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While awards season has The Two Popes and HBO has The New Pope (it premiered Jan. 13), Hollywood had one old pope visiting Sept. 16, 1987.
As part of a two-day trip to L.A., Pope John Paul II, then 67, told showbiz leaders they could be “a force for great good or great evil,” according to The Hollywood Reporter, when he addressed 1,200 of them at the Registry Hotel (now the Hilton Universal). Bob Hope, Charlton Heston and Loretta Young were among the stars attending.
The pontiff was introduced by MCA chairman Lew Wasserman, who was widely regarded as the most powerful man in Hollywood. A joke at the time was that the assembled execs “didn’t know whose ring to kiss.”
More than 300,000 spectators lined the roads when he rode his Popemobile through downtown en route to a mass with 63,000 Roman Catholics at Dodger Stadium. The LAPD deployed 5,800 officers plus 13 helicopters. Besides being impressed by the logistics, THR noted that the Polish-born Vicar of Christ was the first non-Italian to hold the job in 450 years; that his original career choice was acting; and that during World War II he’d helped found the Rhapsodic Theater in Krakow, where he performed as the “astrological sign Taurus (clad in a bull’s head) in a production of The Moonlight Cavalier.”
His Holiness was two hours late for the gathering, but the execs politely waited, and everyone was on their best behavior. “The crowd had been instructed not to stand when the pontiff entered,” THR noted, “yet everyone did.”
The bishop of Rome’s speech got a varied response: Irving Azoff said it was “a very moving experience,” but Peter Bogdanovich told The New York Times that he thought the pontiff should have been tougher on the industry. “What struck a bell was that the pope was saying even the smallest decision we make can have an unknown effect,” the director said. “And that nudity opened the floodgates.”
This story first appeared in a January stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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