Analysis: No business like it

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter  |  Aug. 24, 2004 at 5:43 PM
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LOS ANGELES, Aug. 24 (UPI) -- One of the leading campaign consultants in contemporary politics has hung out a shingle in Hollywood, adding to the long-running symbiotic relationship between politics and show business.

Mike Murphy -- who has prospered guiding political campaigns for Republican candidates including Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and former Iran-Contra figure Oliver North -- has taken up residence in Hollywood, with aspirations of becoming a filmmaker.

Murphy, 42, told the Los Angeles Times his political experience -- including working for the past year as a consultant to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger -- has prepared him for the challenge.

"I've been selling stories to people for 20 years," he said. "There's a narrative to every campaign, with ups and downs and triumphs and reversals."

Then there's the toughening up that inevitably goes with spending 20 years in the trenches in big-time politics. Veterans of the Hollywood wars, however, frequently admonish wannabes that succeeding in the movie business is one of the toughest challenges in life.

"I know how it sounds," Murphy told the Times. "I've read enough screenwriter memoirs to know that if I was a Vegas odds maker, I'd predict failure. But no one counted on me making it in politics either."

If it's true what they say about what matters most in Hollywood -- that it's who you know, not what you know -- then Murphy has a potent champion in Schwarzenegger.

"Mike is the best, whether he's writing a great opening line for a press conference or knowing the history of every political campaign," Schwarzenegger told the paper. "Hollywood is like politics -- if you have real substance, you're in. And if you have nothing to say, you'll be changing agents 15 times and knocking on doors forever."

Murphy wouldn't be the first political professional to break into the movie business. Far from it, in fact.

"The West Wing" alone has become something of a cottage industry for people who have found an outlet to spin their Washington experience into studio employment.

The show has, at one time or another, engaged the services of Patrick Caddell, a pollster for former president Jimmy Carter; Dee Dee Myers, a media adviser to former President Bill Clinton; Lawrence O'Donnell, a former senior adviser to the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan; and Gene Sperling, a top economic adviser to Clinton who currently advises Democratic nominee for president Sen. John Kerry.

Of course, the public is more familiar with people who crossed over from entertainment to politics -- such as Schwarzenegger, former President Ronald Reagan, the late singer Sonny Bono and even Fred Grandy, who parlayed his role as Gopher on "The Love Boat" into a brief career representing Iowa in Congress.

There have even been instances where the symbiosis between politics and show business was so close it was impossible -- and probably unnecessary -- to say whether Hollywood was invading Washington or vice versa.

Consider "K Street," a send-up of the games political insiders play in the nation's capital that ran on HBO last year.

The show was produced by Hollywood pros Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney, with consulting help from political professionals including former Reagan media adviser Michael Deaver. The cast included professional actors such as John Slattery, as well as high-profile Washington figures including James Carville and Mary Matalin.

The production staff also included inside-the-Beltway specialists such as Stuart Stevens, who worked on George W. Bush's 2000 presidential campaign, and Jon Macks, a co-producer on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" who has worked on political campaigns for such politicians as Sen. Zell Miller, D-Ga., and former Mississippi Gov. Ray Mabus.

Of all the show business truisms "K Street" illustrated, perhaps the most significant is that hits are rare in Hollywood. The show was critically panned and was not renewed.

Murphy sounded a note of realism -- maybe even resignation -- about how his Hollywood adventure might turn out.

"My goal is to pound out a commercial screenplay, maybe a talky dark comedy, and then see what happens, which of course could mean it getting made into an Adam Sandler flying-saucer invasion comedy," he said.

And that's if he's lucky.

Murphy may be considered a newcomer -- if not a neophyte -- in Hollywood, but he seems to have picked up one of the most essential points from reading all those trades and screenwriting memoirs.

"As embarrassing as it is to say," he said, "what I'd really like to do is direct the movie too."


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