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“I am stunned by the amount of tension in my body, so I can imagine what it must be for millions of Americans,” Henry Winkler says while discussing the current political climate.
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter after joining in the Happy Days reunion that raised funds for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, the 74-year-old actor explains he has lived by “a set of ideas, a set of rules that was one America” and a current concern is the country’s unstable status amid a Trump presidency. “It just seemed to be important to all of us that we take our country back,” the actor says of one motivating factor to reunite after 45 years with the Happy Days cast — including Marion Ross, Don Most, Anson Williams, writer Lowell Ganz and Ron Howard — all to fundraise for Democrats in the battleground state of Wisconsin, where the classic sitcom was located.
During an election year unlike any other, Hollywood has found that these virtual reunions are both an effective and nostalgic route to raise money for candidates ahead of Nov. 3.
Wisconsin Democrats, who have received $7 million so far from these types of virtual political fundraisers and over 600,000 unique viewers, sparked the trend with a virtual West Wing Weekly podcast reunion during the Democratic National Convention. Then on Sept. 13, Wisconsin Democrats hit gold with The Princess Bride reunion that raised $4.25 million for the political party.
Cary Elwes, who joined the Princess Bride reunion, shared what helped spark the specific notion for the cast of the 1987 adventure comedy to come together.
“I became aware back in June that Trump had ordered his administration to sue a Wisconsin TV station there to block a Democratic ad correctly criticizing his response to the COVID spread,” Elwes explained. “Then some months later he tried to sue that state over absentee ballot deadlines. He did these things in a blatant attempt to subvert the Democratic vote in that battleground state in an underhanded way. So I called a friend of mine, Pantera Sarah, who worked for President Obama on his election campaign who happened to be from Wisconsin to discuss what could be done. That is when we came up with the idea of a table read. After the success of that, we got a call from Speaker Pelosi thanking us and encouraging us to continue to support other battleground states that needed help.”
In the month leading up to election day, multiple reunions have taken place to raise funds for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and other blue candidates, including Star Trek cast members from multiple series in the franchise participating in “Trek the Vote to Victory,” Superbad cast members rewatching the 2007 comedy, and Happy Days cast members raising funds for Dems in the sitcom’s home state.
“It was so touching. Everybody just got on board, it wasn’t a thought, it was just, ‘oh yes, this seems like the right thing to do,'” Winkler says of the Happy Days reunion, which used scripts from the third season and featured “heartfelt” stories of what the show meant to its cast.
Other reunions have focused on increasing voter participation, such as Dazed and Confused’s live script reading featuring Matthew McConaughey and Parker Posey — appearing from their respective homes — raising money for March for Science and Voto Latino. To date, the event has raised over $150,000. The West Wing Special to Benefit When We All Vote, which featured cast members reuniting for a theatrical stage presentation of the season-three episode “Hartsfield’s Landing,” raised awareness and support for Michelle Obama’s When We All Vote organization and streamed on HBO Max (and was later made available to nonsubscribers through Rock the Vote).
In a promo video for the Veep reunion that ended up raising over $500,000 for Wisconsin Democrats, Julia Louis-Dreyfus explained the collective goal for the event: “All roads to the White House go through the great state of Wisconsin. Trump can’t win reelection if he doesn’t win Wisconsin. So, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin has built an unprecedented voter mobilization operation and they need resources in these final days to deliver Wisconsin to Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Harris.”
While Wisconsin Democrats have received overwhelming support thanks to reunions, Democrats in Texas also racked up $650,000 in donations thanks to the Seinfeld “Fundraiser About Something” featuring Louis-Dreyfus and Jason Alexander along with showrunner Larry David.
Luke Warford, director of voter expansion for the Texas Democratic Party, notes the reason events such as the Seinfeld reunion have been so successful is “because of the state of politics in Texas and how close we are to turning Texas blue. Folks are fired up and inspired by the possibility of turning Texas blue and that’s what ultimately drove so many folks to donate and participate in this event.”
As for veteran actors like Winkler, participating in a reunion for a good cause offered an “an electrifying feeling from the moment we rehearsed until the moment we said goodbye.” He says that it would be a pleasure to participate in a similar event again if the reason “is good and righteous.” But Winkler adds an addendum: “You know, you can’t get lightning in a bottle twice.”
Now with the election just days away and celebrity-filled reunions continuing to rally for both Democratic candidates and strong voter turnout (Wisconsin Dems will host a Rocky Horror Show Livestream featuring Tim Curry and fellow cast members on Saturday), the full impact of funds raised across these events is to be determined.
But as Elwes shares, by participating in the reunions alone, “everyone likes to feel that they may have made a difference in some way by doing their civic duty.”
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