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Whether your notion of celebrity runs to politics, film or executive clout, there was glitter everywhere you looked Thursday night as George Clooney opened his hillside home to a record-shattering fundraising dinner for his old friend, President Barack Obama, who made his first visit to the Valley since taking the oath of office.
DreamWorks Animation chief and mega-Democratic donor Jeffrey Katzenberg was the co-host and Wolfgang Puck was the chef as 150 Democratic donors made their way up carefully guarded streets to Clooney’s home near Studio City’s Wilacre Park, just off Laurel Canyon Boulevard. Celebrities in attendance included Robert Downey Jr., Barbra Streisand, Tobey Maguire, Eddie Murphy, Jack Black, Billy Crystal, Herb Alpert and Salma Hayek. When welcoming the guests to his home, Clooney joked: “We have Iron Man, Spider-Man and Batman in the room. We should let the Secret Service take the night off.”
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Obama addressed the crowd shortly after 7 p.m. He thanked Katzenberg for putting the event together and Clooney for hosting it at his house, according to a pool report. The president noted that he spotted a “Hope” poster, by Shepard Fairey, hanging in Clooney’s house.
“People don’t realize that the photograph of me is actually me sitting next to George” at an event when Clooney was advocating on behalf of Darfur, the president told the crowd. “We struck up a friendship,” he said, and then he joked, to much laughter: “This is the first time that George Clooney has actually been Photoshopped out of a picture. Never happened before, will never happen again.”
Obama added: “But the wonderful thing is the artist actually sent George — some of you have seen this — a print with my picture and his picture right next to each other with the same … in the same format. Why he said at the bottom, ‘Dope and Hope’ I don’t know. I don’t think that’s fair.”
As for the record-breaking evening, Obama said: “We raised a lot of money because everybody loves George. They like me, they love him. And rightfully so. Not only is he an unbelievable actor, but he is one of those rare individuals who is at ease with everybody. He seems to occupy a constant state of grace and uses his extraordinary talents on behalf of something truly important.”
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After the niceties to Clooney, Obama briefly discussed his ABC interview he gave Wednesday, where he announced that he was coming out in support of same-sex marriage.
“Obviously, yesterday we made some news,” Obama told the crowd to a big applause. “But the truth is, it was a logical extension of what America is supposed to be. It grew directly out of this difference in visions. Are we a country that includes everybody and gives everybody a shot and treats everybody fairly and is that going to make us stronger? Are we welcoming to immigrants? Are we welcoming to people who aren’t like us? Does that make us stronger? I believe it does. So that’s what’s at stake.”
He then veered into his familiar stump speech on how bad the situation was when he took office, according to the pool report. “Despite all this, the American people are pulling through. … Slowly, things are coming back.
“The other side has got a different view,” Obama continued. “Their attitude is, you’re on your own. If you’re a kid born in a poor neighborhood in L.A., tough luck; you’re on your own. If you’re a senior citizen who because of bad luck got laid off or your company ended up dissolving without your pension being vested, tough luck; you didn’t plan well enough. That’s not the America I believe in. That’s not the America you believe in.”
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Fourteen round tables with 10 people each filled a tent on Clooney’s basketball court. At a table in the middle, Maguire sat to the right of Clooney and his girlfriend, Stacy Keibler. Nearby were Diane Von Furstenberg and Barry Diller. Streisand (at a rear table and looking serious throughout, in black beret) sat with her husband James Brolin, according to the pool.
Also in attendance were designer Trina Turk, Rob Reiner, J.J. Abrams and wife Katie McGrath, Starz CEO Chris Albrecht, video game pioneer Skip Paul and his husband Van Fletcher, Summit co-chairman Rob Friedman, producer Nina Jacobson, ICM president Chris Silbermann, CAA partner Bryan Lourd, entrepreneur Lynda Resnick, Friends co-creator Marta Kauffman, Warner Bros. Entertainment CEO Barry Meyer, LACMA’s Michael Govan, DNC Southern California finance co-chair John Emerson and E! Entertainment founder Jarl Mohn.
All had paid $40,000 apiece not only to support Obama’s re-election but also to be part of history: the single richest one-night fundraiser in the history of presidential politics. The president’s local and national campaign officials differ on exactly how much the dinner raised. Katzenberg told the crowd that the event raised nearly $15 million, though campaign officials say that number is inaccurate. Nevertheless, the total appears to have topped the previous record of $11 million raised by a Streisand concert and dinner in 2008. To put the new record in perspective, the Obama campaign raised more money Thursday night than Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee, has raised in any month since he jumped into the race.
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The smashing success of Thursday’s event owed at least as much to circumstance as it did to calculation. Katzenberg and his political adviser Andy Spahn had long intended to stage a major Obama fundraiser at about this time of year, but the original venue was supposed to have been the studio executive’s newly constructed Beverly Hills mansion. When work on the house fell behind schedule and other considerations arose, they began looking for another site, and Clooney agreed to open his home. The chance to dine with Obama and the world’s ranking male star sent the online contest portion of the event into the fundraising stratosphere. (In his opening remarks to the crowd, Clooney joked about receiving the campaign e-mails encouraging him to enter the contest.) The winners of the contest were two women, a Florida utility company employee and a New Jersey science teacher, who attended with their husbands, a retired military man and a jazz guitarist, respectively.
Almost lost in the chatter surrounding the Clooney-Katzenberg event’s record take was the fact that, earlier in the day, Obama raised $3 million at a pair of events in Seattle. And, as Obama’s motorcade rolled through Studio City by Laurel Canyon Boulevard, people lined the street holding signs. “Our gay family says thanks Mr. President,” one stated. And another: “Will trade Lakers for Bulls if you stop!”
There is little doubt that Obama’s forthright endorsement of same-sex unions also has re-energized his Hollywood base in a manner not seen since the enthusiastic days of 2008.
As one entertainment industry insider told The Hollywood Reporter: “Longtime Democratic supporters who had lost hope in Obama are reversing course. … They’re all back in the saddle now.”
Ken Solomon, the DNC’s Southern California co-finance chair, said Obama’s ABC interview was the conversation topic of the evening among guests at the fundraiser.
“Everyone was so proud of what had happened yesterday,” Solomon said. “It just cut through any previous cynicism.”
Thursday’s event was, in an important sense, a ratification of the incumbent president’s re-embrace of a Hollywood base from which he had seemed distant. And, as the event shows, Obama has learned two essential truths about raising money in L.A.: the bigger the stars in attendance, the bigger the take, and even the chief executive has to be sensitive to traffic here. Obama’s previous fundraising visits, which relied entirely on motorcades to move the president, his retinue, the security detail and the press pool around snarled traffic in Mid-City, Hancock Park and Beverly Hills.
This time around, the presidential party took helicopters to Burbank Airport and a relatively quick motorcade to Chez Clooney. However, Obama did bring along an unusually large entourage of White House and campaign heavyweights that included David Plouffe, Valerie Jarrett, Jay Carney, Julianna Smoot, Rufus Gifford and speechwriter Jon Favreau.
Afterward, Obama traveled to Beverly Hills to spend the night. Before heading out of town Friday morning, he played a game of basketball with his staff and other special guests, including Clooney and Maguire. He’s set to travel to Reno, Nev., to deliver an address on mortgage reform in a state even more badly hurt by the real estate crash than California. On Monday, he’ll hit the fundraising trail again, traveling to New York for an event jointly sponsored by Latino and gay supporters.
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