that he had been a happy dog. But the family friend dismisses the idea that the dog wound up roaming on Jane's property because by then, she and her son were living in that Beverly Hills apartment. And in April, The New York Observer reported that Jane's former husband said the dog had stayed with his family during the '70s -- years before the rooftop ride. After the split, he said, the dog went back to Mitt and Ann Romney. (Citing a "trusted tipster," The Observer suggested that Seamus went on the lam in Canada, just after his ride on the roof.) Addressing the controversy, Ann Romney has claimed that Seamus lived to "a ripe old age, basking in the affection of a large family." But she didn't specify which family.