Will Hollywood stars soon sparkle for Perot?

May 25, 1992|By Alessandra Stanley | Alessandra Stanley,New York Times News Service

Los Angeles -- The movie director John Milius was on the phone, making a pitch to Clint Eastwood.

"Perot wins the popular vote, but the Electoral College throws it out and tries to impose Clinton, so the American people go crazy and take to the streets with guns," Mr. Milius, who wrote the screenplays for "Dirty Harry" and "Magnum Force," explained urgently.

"The government sends in the Marines, but the Marines won't fire on Americans." He leaned back, puffed on his cigar, and cut to the happy ending. "We have a real revolution in this country, at last."

Mr. Milius, well-known in Hollywood as an outspoken conservative, was not talking movies; he was talking politics. He is an ardent Ross Perot supporter.

So is Pat Kingsley, a high-profile publicist who is just as well-known for championing liberal causes. Ms. Kingsley had supported Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska earlier in the Democratic primary campaign and said she has no use for Mr. Clinton. "I'm trying to figure out how to support Perot," she said. "He certainly doesn't need our money."

Perhaps because it smacks of a hybrid Hollywood script -- Daddy Warbucks Goes to Washington -- Mr. Perot's unorthodox campaign for the presidency has stirred interest across the spectrum of the entertainment industry.

Hollywood is a community that takes pride in being at the cutting edge of every trend and hot political cause -- as long as it looks like the trend is going to be a winner.

For all the discussion and enthusiasm, so far only a few of Hollywood's leading figures have publicly endorsed Mr. Perot.

Some members of Ronald Reagan's inner circle in California have told friends that they privately applaud Mr. Perot's candidacy, viewing him as a true heir to the Reagan legacy. They may also feel more affinity for a self-made Texas billionaire than an old-money millionaire like President Bush.

Norman Lear, the liberal television producer, who has avoided endorsing a Democrat in the primary, is also rumored to support Mr. Perot. "Norman is intrigued by Perot, but he is far from being committed," said Arthur J. Kropp, president of People for the American Way, the liberal lobby group founded by Mr. Lear.

Steve Martin and Jack Nicholson are among the names being bruited about by Perot volunteers as supporters, but neither actor has publicly endorsed Mr. Perot nor permitted his volunteers to drop their names, and neither actor could be reached for comment.

Lynda Obst, an independent producer who is active in liberal causes, said she was not surprised by the restraint.

"This is Hollywood cold: if Clinton's barometer drops too low, and the right studio head or mogul endorses [Mr. Perot] or gives him a fund-raiser, then all of a sudden Perot will be politically correct and everyone will follow." She added, "It's the Hollywood herd mentality."

Others say show business has been too distracted by the Los Angeles riots and the Cannes Film Festival to take the time to study Mr. Perot's positions. Or they may not want to examine his positions.

"I don't know that you need to know that much about him," said Dennis Miller, a television talk show host and comic who walked into Mr. Perot's volunteer headquarters in the San Fernando Valley two weeks ago to offer his services. "He's an outsider, and the two-party system is going to hell."

Perot volunteers here boast that movie stars and industry executives are racing to join the bandwagon, but they decline to provide names.

"When we do release them, it will be such a bombshell, it will send up a mushroom cloud," said Ken Jacobson, the talent coordinator for the California Perot Petition Committee, which tried to start the atoms colliding by placing a full-page advertisement in the trade newspaper Variety last Wednesday.

It read: "Members of the Entertainment Community: Jump on the Hollywood Express to save the U.S. You can put Ross Perot in the White House."

A fund-raiser for Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas said that even many committed Democrats in Hollywood were "flirting" with Mr. Perot's outsider message, but he said he did not expect major defections. Although refusing to be quoted by name, the official observed: "If Hollywood does take the plunge, what do they do? We're only interesting to candidates who want our money."

Mr. Perot's willingness to spend his own money seems to have broad appeal in a town choking on costly benefits and fund-raising galas. "He doesn't have to raise money, that's what's so great," Mr. Milius exclaimed. Mr. Milius spoke too soon. As it happened, Mr. Perot's supporters in Los Angeles were at that moment busily plotting a June 28 event to finance their local petition drive, an event they said would combine music, comedy acts and celebrity appearances.

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