Jewish Hollywood conflicted by presidential race

Follow the money in Tinseltown and you find a slew of stars with several political favorites.

Barbara Streisand 224 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Barbara Streisand 224
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Steven Spielberg, arguably Hollywood's most influential citizen, co-hosted a fundraiser early last year, which netted $2.1 million for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. A few weeks later, he joined DreamWorks partners Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen in throwing a fundraiser for Barack Obama, which yielded $2.2 million. Spielberg has since formally endorsed Clinton, but he also contributed an individual maximum of $2,300 to the unsuccessful primary campaigns of John Edwards and Bill Richardson, as well as to Clinton and Obama. The director of Schindler's List may have been hedging his bets, but a more charitable explanation is that Spielberg, like most of Jewish Hollywood, has been genuinely conflicted in his choice of candidates. Barbra Streisand, Rob Reiner, Michael Douglas, Bette Midler, former Paramount chief Sherry Lansing and Playboy founder Hugh Hefner are backing Clinton, but they also contributed to Obama, Richardson and other Democratic candidates. Katzenberg and actor Paul Newman are in the Obama camp, but they have also signed checks for Clinton and other candidates. "At this point, I still don't know what Democrat I'll vote for, I am still learning," said Deborah Oppenheimer, an Oscar winner for her documentary on Jewish refugee children. Similarly, director Paul Mazursky noted, "I am leaning toward Hillary, but I wouldn't be upset if Obama won. The first priority is to find the best person who can undo the damage of the last eight years." Andy Spahn, veteran political advisor to Spielberg and other top Hollywood Democrats, said, "There is tremendous excitement this year, but also indecision, because our frontrunners are so attractive." Hollywood loves a new face and talent, which partially helps account for the Obama strength in what has been considered solid Clinton territory for the last 15 years. In addition to those already named, Obama supporters and contributors in the movie, television (and literary) world include actors Larry David, Leonard Nimoy, Gene Wilder, Rosanna Arquette, producer Norman Lear, ex-Disney chief Michael Eisner, and authors Michael Chabon and the late Norman Mailer, who sent a $200 check shortly before his death. The Illinois senator's most glamorous fan is actress Scarlett Johansson, who has a Jewish mother and lists her religion as Jewish. Lined up behind Clinton are actors Billy Crystal and Fran Drescher, fashion designer Calvin Klein, Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone, studio head Harvey Weinstein, talk show host Jerry Springer and media mogul Haim Saban. Republicans, particularly Jewish Republicans, have always been a modest minority in Hollywood, and most of those were leaning toward Rudy Giuliani, according to writer-producer Lionel Chetwynd, dean of Tinseltown's Jewish conservatives. Comedian Adam Sandler attended a Giuliani fundraiser and contributed $2,100 toward his campaign. Other supporters were actress Melissa Gilbert, director David Zucker, and Las Vegas casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson (who has also given to the John McCain campaign). Chetwynd also listed actor Jon Voight, who, though not Jewish, has appeared on so many Chabad telethons that he is considered an honorary member of the tribe. In a class by himself is singer Barry Manilow, who contributed equal sums to such disparate candidates as Republican Ron Paul and Democrats Clinton, Obama and Joe Biden.