| Arnold Schwarzenegger and his wife Maria Shriver at the British premiere of Terminator 3 : Rise of the Machines in London. (AFP)
You’ve seen them on the big screen. Now elect your favourite star to political office. Actor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s likely upcoming run for California governor is highlighting the American love of celebrity, especially of the Hollywood variety, in politics.
“The movie business and politics are both people businesses,” said former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, a veteran of film and television. “You’re relating to a broad cross section of the public in one way or another and his experience in doing that will be helpful to him.”
The most famous entertainer-turned-politician is Ronald Reagan, who served as California governor before two terms as president. Others in his footsteps include Clint Eastwood, for a time mayor of Carmel, California, and Sonny Bono, who served in Congress and as Palm Springs mayor. “Actors have been very successful in politics because the skills are very similar to the acting profession,” said Darrell West, co-author of Celebrity Politics.
Schwarzenegger is expected to announce a run soon in an unprecedented recall vote in which Californians will be asked whether they want to remove unpopular Gov. Gray Davis.
Fred Grandy, who played the good natured but hapless Gopher from the television show The Love Boat, said his acting career was invaluable in getting elected to Congress.
“The advantage is that you are known by everyone so the money you would spend getting people to remember your name is already in the bank,” he said. “I don’t think being a magna cum laude from Harvard was anywhere near as valuable as being Gopher on the Love Boat. If I had to give up one I’d give up the degree in a heartbeat.”
Some actors who entered into politics have found it hard to distance themselves from their roles. “In Sonny’s case, since he played the straight man on the Sonny and Cher Show, he really had to overcome a lot,” said his widow Congresswoman Mary Bono, who won Sonny’s seat in 1998 after his death. “Sonny preferred to be underestimated, so that when people came in and heard him speak, they went: ‘Wow, he really isn't that guy we saw on TV.’” Of course, acting talent does not assure a path to power. Shirley Temple Black, once among the most famous Americans, lost a 1967 run for Congress. Congresswoman Helen Gahagan Douglas, a Broadway and film actress, lost a 1950 Senate bid against an ambitious California congressman — Richard Nixon.
George Takei, who played Mr. Sulu on“Star Trek,” said rules requiring equal TV time to all candidates worked against him when he ran for the Los Angeles City Council in 1973.
”During the campaign, one of our local stations, channel 13, reran an episode of Star Trek. I was on for 17 minutes, and every candidate running for that office -- there were 14 others -- claimed equal time.” he said in an interview.“The poor station had to give away a whole boring evening...based on my playing a fictional character, mouthing lines.”