Looking for a Shining Star


 

As every political and charitable organization knows, there is nothing like access to Hollywood stars and influential players to collect crowds and hefty donations.

So when American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) supporters arrive in Los Angeles Sunday for a national meeting to listen to policymakers and pundits, their agenda also includes a visit to the Warner Bros. Studios and a chat with television producers and writers.

But AIPAC officials want more than a good time out of Hollywood. They want broader support, lots of money, and, if needed on occasion, celebrity cachet.

In other words, AIPAC is like every other Jewish organization worth its man of the year plaque. The strange thing is that AIPAC has to work so hard to make Hollywood inroads, given that AIPAC’s clout in official Washington is legendary.

AIPAC officials insist they are making progress.

“We are seeing significant number of people in the Hollywood community involved in AIPAC,” said its national spokesman Josh Block. As evidence, he cites increasing attendance by entertainment industry people at Los Angeles and national AIPAC events.

Block’s appraisal was endorsed by some enthusiastic AIPAC members in Hollywood, but the organization doesn’t provide membership lists or totals so the anecdotes cannot be verified.

The most optimistic estimate put Hollywood membership in “the hundreds,” but even that figure was questioned by some outside observers.

One of the best-connected political analysts of Jewish Hollywood, who, like most respondents, did not wish to be identified by name, pointed to a basic problem.

“It is always a real challenge getting Hollywood people involved in organized Jewish life or Israeli causes, except through synagogue membership,” the observer said. This fact-of-L.A.-life applies to AIPAC as well as to other Jewish groups.

One difficulty is the “idiosyncratic” nature of the entertainment industry, which is not easily understood or penetrated by outsiders seeking the help of show-business Jews, the observer said. This analyst added that many creative people come to Hollywood to get away from the “stale traditions” of New York and other East Coast cities.

As a final point, the observer noted, Hollywood Jews tend to fall on the liberal side. Thus, the few who are Jewishly involved are more likely to support Americans for Peace Now, the Israel Policy Forum or American Jewish Committee, while AIPAC is perceived as “conservative.”

The latter perception is strenuously contested by AIPAC officials and supporters.

“We cut across all lines and partisanships in terms of U.S. politics. That’s why we are successful,” said Joel Mandel, a Hollywood business manager and AIPAC member.

Practically speaking, AIPAC traditionally either supports the current Israeli government or sits on the sidelines steadfastly supporting Israel even as that nation’s factions battle over control, policies and ideas.

Mandel acknowledged that AIPAC could do a better job at communicating with the entertainment industry, but also cited recent improvements.

“We are talking to politically sophisticated people,” he said. “If we provide with them facts, they’ll get it.”

A similar positive assessment was given by Joan Hyler, former senior vice president at the William Morris Agency and enthusiastic AIPAC advocate.

“We’re small, but we’re growing,” she said, “and the field is wide open.”

What AIPAC lacks in Hollywood is a high-profile celebrity to draw attention and colleagues with open wallets. In the past, Peace Now has benefited from the active presence of actor Richard Dreyfuss, while the Anti-Defamation League and American Jewish Committee are generally able to “honor” some bright star at their annual events.

However, AIPAC can now point to influential multimedia mogul Haim Saban, who is backing the organization’s Saban National Political Leadership Training Seminar. The semiannual seminars in Washington each draw some 300 college student activists for three days of intensive pro-Israel advocacy training. Saban is no Streisand, nor even Madonna, but he’s got the resources to back up his politics.

As for the future, a Hollywood executive who requested anonymity, sounded a hopeful note.

“I think AIPAC is making progress, especially among the younger people in the industry,” he said. “We’ll see a lot of growth over the next couple of generations.”

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An Army of One


All things pass in Hollywood, but for Army Archerd. For 50years, while great stars faded and powerful studio chiefs sank into obscurity,Archerd has written his daily column for Variety, the entertainment industry’smust-read, and he can count the times he’s missed a deadline on the fingers ofone hand.

“Army is a legend in Hollywood and his column is read likethe Bible,” said Rabbi David Baron, Archerd’s spiritual leader at Temple Shalomfor the Arts.

On Tuesday, Jan. 28, the American Friends of the Hebrew Universitywill recognize Archerd’s “dedication, generosity and deep commitment to hiscommunity” by presenting him with the Scopus Award.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center,lauds Archerd’s “love for the Jewish people, and especially Israel.”

“Anytime something terrible happens to Jews around theworld, we talk about it. The Holocaust has had a tremendous impact on him andhe has never forgotten his Jewish roots.”

Born 81 years ago in the Bronx as Armand Archerd — “Army” isa boyhood nickname that hung on — he sits quietly for an interview in thekitchen of his art-filled Westwood home, facing the UCLA campus — but the daily4:30 p.m. deadline is never far from his mind.

He excuses himself for a phone chat with actors MichaelDouglas and his wife Catherine Zeta-Jones, one of 40-50 such calls that providethe material for his next day’s Just for Variety column.

Archerd can justifiably claim that he writes for thebrightest, most talented and creative, and wealthiest readership of anycolumnist.

Starting with legendary moguls Louis B. Mayer, SamuelGoldwyn, Harry Cohn and the Warner brothers, he has interviewed just abouteveryone who matters in Hollywood and his only regret is that he never got totalk to the reclusive Greta Garbo.

Archerd culls the names of show biz’s great and near-greatfrom an unmatched contact list, stashed in three drawers of his desk, thatwould make any other reporter, or agent, “plotz” with envy, he said.

But after a newspaper career that began in 1945, andincluded early stints with the Associated Press and the L.A. Herald-Express,filling the 83 lines of his column each day is still hard work.

“It’s a daily challenge that hasn’t gotten easier withtime,” he said. “I keep a pad on my nightstand and when I wake up during thenight, I jot down some little shtiklech or who I should call tomorrow.”

Archerd grew up in what he calls a “very Jewish home,” witha French-born mother and Romanian-born father, and he has on hand the tallitand tefillin from his bar mitzvah.

Always a precocious student, he graduated from high schoolat age 15, besides having a slew of extracurricular activities and an eveningushering job at the Criterion Theatre on Broadway.

His family moved to Los Angeles when he was 17 and in 1941,at age 19, he graduated from UCLA. At a party hosted by his Jewish fraternity,Zeta Beta Tau, Army met Selma, an attractive Fairfax High student. Both went onto marry other partners but reunited 33 years ago.

Selma Archerd, an actress, describes her marriage as”blissful” and her husband as “an ethical, wonderful person, clean in soul anddeed.”

Immediately after Pearl Harbor, Archerd enlisted in the Navyand, commissioned an ensign, served in the Pacific as deck officer on adestroyer.

As he goes about his work, Archerd says, “I have an antennafor any indications of prejudice in the industry, including, but not only,anti-Semitism.”

He has taken on such icons as Michael Jackson, when thelyrics of one of his songs insulted Jews, and Marlon Brando, when he tossed offan anti-Semitic quip during an interview. Both the singer and the actor apologizedfor their trespasses.

Lately, it seems to some of his readers, Archerd hasratcheted up his denunciations of terrorist attacks in Israel and his praisefor supporters of the Jewish state.

For instance, in a column last August, he expressed deep shockat the suicide bombing at the Hebrew University’s Frank Sinatra Student Centercafeteria.

In typical fashion, he called on his memory and past columnsto resurrect Sinatra’s original 1978 visit for the dedication of the center inJerusalem, the members of his party and the fact that the crooner cooked up anItalian dinner in the butler’s pantry of the presidential suite of the localHilton Hotel.

Archerd’s activities include founding the Hollywood PressClub, launching TV’s “Entertainment Tonight” and regular host stints for theRetinitis Pigmentosa International award dinner. He has appeared as himself inover 100 movies and TV shows.

Archerd has no thought of retiring. “You see,” he saysbefore hurrying off to his office, “I’m not such an A.K. [alter-kacker] afterall.”

The Scopus Award dinner honoring Army Archerd will be heldTuesday, Jan. 28, at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel. For information, phone(310) 843-3100.