IT'S NOT OFTEN that you feel sorry for a guy driving a brand new, silver Porsche 911 Turbo convertible.
But that was exactly my thought as I sat outside of the Beverly Hilton last night watching Hollywood Republicans arrive at a fundraiser for John McCain. The luxury cars parked around the front valet circle of the famous hotel must have been worth $3 million. Among many others, there were matching red and white Bentley convertibles, several styles of oversized Mercedes that I'd never seen before and a powder blue Rolls Royce with "We Will Never Forget" license plates that read: LTR ROL.
The Porsche didn't work because the driver was clearly trying hard. Pat Boone, on the other hand, was not. Dressed in a white suit with a black shirt and a black tie, Boone pulled up in a burgundy Toyota Siena minivan. David Zucker, the comedic genius behind Airplane! and The Naked Gun series and a self-described conservative environmentalist, practices what he preaches. He arrived in a black Toyota Prius (with Green Bay Packer license plate holders).
John McCain was here for the same reason Willie Sutton used to rob banks: That's where the money is.
McCain, who has pulled even with Barack Obama due in part to his very effective attacks on Obama's "celebrity," spent the evening collecting checks from Hollywood stars or people who once might have fit that description. Among those attending: Dean Cain (Superman); James Caan (Godfather I and II, Bottle Rocket); Jon Voight (Midnight Cowboy, Deliverance); Robert Davi (License to Kill); Lou Ferrigno (The Incredible Hulk); Adam Carolla (The Man Show); Lacy Chabert (Party of Five); Angie Harmon (Law & Order); Victoria Jackson (Saturday Night Live); Gerald McRaney (Simon & Simon, Major Dad); Jon Cryer (Two and a Half Men); Lorenzo Lamas (The Bold and the Beautiful, Renegade); Kevin Sorbo (Hercules); Patricia Heaton (Everybody Loves Raymond); George Newbern (Father of the Bride); and Robert Duvall (The Godfather and The Godfather II, Apocalypse Now). The dinner co-chairman was Jerry Bruckheimer, producer of wildly popular television shows such as CSI, Cold Case, and Without a Trace, and films such as Pirates of the Caribbean.
(Like many conservatives, I haven't paid much attention to Hollywood over the years. When someone pointed Bruckheimer out to me, I had to ask what he had done--a question that elicited howls of laughter from songwriter Jude Christdal and ESPN's Stacey Pressman, who runs a new celebrity/athlete website called www.prolebrity.com, and who served as my spotter for the evening. Some McCain staffers were even more clueless. A young woman carrying a clipboard and wearing credentials hanging from a "McCain for President" lanyard asked Jon Cryer: "Are you a star?" before directing him to the VIP dinner. I'd known Cryer from The Pompatus of Love, a wildly underrated guys movie from the mid-1990s that he wrote and directed. I had no clue he was currently in a hit TV show.)
The evening began at 5:30 P.M. with a cocktail party for 400 low-dollar contributors and included a separate "Pro-Israel Reception." At 8:00 P.M., McCain bundlers and other big contributors were directed to a private dinner with the candidate, where McCain spoke briefly and spent much of his time telling jokes. (When Wilford Brimley walked in late, McCain interrupted his remarks to announce that Brimley would be his running mate.)
If it was a good night for John McCain, it was an even better night for Hollywood's long-closeted conservative community. Many of those in attendance are members of the Friends of Abe, an informal group of entertainment-industry conservatives--part social club and part support group--founded by actor Gary Sinise. They have been meeting quietly at out-of-the-way diners and bars in and around Los Angeles for four years expanding their membership by word of mouth.
"It's like NAMBLA," says Bob Hamer, an FOA member and former undercover FBI agent whose book on his role in shutting down the North American Man Boy Love Association will be released next week. At FOA meetings, members could talk openly about their politics and their concerns about the potential career consequences of being known as a conservative in Hollywood. Those worries are one reason that Sinise, who has done numerous USO Tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, has insisted that the group remain out of the spotlight.
But that may be changing. On Sunday in Minneapolis, David Zucker and Myrna Sokoloff will host an invitation-only screening of An American Carol, a comedy that mocks the antiwar left and portrays Democrats as appeaseniks in the mold of Neville Chamberlain. And with the presidential election nearing, more FOA members seem comfortable going public with their support for McCain.
Jerry Bruckheimer, who shares the values of FOA but is not a member, supports McCain because he's impressed with his personal story and his experience. "I vote for the person," he said in a brief interview in the hotel lobby after the fundraiser. "McCain understands the machinery of Washington. He knows how to get things done."
Moments later, Robert Duvall and James Caan walk slowly past the front desk, their younger wives following two paces behind. The two Hollywood veterans--who starred together in The Godfather--are laughing heartily as they passed. I interrupt them to ask what they thought about McCain. Caan is surprised that McCain was so funny, Duvall is not.
Duvall, who just finished doing the voiceovers for the McCain videos that will be show next week at the Republican National Convention, points to McCain's national security experience. "He's an American hero. He's got character. He's been around." Duvall pauses. "The other guy? I just don't know."
As Duvall talks, actor Stephen Baldwin walks up. He is the conservative brother of left-wing actors Alec and William Baldwin.
"How are those brothers of yours?" Duvall inquired.
"I love my brothers," said Baldwin with a laugh. "They're going to heaven. The Lord has chosen to use the foolish things to confound the wise."
Duvall then picks up our conversation from where we left it before the interruption. He is incensed by comments Gore Vidal made about McCain back in June. Vidal had questioned McCain's heroism. "Who started this rumor that he was a war hero? Where does that come from, aside from himself? About his suffering in the prison war camp?"
Duvall doesn't think much of Vidal, whom he called "an American icon-slash-dilettante." It's not only John McCain who could kick Vidal's ass.
"His 96 year-old mother could beat the crap out of Gore Vidal with her shoe," Duvall says. "And you can quote me on that."
Stephen F. Hayes is a senior writer at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.