By Steve Ryfle
was having dinner and conversation with a few Hollywood friends when the subject of politics came up. When the "Everybody Loves Raymond" star said she's voting for George W. Bush, the chatter turned to awkward silence.
"You'd think I'd crapped in the middle of the table," the Emmy-winning actress says in "Rated R: Republicans in Hollywood," a documentary that premiered recently on AMC-TV.
Hollywood has always been a liberal town, a Democratic stronghold. Over the decades there have been few openly conservative celebrities. John Wayne, Charlton Heston and Frank Sinatra were proud of their Republican leanings, but in the heat of the presidential campaign, Hollywood's GOP members (and yes, they do exist) seem locked in the closet.
Sen. John Kerry has enjoyed vocal and visible support from the Hollywood clan. Ben Affleck
has appeared in person with the candidate, and Michael J. Fox was sitting in the front row at one of the debates, next to Kerry's wife. George Clooney
and Michael Keaton each donated $2,000 to Kerry's campaign. Matt Damon's now being quoted as saying that he'd give a million dollars to get Kerry into the White House.
And everyone knows that Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, Martin Sheen, Barbra Streisand, Danny Glover and a host of other celebs have long been loud liberals. The town's affinity with the Democrats supposedly dates back to the era of the Blacklist, when Hollywood was torn apart by Cold War conservatives and their commie witch-hunt.
But other than ex-action star and current California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, it's hard to find celebrities who sing the praises of the President. According to a prevailing theory, it's just too risky for Republican stars to speak out -- the possibility of career damage is just too great (even Schwarzenegger quipped after his GOP convention speech that wife Maria Shriver -- she of the Kennedy clan -- was so upset she shunned him in the sack for two weeks).
"I honestly think that it automatically hurts me if I said that I supported the war in Iraq and I support the troops," says Drew Carey, who describes himself as a libertarian in the "Rated R" documentary. "That automatically kills me for getting a bunch of movies, a bunch of TV shows. People don't want to hear from me."
Jesse Moss, the filmmaker behind "Rated R," had trouble getting stars to appear on camera. A disclaimer in his film states that Mel Gibson, Chuck Norris, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Bruce Willis and Heather Locklear -- all known Republicans -- refused to be interviewed.
Only a few famous Bush supporters aren't afraid to stand up. Ron Silver, the famed character actor who played attorney Alan Dershowitz in "Reversal of Fortune," also spoke forcefully for Bush at the GOP convention in August. "I am liberal on lots of social issues, but I am so serious about the Bush [anti-terrorism] line," Silver told the Chicago Tribune.
Country music stars, of course, are less reticent. Brooks & Dunn, Lee Ann Womack and the Gatlin Brothers all support Bush. And a few other celebrities are in Bush's corner, if not exactly speaking out on the President's behalf: Bruce Willis, Kid Rock, Kelsey Grammer, Alice Cooper and Britney Spears.
A few years ago, James Woods told Jay Leno he "loves" Dubya and was proud to have voted for him, and Danny Aiello has also been an unabashed Republican. It wasn't so long ago that Michael Moore's Oscar acceptance speech drew audible boos from some of the Hollywood rank-and-file. But at the moment, the Hollywood chorus of conservatives remains comparatively quiet.
Meanwhile, as the campaign has heated up, several news outlets have attempted to "out" Hollywood Republicans, including Details magazine. In a recent issue, Details named a few celebrities who are admitted conservatives, such as Jessica Simpson and Shannen Doherty, and a few surprises, such as Adam Sandler and Freddie Prinze Jr. Prinze's wife, Sarah Michelle Gellar, has expressed right-wing leanings in the past.
Mike DeLuca, a powerful producer at Sony Pictures Entertainment, told Details that when he acknowledged his Republican affiliation, the reaction in Hollywood was like admitting he was a "serial killer." DeLuca added that Tinseltown liberals "...scream about the environment before they hop onto their private jets and blow 8,000 pounds of fuel getting to the Hamptons."
Details also "outed" Mandy Moore, but her publicist issued a quip of a response, stating: "Mandy is not, nor has she ever been, a Republican."
Being a Republican in Hollywood, it seems, is to be a nonconformist, a rebel. Thus, the rebels are banding together, organizing, and speaking their minds -- in comfortable surroundings, anyway. A group called the Wednesday Morning Club, whose steering committee includes Oscar-winning actor Robert Duvall and Icon Pictures exec Steve McEveety (who produced "Braveheart"), has been gathering steam.
So has the Hollywood Congress of Republicans, which recently named Michael Moore "Jackass of the Year" (Moore, they say, still hasn't picked up his trophy, described as the "back part of a donkey").
What do celebrity endorsements mean to a presidential candidate, in terms of actual votes? Probably not much. Still, Hollywood's Republicans are looking forward to a day when they can speak their mind without fear of reprisals, says actor Mark Vafiades, president of the Hollywood Congress of Republicans.
"We're the guys who have the most difficulty expressing our views." Still, Vafiades says more and more people are registering with his organization -- a sign that the political climate may be changing. "It's getting closer to the day when [being a Hollywood Republican] will be acceptable."