Republicans in Hollywood feel bullied

Tue Oct 21, 2008 10:25am EDT

Actor Kelsey Grammer and wife Camille watch a match at the U.S. Open tennis tournament in Flushing Meadows, New York, August 27, 2008. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes

Actor Kelsey Grammer and wife Camille watch a match at the U.S. Open tennis tournament in Flushing Meadows, New York, August 27, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Jeff Haynes

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LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - At a recent event for Republicans in Hollywood, an actress was asked whether she had ever worn her pro-Sarah Palin pin to an audition.

"You must be joking!" she said with a laugh, adding, "But I see Obama stuff all the time."

It's no secret that the entertainment industry is overwhelmingly liberal -- political donations this presidential cycle from the movie, TV and music industries recently were running about 86% Democrat versus 14% Republican. But being outnumbered is one thing, but being bullied by your liberal co-workers into keeping your opinions to yourself is quite another.

Is that what's going on? Yes, say many of the industry's conservatives. That's why secret organizations with such names as "SpeakEasy" and "The Sunday Night Club" spring up every so often. They're not conservative per se, they just let it be known that attendees of their gatherings may freely discuss politics without being chastised for not toeing the liberal line.

"Are you kidding me? Of course it's true," Kelsey Grammer said when asked whether the town is hostile to conservatives. "I wish Hollywood was a two-party town, but it's not."

Grammer said he knows of a makeup trailer that sported a sign warning Republicans to keep out and of U.S. war veterans who keep their backgrounds a secret from their Hollywood co-workers because they hear them belittle the military.

He even said that, earlier in his career, his job was threatened by a prominent sitcom director who demanded he donate money to Barbara Boxer's U.S. Senate campaign. To keep his job, he gave $10,000 to Boxer and the Democrats.

Nowadays, Grammer is a bankable actor who is unafraid to speak his mind. His advice to less established industry players, though, is to shut up about politics -- "unless you think the way you are supposed to think," and that means liberal.

Unlike Grammer, most Hollywood conservatives appear to be of the closeted variety. "I know every liberal at work and don't know any conservatives because they never speak up," a longtime executive at Warner Bros. said.

However, there are many who are trying to make Hollywood more accommodating to political diversity. Andrew Breitbart is one. At his Breitbart.com (www.breitbart.com), he's launching a "Big Hollywood" blog with 40 industry conservatives tasked with -- among other things -- highlighting liberal intolerance.

"There's an undeniably vicious attitude against those who dissent," Breitbart said. "Hollywood is the most predictable place on the planet, not exclusively because of politics but because of narrow-mindedness."

Breitbart maintains that liberals have pushed conservatives too hard in Hollywood and that Americans have noticed. His intent is "to stop the bullying."

One "Big Hollywood" blogger is Andrew Klavan, an accomplished novelist-screenwriter who made a splash with a Wall Street Journal article comparing Batman and the "The Dark Knight" to President Bush and the war on terror.

"It's not easy being different," he said. "The liberals aren't all that liberal. We think they're wrong, but they think we're evil, and they behave like it."

Klavan said a producer, worried that Klavan's political reputation had become common knowledge, asked recently whether he could pitch something Klavan wrote but under an assumed name. Klavan declined.

"I don't want to be the Dalton Trumbo of the right," he said, referring to a notable screenwriter who fell victim to Hollywood's blacklist during the anti-communist hysteria of the 1940s and 1950s.

If you lean right, pitch to those who are sympathetic, or at least tolerant of conservative viewpoints, Klavan said. Mel Gibson, Jerry Bruckheimer and Joel Surnow come to mind.

Klavan also said liberalism seeps into too much Hollywood content nowadays and offers as proof the several anti-Iraq war movies that have been boxoffice bombs.

"These aren't even movies about the war on terror," he said. "They're Vietnam War movies, made by people who sit around at Skybar discussing their pacifist world view."

TV also is too one-sided, he said. "They don't even make fun of Barack Obama," he noted. "How is that possible? The guy's hilarious."

Another "Big Hollywood" blogger is Evan Sayet, whose writing credits include "Win Ben Stein's Money" and "Politically Incorrect With Bill Maher."

Six years ago, while a staff writer for a popular talk show, Sayet said, "I was informed I could not write jokes about ebonics, global warming or any other cause coming from the left."

Nowadays, Sayet heads a conservative comedy troupe called Right to Laugh that performs at the Laugh Factory in West Hollywood and similar clubs nationwide.

Even liberals acknowledge that they have an easier time than conservatives in Hollywood.

"The person who will get snickered at and picked on is the one wearing the McCain-Palin button," actor Eric Roberts said. "But that's OK. It's America. A free country. If you're going to stick your neck out, it's gonna get whacked."

"You just said liberals discriminate more than conservatives," interrupted his wife, Eliza, an actress and casting director.

But the couple maintain that taking any passionate political position -- right or left -- can be difficult. They recalled when Eric was a guest on "The O'Reilly Factor" and, after returning to the set of the TV show he was working on, a producer told him: "We're doing a TV show here. We don't need that kind of politicizing. Don't go public with your views."

He noted, though, that the admonition came from a like-minded liberal whose concern was for maintaining high ratings. Nevertheless, the experience had a cautioning effect on Roberts.

"I pick my battles now. If you support Sarah Palin, I'd walk away," he said. "I wouldn't chastise you, I'd feel sorry for you."

Beyond the various "secretive" organizations around town, there is the more obvious Hollywood Congress of Republicans. Headed by actor Mark Vafiades, HCR boasts 160 members who meet about nine times a year to socialize and hear from various right-leaning special guests.

At a recent HCR event, "Saturday Night Live" alumna Victoria Jackson, for example, joked that she's probably the only conservative Christian to have kissed both Sean Penn and Alec Baldwin. Then the comedian-gymnast stood on her head until the room agreed to vote for McCain-Palin, which didn't take long.

Although Obama fundraisers can draw hundreds of moguls, actors, musicians and professional athletes eager to spend time with the senator, McCain's few appearances have been more understated affairs.

The most recent event, in fact, didn't even draw the candidate or his running mate. Instead, spouses Cindy McCain and Todd Palin headlined while comedian Dennis Miller supplied the entertainment.

McCain and Palin don't spend much time in Hollywood -- even to raise money -- because they figure a Republican can't win California. But the party ignores the entertainment capital at its own peril.

"They didn't only write off California, they wrote off our culture," Breitbart said.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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