The Magazine

Stardust Memories

Not so long ago, Hollywood was a two-party town.

Dec 16, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 14 • By TEVI TROY
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As for Nixon, he is generally remembered for his poor performance in his televised debate against John F. Kennedy (something Eisenhower advised him not to do). But Nixon had his own moments of success on TV, and he never would have become president without them. Television, of course, rescued Nixon’s career (with the Checkers speech) at a time when Ike was inclined to drop him from the ticket. And in 1968, Nixon, determined to do better on TV than he had in 1960, hired The Mike Douglas Show producer (and later Fox News president) Roger Ailes to serve as adviser. Critchlow notes: “Borrowing from Kennedy’s media-savvy 1960 campaign, Nixon’s successful use of television during the 1968 campaign helped win the election for him.”  

Nixon’s campaign also understood the importance of using Hollywood stars on the campaign trail. As one aide observed:

If you appear by yourself, you’ll perhaps get 10,000 people to hear you speak. If you are introduced by John Wayne you can bet on 20,000. .  .  . It’s amazing how many Americans who are normally bored stiff by politics will turn up to rallies when they know there’s going to be a movie star there.

According to Critchlow, the greatest accomplishment of the Hollywood right was getting Ronald Reagan elected. Reagan used stars effectively in his 1966 campaign for governor against Edmund G. (Pat) Brown, father of California’s current governor. Buddy Ebsen, of Beverly Hillbillies and, later, Barnaby Jones fame, joked to a Reagan rally audience: “Better an actor than a clown in Sacramento.” Brown miscalculated in one retort: “You know I’m running against an actor. Remember this, you know who shot Abraham Lincoln, don’t you? An actor shot Lincoln.” This malicious—and illogical—slur “outraged Reagan’s Hollywood supporters,” Critchlow writes.

The era of Hollywood conservatism, however, drew to a close even as Reagan was elected. Hollywood may once have been a two-party town—three if you count the Communists—but those days are no more. Now, what stands for open-minded, tolerant liberalism is Sofía Vergara reading The Weekly Standard in bed—which sounds to me like a great idea for a pin-up poster.

Tevi Troy, a former White House aide, is the author of What Jefferson Read, Ike Watched, and Obama Tweeted: 200 Years of Popular Culture in the White House.