The Magazine


Mar 11, 1996, Vol. 1, No. 25 • By MICHAEL ANTON
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Look! There's Pat Sajak! And there, there's Ron Silver, fresh from his triumph as Henry Kissinger on TNT, having a cup of coffee. That's Linda Obst, the producer of Sleepless in Seattle. And over there, reclining in his chestnut leather sportsjacket, is John McTiernan, director of Die Hards 1 & 3 and The Hunt for Red October (and also Last Action Hero, but there's no need to go into that). And it's only going to get juicier as the day rolls on and more "A-list" people (the going term in Hollywood for those who have Made It) show up, like Bill Maher, host of Politically Incorrect, and, yes! Tom Selleck.

But there by the bar, chatting with Sonny Bono, is -- Bill Bennett? Mr. Virtue? Mr. What in God's Name Is All This Trash Polluting Our Culture, and Why Don't You Shameless Hollywood Types Do the Right Thing and Cut It Out? It can't be. And yet... it is.

And he's not the only virtue-obsessed right-wing Republican scourge here invading this stronghold of the entertainment industry, citadel of the popular culture, namely Paramount Studios, Hollywood, California. There's William E Buckley, Jr. himself, sitting out on the patio having a turkey sandwich and a Molson golden, wearing a pair of Ray Ban shades to protect his eyes from the all-encompassing southern California sunshine. He's with his successor at National Review, John O'Sullivan, and NR's Washington correspondent, Kate O'Beirne. Somewhere around here are representatives David Dreier, Jack Fields, and Dana Rohrabacher. Frank Luntz, one of the architects of the hated "Contract with America," is here. And Arianna Huffington, wife of 1994 U.S. Senate candidate Michael and authoress and virtuecrat in her own right, is milling about with a big sincere-looking grin, planting social kisses on just about everyone she meets, or at least the important people. Such as Sam Nunn, media critic and retiring elder-statesman senator from Georgia, who after receiving his Arianna kiss, politely asks about her children. Astonishing!

But the really astonishing thing about this gathering is not merely that all the right-wing scourges were invited (and not by Paramount, mind you; that would be way beyond astonishing) but that the Hollywood types knew who was going to be here and came anyway. "Here" in this case refers to the " Images of Ourselves: A Dialogue Between Washington and Hollywood" conference, put on jointly by the Center for the Study of Popular Culture and the National Review Institute. The purpose is to get the powers who run what John O'Sullivan calls "the two most unpopular cities in America" talking to one another. As David Horowitz, president of the Center and organizer of the event, notes, Hollywood and Washington have been at each other's throats since the McCarthy era and that unfortunate blacklist thing, and this applies especially to the Republicans. "Conservatives had given up on even trying to gain a foothold in this town," he says. That is, he is quick to point out, until he came along.

The conference grew out of this little group called the Wednesday Morning Club, an informal association of actors, directors, writers, and producers who, shall we say, don't necessarily toe the Hollywood line on every issue, or don't go in much for line-toeing in general. It was formed over breakfast on the day after the 1992 election (hence its name) by Lionel Chetwynd, the man who wrote TNT's Kissinger and Nixon and directed The Hanoi Hilton, along with some friends who were somewhat irked at how little debate there was in Hollywood during the election. Everyone just assumed everyone else was for Clinton, and that was that. But 'twas not so. A handful of people were willing to admit to apostasy early on, and so this brave new group was born. It has since become allied with the Center, enlisted, as it were, in Horowitz's crusade to bridge the gap between Washington and Hollywood. " [We've] created a venue in Hollywood where people like Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole can come and talk, and that's something that's really unprecedented," Horowitz says. Not that Gingrich and Dole have actually rushed from the LAX tarmac to have their limos take them into studioland for speaking engagements. But others have come, including Jack Kemp, Dick Cheney, and George Gilder. And look at all the conservative faces at the conference!