Given the prominent roles they play in American public life, it’s somewhat surprising the relatively limited crossover between people acting for entertainment and people acting in politics. Especially given the parallel development of media such as radio and television that emphasize such similar skills.
Could a shy, circumspect Abraham Lincoln, arguably our greatest president, ever get elected looking like that on TV? If William Howard Taft ever waddled onstage for a modern political debate, the cameras would always need a wide shot to cover his 335-pound bulk inside a 54-inch waistline. To see the enthusiastic Teddy Roosevelt speaking emphatically and boldly gesticulating is one thing; to hear his far-from-profound voice on early recordings is, well, disappointing.
None of that mattered to William Harrison Hays, a Hoosier-born politico who was chairman of the Republican National Committee and became the Karl Rove of his day—1920. He managed the successful White House campaign of Warren Harding, the first sitting U.S. senator ever to be elected president (John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama being the only others). As a reward, Hays briefly became postmaster general before being lured away to become the first president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, precursor of the Motion Picture Association of America.
As the prim, proper Republican (just look at him!), Hays’ job was to renovate the soiled image of the infant movie industry in the wake of the Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle scandal to confront mounting demands for censorship. From his efforts evolved the Hays Code, often vaguely-defined, hazily-enforced but often-denounced guidelines for moviemakers that was in one form or another to last until the current age-based system of movie ratings developed in the 1960s.
Helen Gahagan (later, Helen Gahagan Douglas, as in Melvyn Douglas’ wife) made only one major movie, “She,” in 1935, playing the role of a lost city’s queen. In 1944 she was elected as a liberal Democrat representing California’s 14th District. Politically, however, she is best-known for her 1950 primary challenge of fellow Democrat incumbent Sen. Sheldon Downey, seeking a third term.
Their bitter, party-splitting competition and critics’ suggestion of her leftist leanings were later used successfully in the general election by none other than Richard M. Nixon, then two years out from becoming Dwight Eisenhower’s vice president. (The vacant Gahagan House seat, by the way, created the political opening for someone named Sam Yorty.)
Click the names of these political stars for full biographies. Ernani Bernardi, for instance, was a big-band saxophonist and longtime Los Angeles City Council member. Wendell Corey was a stage, movie and TV actor who served as president of the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences, was on the board of the Screen Actors Guild and in 1956 was elected to the Santa Monica City Council as a conservative Republican, believe it or not.
George Murphy was a dancer-actor who parlayed those skills and that fame into one term in the U.S. Senate as a conservative Republican. He started his career as a Democrat like someone else with a Hollywood star whose name rings a faint bell, Ronald Reagan, an actor who turned his B-movie skills into selling refrigerators, cigarettes and conservatism before becoming California’s governor and then the 40th president.
Arnold Schwarzenegger married into a Democratic family but terminated the gubernatorial career of Democrat Gray Davis in 2003 as a “Colliefornia” Republican to become the Golden state’s 38th governor. But Schwarzenegger is one who can never run for president due to his Austrian birth.
The blank space here we’re holding for Clint Eastwood, who amazingly as of 2010 has no Hollywood Star for acting, directing, music, sharpshooting or being the mayor of Carmel, Calif.
— Andrew Malcolm, who is the Top of the Ticket politics blogger for the Los Angeles Times
If you do not see the person you are looking for below please search our complete list of the stars on the Walk of Fame. And, if you haven’t yet, check out The Times virtual tour of the stars.