White House, Hollywood Ties Date Back Decades

PHOTO: President Barack Obama (R) talks about Sudan with actor George Clooney during a meeting outside the Oval Office October 12, 2010 in Washington, DC.Pete Souza/The White House/Getty Images
President Obama, right, talks about Sudan with actor George Clooney during a meeting outside the Oval Office October 12, 2010, in Washington, D.C.

President Obama has held dozens of star-studded fundraisers, banked millions from Hollywood honchos and snagged endorsements from several superstars. He got all three from actor George Clooney, but the commander in chief said between him and Clooney, it's about more than fancy fundraisers.

"He is a good man and a good friend," Obama said of Clooney in an interview with "Entertainment Tonight" that aired Monday. "George is a wonderful guy."

While Obama may take the cake for his Hollywood fundraising prowess, he is far from the only president to have movie star friends. From Abraham Lincoln to Ronald Reagan, the ties between Hollywood and Washington have often gone deeper than campaign checks.

"The linkage between Hollywood and Washington, between politics and celebrityhood, that line just continued over the years to become blurrier and blurrier," said Barbara Perry, a senior fellow and presidential scholar at the University of Virginia's Miller Center.

Those cross-coast relationships are "mutually beneficial," Perry said, because celebrities both bring in money and up a politician's "cool factor," while being seen with the president gives celebrities with political causes access to high-level government officials.

Clooney, who is a staunch advocate for sending aid to Darfur in Sudan, found a microphone for his cause in President Obama, who touted Clooney as a "terrific advocate on behalf of the people of Darfur, and to the people of Sudan who've been brutalized for a long time" in his "Entertainment Tonight" interview.

President Richard Nixon, who "had trouble letting his hair down," used his celebrity connections, such as a photo with Elvis Presley, to "raise his cool quotient," Perry said.

President John F. Kennedy was closely and notoriously tied with the movie stars of his time. His father owned a movie studio in the 1920s, tying the family to Hollywood's head honchos. Kennedy was said to be close friends with singer Frank Sinatra, who helped plan his inaugural gala, and rumors of Kennedy's affair with Marilyn Monroe are now generally accepted as fact, Perry said.

Ronald Reagan, the first actor-turned president, ran in Hollywood circles long before he got his start in politics. The former president starred in more than a two dozen movies, and his first wife, Jane Wyman, was an Academy Award-winning actress, and his second wife, Nancy Davis, appeared in 11 movies before she married Reagan.

Reagan "never shied away" from his movie star roots, Perry said, and even used them to his advantage during his 1984 campaign. Reagan channeled the heroic football coach – nicknamed the Gipper - whom he portrayed on the big screen to convince Americans to re-elect him in 1984, telling the country "Let's go out and win just one more for the Gipper."

President George H.W. Bush struck up a friendship with actor George Peppard, writing letters back and forth with the "Breakfast at Tiffany's" star during Bush's tenure at the White House, said Doug Wead, who served as a special assistant to President Bush.

Wead, who advised both Bush presidencies and is now a presidential historian, said big hitters in Washington "have always been fascinated" with the Hollywood elite, and vice versa.

"Both New York and Hollywood are fascinated with Washington power, that someone making this tiny salary can dictate their lives," Wead said. "And people in Washington are fascinated with people who stay out of the newspapers."