Monday, June 30, 2003
The Terminator or Meathead could be the next governor of California. Trash-talk king Jerry Springer might become a U.S. senator from Ohio.
Ben Affleck, Will Smith, Warren Beatty and Cybill Shepherd have all fancied themselves in Congress or the White House.
There's even a grass-roots movement to draft Oprah Winfrey to run for president.
Celebrity and politics. Or is it politics and celebrity? In an era when pop-culture icons are idolized and political leaders test-market their ideas like the latest Hollywood film, it's often hard to tell which comes first.
The lines are blurring more than ever these days as entertainers and sports figures look to parlay their fame on the silver screen or the ball field into a whole new career on the political stage.
"If you look at the job description for these two professions, there is an awful lot of overlap, especially since 1952 and certainly since 1960, when appearing on television -- in fact being a television personality -- became very crucial to a successful political career," said Robert Thompson, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University.
That explains why actors Arnold Schwarzenegger, aka "The Terminator," and Rob Reiner, better known as Archie Bunker's "meathead" son-in-law on "All in the Family," are taken seriously when they consider running for California governor.
Or why a feel-good talk-show hostess like Oprah is seen as presidential material. (For the record, Winfrey told reporters in Seattle recently that she's not interested.)
Celebrities looking for a second career often find a natural home in politics, said Darrell West, director of the Center for Public Policy and American Institutions at Brown University and co-author of the book "Celebrity Politics."
"Celebrities bring the perfect combination of traits, which are money, media and name identification," West said. "Those are qualities that make for successful candidates. And celebrities have all of those attributes."
The most successful celebrity politician in America, of course, was Ronald Reagan. But countless others have used fame as their entree into politics.
Film actor George Murphy served one term in the U.S. Senate. Broadway star Helen Gahagan Douglas served in Congress, as did actor Fred Grandy, aka Gopher from TV's "The Love Boat."
Sonny Bono was elected mayor of Palm Springs, Calif., and later to Congress. Clint Eastwood served as mayor of Carmel, Calif.
Celebrities outside the entertainment field also have had political success.
Astronaut John Glenn became a U.S. senator from Ohio. Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., was a pitcher in baseball's major leagues. Former Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., achieved fame as a professional basketball player with the New York Knicks. Jesse Ventura, a professional wrestler, was elected governor of Minnesota.