Yet, besides Ronald Reagan, GOP officeholders have included Rep. Sonny Bono, song and dance man George Murphy, who became a U.S. senator from California, Rep. Fred Grandy (Gopher of "The Love Boat"), and Fred Thompson, who went from part-time acting to the Senate and back (he's now on "Law & Order").
Perhaps Republican actors succeed in politics because they stand out from the crowd. They certainly are lonely in Hollywood.
With the topic of the political orientation of members of the media being so controversial, it's good to have hard numbers. The Federal Election Commission filings accessible at OpenSecrets.org, which are roughly 90 percent complete, show who's putting their money where their mouth is.
In the latest presidential election cycle, Oscar-winning actors, actresses and directors donated about 40 times more money to Democrats than to Republicans. Thirty-one Oscar-winners gave a total of $381,000 to Democrats, vs. seven who anted up a total of $9,000 to Republicans.
Perhaps the best-known Hollywood Democrat, singer, actress, director and producer Barbra Streisand, who has won a pair of Academy awards, spreads her largesse widely. In the latest election cycle, Streisand has given $31,000 to Democrats.
She appears to be keeping her options open in the race for the Democratic nomination, having given $1,000 each to John Edwards, John Kerry, Howard Dean, Bob Graham, Richard Gephardt and Al Sharpton.
Of course, like many of the biggest celebrities, she's also valuable to the Democrats because her participation in fundraisers can help elicit donations from less glamorous guests.
The biggest givers to Democrats were Steven Spielberg ($165,000) and Michael Douglas ($98,000). Tom Hanks, who executive-produced patriotic miniseries about World War II and the space program, gave $27,000.
Other Oscar-winning Democratic benefactors include such veteran cinematic liberals as Susan Sarandon, Robin Williams, Paul Newman, Jane Fonda, Jack Nicholson, Robert Redford and Woody Allen. Like most political contributors in any profession, Hollywood's Democratic Party regulars are not as young as they'd like to be. Still, they boast a few newcomers such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Cuba Gooding Jr.
The big Hollywood money comes not from celebrities but from executives, which Spielberg and, to a lesser extent, Douglas also are. For example, Haim Saban, whose Saban Entertainment unleashed the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers on America, was responsible for giving over $1.3 million to Democrats for 2000. Overall, entertainment ranks as the sixth-biggest industry among donors to politicians.
No Academy Award winner gave anything to George W. Bush's winning campaign.
Indeed, two of the seven Oscar-owners who donated to Republicans were the big Democratic donors Douglas and director Sidney Pollack, who each tossed $1,000 to maverick Republican challenger Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. Other donors to the Arizona war hero included actor Robert Duvall and Milos Forman (director of "Amadeus"), who came to the United States as a refugee from Communist Czechoslovakia.
Three award winners contributed to any Republicans besides the briefly trendy McCain. Renegade director Oliver Stone ("JFK") split his contributions between Vice President Al Gore and Clinton impeachment trial manager Rep. James Rogan, R-Calif. That Republican congressman went down to defeat, though, partly due to how much money more orthodox Hollywood contributors poured into his Democratic rival's campaign. The rest of Hollywood hated Rogan for prosecuting Clinton for lying about adultery.
The other GOP givers were William Friedkin, who directed "The French Connection" way back in 1971, and, of course, the National Rifle Association's former leader Charlton Heston.
Clint Eastwood (who won an Oscar for directing "Unforgiven" and was once Republican mayor of the artsy town of Carmel, Calif.) does not show up in the Center for Responsive Politics' database as a contributor. While Clint couldn't be bothered, his ex-wife Maggie Eastwood did send $1,000 to Republicans, however.
Since 1990, Schwarzenegger has given $4,000 to politicians, although that may reflect his politically delicate marriage. Half went to Republicans, half to his Democratic Kennedy and Shriver in-laws.
The Republicans also did poorly among non-Oscar winners with big fan bases. Several action movie actors are rumored to have Republican sympathies, but Bruce Willis and Sylvester Stallone were no-shows in the 2000 donation database. Superstar Harrison Ford did give $1,000 to McCain, but he also handed $2,000 to Democrats. The only rock-ribbed Republican donor among action heroes is Chuck Norris, star of TV's "Walker, Texas Ranger."
Although Republicans have sometimes appealed to he-men actors, Oscar-winner Nicolas Cage followed his uncle, director Francis Ford Coppola, into the Democratic column. Texas tough guy Tommy Lee Jones gave $2,000 to his old college roommate, Gore. And, while Kevin Costner, star of "Open Range, once contributed to conservative Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, in 2000 he was back with the Hollywood herd, handing over $3,000 to the vice president.
Actors who typically play conservative types like Tom Berenger (a soldier in "Platoon" and a jock in "Major League), Larry Hagman (portrayer of an astronaut and an oilman), and the late Carroll O'Connor (Archie Bunker) gave to the triple-amputee war hero Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga., who lost in 2002.
Entering "actor" or "actress" into the OpenSecrets.org search engine brings up a glittering array of Democratic givers. Some of the hot names include Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. In contrast, the search system dredges up Republican donors such as Victor Mature, who is, well, mature, and Bob Hope, who is dead. There are also a smattering of B-list Republicans of the magnitude of sit-com star Jim Belushi and M*A*S*H's Jamie Farr.
The GOP appeals very little to currently working actresses, although it does well among semi-retired former glamour girls like Jane Russell, Jaclyn Smith and Yvette Mimieux.
Moving down the entertainment industry food chain, the GOP can take some comfort in their appealing moderately well to game show hosts. Pat Sajak, host of "Wheel of Fortune," is a Republican stalwart who writes occasionally for conservative journals like National Review. And Ben Stein, star of Comedy Central's one-time show "Win Ben Stein's Money," was a Nixon administration economist and is a columnist for the conservative "American Spectator" magazine.
So far in the 2004 cycle, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., has raised more money from the entertainment industry ($313,000) than any other presidential candidate.
It wasn't always quite so one-sided in Hollywood. Actor Jimmy Stewart and director Frank Capra, who in their time occupied positions similar in stature to Hanks and Spielberg today, were staunch Republicans. Hollywood's politics used to be much more diverse, ranging from outspoken right-wingers, such as John Wayne, to self-proclaimed Stalinists, such as screenwriter Dashiell Hammett.
The Democratic domination of the entertainment industry might help explain the Republican lock on talk radio. Opinionated Democrats were welcome in the lucrative big-time entertainment industry, while Republican talent, such as Rush Limbaugh, was shunted into apparent backwaters like AM radio, only to emerge years later as political powerhouses.
Now, some liberals are excited about the idea of subsidizing long-time Saturday Night Live writer Al Franken (who played the gentle therapy-addict Stuart Smalley on the show) to take on Limbaugh with a national syndicated talk show.
It's important to keep in mind, however, that by entertainment industry standards, Franken is only a minor talent. In contrast, if, say, the all-time great comedian Robin Williams, who recently gave $2,500 to Howard Dean's campaign for the Democratic nomination, had gone into talk radio instead of becoming an Oscar-winning movie star, Limbaugh might long ago have had a worthy Democratic rival.