Of all the strange bedfellows created by Ross Perot’s insurgent political campaign, none could be weirder than the mix of recruits he has picked up since he began wooing Hollywood celebrities in a full-page ad last month in Daily Variety.
Urging entertainers to ”jump on the Hollywood Express to save the U.S.,” the Perot campaign has rustled up support in an industry that, by tradition, overwhelmingly votes for the Democratic standard-bearer. While a number of big names are still waiting to commit, many celebrities have already broken ranks to side with the Texas billionaire.
Kirstie Alley, Sally Field, Dennis Miller, Richard Crenna, Joe Don Baker, and Jamie Farr were among the first to step forward. In country music, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Merle Haggard, and Johnny Cash have thrown their support to Perot. ”That’s probably the only thing we all agree on,” says Nelson.
The California Perot Petition Committee promises more heavyweight stars will be featured at a still-unscheduled bash to be broadcast in the Golden State via satellite. ”The calls I’m getting are incredible — major stars from all over the place,” boasts Bob Booker, one of the volunteer producers of the event. (The Perot show was originally scheduled for June 28, but organizers say they were forced to change the date after the Universal Amphitheater issued ”absurd” contract demands.)
In a contest of sheer celebrity firepower, Bill Clinton still maintains a comfortable lead. His all-star lineup includes Richard Dreyfuss, John Ritter, Mary Steenburgen, Chevy Chase, Cybill Shepherd, Don Henley, Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, Dixie Carter, Meshach Taylor, Martin Short, and Burt Reynolds. George Bush is running a distant second in the Hollywood roll call. Conservative celebs who have endorsed him include Clint Eastwood, Patrick Swayze, Mary Hart, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Charlton Heston.
But since much of Perot’s support comes from the liberal pool, his growing popularity presents Clinton with the greater threat. Clinton campaign adviser John Emerson says Perot’s recent remarks on ABC’s 20/20 about excluding gays and adulterers from the cabinet ”will raise concern among many in the entertainment industry.” If so, that concern hasn’t yet translated into defections. ”There are more important issues in front of us,” says Farr.
Interestingly, it’s not specific issues but faith in Perot’s personal integrity that most celebs cite as their reason for endorsement. Nelson declared for Perot without knowing what his policy would be toward small farmers, a cause the singer has long championed. Nelson says Perot’s pledge to meet with farmers after he’s elected is ”good enough for me.” Says Kristofferson, ”I’m sure that a lot of my views are to the left of Ross Perot, but for me, the old labels don’t work anymore. I think there’s a point where people who just believe in respect for human life on this planet can agree.” And Alley says, ”Hell, it’s a novelty to hear a powerful white man tell the truth.”
Ironically, it’s unclear what Perot stands to gain from winning the hearts and minds of Hollywood. ”Few celebrities think their name on a list is going to cause someone to vote for a candidate,” says influential publicist Pat Kingsley, another Democrat who jumped ranks to support Perot. ”They know what their function is to raise money.”
But Perot has vowed to finance his campaign out of his own deep pockets, leaving celebs in his camp with precious little to do. Still, every star who works for Perot is one more who won’t be helping raise money for Clinton. Which means the candidate who stands to gain the most from Perot’s L.A. connection is the one who’s most reviled by Hollywood liberals: George Bush.