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BEN STEIN -- PORTRAIT OF A HOLLYWOOD REPUBLICAN

by Thomas M. Sipos, L.A. bureau chief.  [September 28, 2003]

 

[HollywoodInvestigator.com]  While Republicans and conservatives often complain of job discrimination in liberal Hollywood, being a vocal conservative opened Tinseltown's doors for writer/actor Ben Stein of Win Ben Stein's Money fame!

That was Stein's shocking confession to the Hollywood Congress of Republicans, which hosted Stein at L.A.'s Maggianos eatery on August 20, 2003 -- and the Hollywood Investigator was there!

 

* His Big Break

 

Trained as an economist and lawyer, Stein's Republican creds go back to when he was a speechwriter for Presidents Nixon and Ford! He began freelancing for the Wall Street Journal while still a Nixon scribe, joining the paper full-time soon after Nixon resigned, to write about movies and Hollywood. (Stein suspects the Ford people were glad to see him go).

Stein's WSJ articles eventually caught the attention of Hollywood. "I wrote several pieces very critical of Norman Lear," said Stein to the Hollywood Republicans, "saying specifically that Lear was the biggest racist on television because his portrayal of The Jeffersons was such a stereotypical, nasty portrayal of blacks. And he apparently became very upset about that. He didn't want me writing those pieces anywhere. So in a roundabout way, he arranged to meet me, and he tried to persuade me not to write any more pieces. And he said, 'You're the only funny conservative I've ever met, and I'd like to offer you a job writing for me.'"

Thus did Lear silence a conservative critic -- by hiring him!  Lear made Stein a staff writer on the CBS sitcom All's Fair. "The job, by Hollywood standards, was a miserable pittance," said Stein. "I got paid $600 a week in 1976. I thought I was rich!"

But despite pulling the big bucks, Stein's input was ignored at creative meetings. "I learned not to bother to show up at those meetings." Heartbreakingly, Stein also endured nasty public remarks at tapings. The warmup comic would introduce Stein to the studio audience by announcing: "Here's our resident fascist!"

"I didn't mind it because I was paid so much," said Stein. "But it lingered. I was the only Republican there in the whole Norman Lear enterprise."


 

* He Pays a Price

 


Despite the cruel taunts, Stein bravely continued writing teleplays and screenplays -- some of which were produced! Along the way, he says, "I had a real super-good insight into Hollywood's view about Republicans. I had written a book called The Boost, and I wrote the first draft screenplay [for the film]. The second draft screenplay was written by the producer."

As often happens in Tinseltown, the film's writing credits were settled by a Writers Guild arbitration.  Credits are important because they help scribes get future writing gigs -- and because only credited writers collect residuals! (Not to be confused with profit participation, residuals are a royalty payment mandated by union contract).

At one point during the WGA arbitration, Stein was in the men's room when one of the judges entered. Not knowing Stein was in a stall, Stein overheard the judge say to a colleague: "I couldn't give any credit to any son-of-a-bitch who worked for Richard Nixon."

Later, when announcing their decision, that same judge shamelessly told Stein, "Well, we thought about this really seriously and decided you don't get a credit."

"These were typical of my experiences as a Republican in Hollywood," said Stein. "But it changed considerably when I became an actor. The first work I did of any significance was for John Hughes, who is an avid Republican and a great guy. He put me in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. My career got off and running."

Stein modestly adds, "I'm really not an actor. I just play myself."

 

 

* Hollywood Politics


Despite Hollywood's historic liberalism, Stein says the times, they are a changing. "When I came to Hollywood, there were still a lot of diehard Marxists that had gone to City College or Brooklyn College, and grown up in this sort of first-generation Jewish Brooklyn Communist [milieu], and then moved out to Hollywood, and were still avid Communists. I mean real, card-carrying Communists.

" That's all gone now. Those people are either dead or retired. What you have now, in place of the kind of ethnic and class-based Marxists, are what I call personality-disorder Marxists. A significant cause of people being anti-American, in Hollywood and in universities, is that they have an infantile personality disorder.

"They are fixated, and in denial, on entitlement, dissatisfaction, weakness, fear, and envy. And their weakness, fear, and envy compels them to be extremely uncomfortable with people who actually go out in the world and succeed. And also compels them to be extremely fearful -- because fear is part of [being] infantile -- of what I would call mainstream America. They're terrified of America between Beverly Hills and West End Avenue. They think out there are a bunch of racists and Klansmen that are going to kill them." 

Stein had previously said much the same in his 1979 book, The View from Sunset Boulevard, an analysis of the sociological background and psychological outlook of TV writers and producers.  Despite the changing times, the book remains shockingly relevant to this day.

But whatever their motivation, today's Marxists have far less influence in Hollywood than some may imagine. Stein said, "I was a guest star on Seinfeld, and the producers and writers did not want to talk about the class struggle. They wanted to talk about Warren Buffett. They wanted to talk about investing. And I actually wrote a piece at that time for the Wall Street Journal called 'The Now of the Dow.'

"I think this is a very big change. I see more and more conservatives in Hollywood. I did a guest part on King of the Hill, and the people who run that show are very politically conservative, and are very disdainful for Hollywood liberals. And I see more of this.

"People who are seriously ill are not going to change. But we are getting an influx of people who come to Hollywood not because they think they're artists, or because they think they're going to lead the demise of the bourgeoisie or intensify the class struggle, but people who know it's a very good way to make a living and wind up on top of the heap. And they have a much more pragmatic attitude about America. They're often not from New York, they're from other parts of America.  And they are often Republican. I hear a lot of people saying to me, 'I'm a Republican too,' or 'I'm a great fan of George Bush.' By no means the majority, but plenty of them. Hollywood is changing. As some measure of maturity spreads, we will get a more mature and pro-American group of people.

"I'm writing a book on this subject called The Illness of Politics."

 

* Noble GOP Principles

 


Regarding California's recall election, Stein reiterated what he'd told Chris Matthews on MSNBC: that he favored Bill Simon to be California's next governor. "And if Simon drops out," Stein had added, "I'll support Tom McClintock. I think Tom McClintock and Bill Simon are pretty much the same, but I've long been a friend of the Simon family."

Matthews asked, "Well how would you feel if you woke up the morning of election day and Cruz Bustamante would have won because you voted for Bill Simon instead of voting for Arnold Schwarzenegger?"

"It wouldn't bother me a bit," Stein replied. "Because I think Arnold Schwarzenegger is what a person would call a RINO -- a Republican in Name Only. He is an interesting and rising personality, not stupid, made good investment decisions. Obviously very muscular. But the key, absolute bedrock principle of the Republican Party is right-to-life. This is what makes the Republican Party not just a machine to get elections won and get patronage, but something noble."

Stein passionately expounded to the Hollywood Republicans: "I would not be a Republican if I didn't think there was something noble about being in it. I have no interest in holding political office. I'm never going to get any patronage. But the Republican Party was founded on a noble principle, the eradication of slavery. That was the most important thing facing the Western world in those days, to make the promise of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution come true by saying that really all men are created equal, and it didn't matter if you had dark skin. This was noble. It led to a terrible war. I feel terrible all the time about how many people died in that war, north and south. But it was a glorious principle -- and I think right-to-life is the same principle for our era. 

"The Republican Party has distinguished itself by being a right-to-life party since the days of Ronald Reagan. Right-to-life is about protecting the lives of the innocent, blameless, and vulnerable. This is the bedrock of the Republican Party: respect for the individual's dignity, whether the individual is in the womb, whether he's in Eastern Europe, whether he's in China, or she's in China, whether she's in Angola. This respect for the individual. Democrats have no comparably noble principle. They're Me! Me! for taking taxpayer dollars, bribing voters, and getting re-elected. Taking more tax dollars, bribing voters, getting re-elected again. They do not have a single noble principle in the whole party.

"That Mr. Schwarzenegger does not believe in that principle is very disappointing to me. That he has selected as one of his main advisers, Warren Buffet, who to be sure is a very successful investor, is extremely dismaying to me. I'm a correspondent friend of Buffett's, and he is one of the most pro-abortion people in America, and actually pays with his own money for the suction machines used in abortion clinics."

Apart from the issues of slavery and right-to-life, Stein believes the principle of "the lowest possible taxation" also ennobles the Republican Party. "And we know what Buffett thinks about that," said Stein, "They are well known views. And I don't think that a man [Schwarzenegger] who is betraying two of the main principles of the party, is a party man. I don't want to introduce as a main player in the Republican Party another person who's going to go against the principles that make the Republican Party a noble entity. I would like to see a candidate who is a friend, as Mr. Bush has been, to the right-to-life, and who has religious principles, as Mr. Bush's are pretty strong. That is my humble view."

 

 

 

* Road Map to Peace

 

Despite his admiration for Bush, Stein is "shocked" by Bush's proposed Road Map to Peace for the Mideast, and by its "lack of understanding of the craziness and rage of the terrorists." Stein qualifies by adding, "Mr. Bush is a person of extreme goodwill, extreme decency, a really fine human being, but naive about the Middle East. He thinks that you just put everybody at a table and they'll all get together and be friends. It'll never work. Mr. Nixon, in one of the last conversations I had with Mr. Nixon, said that the one truly intractable conflict that he was aware of in the whole world was the Middle East."

 

* Bill Stein Loves Rap

 

Speaking of noble issues, one of the black Republicans in attendance challenged Stein about the party's disregard for minority issues, stating, "Whenever the GOP singles out morality, it leave the general public questioning how sincere we are in our morality when we don't have the same commitment and compassion for the high unemployment rate of black men between the ages of 18 and 35 in the inner city. Officially, the papers have it at 19%. Being from the inner city, I know it's at least 50%. Of course, that means that I count those that have dropped out of society, and perhaps we shouldn't. But even on the high end, abortion impacts 4 million people a year."

"It kills them," Stein replied.

"Absolutely. And so does the high unemployment rate in the inner city."

"Well, I don't know about that," said Stein. "It certainly doesn't kill them. As a matter of fact, most of that unemployment is transitory. But I agree, there is a serious problem of a permanent underclass that seems to resist moving upward on the scale, and what is to be done, I don't know.

"Any suggestions you may have on how to improve that condition are very welcome in the Bush White House. They're just as eager to get that situation solved as you are. Certainly, Mr. Bush's commitment to African-Americans is dramatic. It just stuns me that people question his commitment to African-Americans given the makeup of his inner circle, and the makeup of his cabinet."

Stein recalled a black woman who'd asked him, following his speech at Pepperdine University, how people were to get an education after cuts in the school budget. "What I said to her was, no public school system has ever been invented that is so poor that a really well-motivated, well-disciplined student cannot get an education. There's libraries, there's internet, there's newspapers, there are inexpensive books. Some of the problem of the unemployment among inner city African-Americans is due to their own inability to educate themselves, to get themselves marketable skills.

"I'm a huge fan of rap. I'm floored at the incredible creativity and discipline and hard work of some of these rap stars who make themselves into giant sensations. I keep thinking to myself, the inner city is an enormous reservoir of talent that has yet to be tapped by America -- but it has to tap itself first of all."


* Immigration & Ann Coulter

 


Illegal immigration remains an issue to many California Republicans. When asked for his views, Stein replied, "We're not doing anything as far as I can tell to keep out illegal aliens. By the way, talk about something that has devastated the black community. They take all the entry level jobs, and they undercut the wage system. And you might say, Well why not? They're incredibly hard-working people. But it is very hard for domestic-grown people to compete with them.

"I don't know. This country will either become a province of Mexico on the borders, or it will not. On the other hand, Hispanic-Americans are an incredible resource. They are hard-working. Often very religious. Often very good family values. I'm impressed. I wake up this morning, there's a whole bunch of Hispanics gardening around my house. There's one at my pool [cleaning it]. There are two inside the house, my maids. Of course they're gonna take over the country. My wife and I are sleeping. They're working.

"I had dinner with Ann Coulter the other night. She said she hates California and wishes we'd give it back to Mexico. I said, don't worry."

Copyright 2003 by HollywoodInvestigator.com

 

 

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