Reviews > Culture

Seducing Hollywood

Culture | How Clinton cleverly coopted the stars and spun a critical script by coming to the aid of Scientology

Issue: "Cloning: Double trouble," March 7, 1998

When the novel Primary Colors hit the bestseller lists in 1996, all Washington was astir. This thinly veiled fiction about the sexual escapades-and coverups-of a Southern governor running for president was published anonymously, and political insiders accused each other of writing it, so close to reality it seemed. (Eventually, Newsweek's Joe Klein admitted to being the author.) That the controversial novel was being made into a movie-and that it would be coming out in March in the midst of President Clinton's real-life scandal-could not have been good news to the White House. Turns out the White House has nothing to worry about. The scathingly critical Primary Colors has been defanged. Far from being a negative portrayal of the philandering candidate, it has been turned into a positive portrayal. The movie will probably help Mr. Clinton's image even more. How did this happen? According to the March issue of George magazine, the president actually intervened with the filmmakers, winning them over by his charm and by going to bat for Scientology. John Travolta, who plays the Clinton figure in the movie, told reporter Josh Young that just before Primary Colors started shooting, he was in Washington for a Scientology conference. "The next day, I met with Clinton," Mr. Travolta said. "He told me: 'Your program sounds great. More than that, I'd really love to help you with your issue over in Germany with Scientology.'" Scientology, founded by science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard, holds that we are all reincarnated space aliens who came to our galaxy many eons ago. We can solve our personal problems by re-programming our minds to get rid of the negative energy from past lives. This is done by hooking up one's head to an electronic box and undergoing special counseling from Scientology practitioners, which can cost thousands of dollars. The German government considers the religion not so much a cult as a scam and has been putting legal restrictions on the group's operations in that country. Followers of Scientology, which has become something of a fad in Hollywood, are of course outraged at Germany's intolerance of their religion. Mr. Clinton reportedly assigned his National Security Adviser Sandy Berger to get the Germans to change their policy. In November, according to the article in George, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright took up the issue with German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel. Mr. Berger, in the meantime, was giving Mr. Travolta high-level briefings on the matter, something practically unprecedented for a private citizen. As the president was wooing the star, he was also winning over the director, Mike Nichols, a frequent guest for summer cookouts during the Clintons' vacation at Martha's Vineyard. Mr. Clinton even had a hand in the casting. It was his idea, according to George, to cast Arkansas actor Billy Bob Thornton in the role modeled after Clinton hatchet-man James Carville. Mr. Clinton made this suggestion to friendly Hollywood producer Harry Thomason, who passed the word to the Primary Colors producers, who obliged. Director Nichols now says that he intends the movie to help viewers understand the nature of infidelity. "A passion for people," he says, "is expressed sexually, too." "You have to be dead not to see that the film favors Clinton," admitted Mr. Travolta, whose comments to George become revealing: "I was waiting for the seduction that I had heard so much about," he said. "I thought, 'Well, how could he ever seduce me?' "And after we talked, I thought, 'Bingo!' He did it. Scientology is the one issue that really matters to me." Seduction. A smooth operator says all the right words, makes an emotional connection, and makes sweet promises. The issue is not simply whether the president seduced a White House intern or any other women. He seduced John Travolta and the image makers of Hollywood. He seduced the American people. If Ronald Reagan was the Great Communicator, Bill Clinton is the Great Seducer.

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Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith

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