Will They Snort Coke in the White House?

Village Voice, April 27, 1972, Vol. XVII, No. 17
By Maureen Orth

LOS ANGELES, California — “I kissed Jack Nicholson,” shrieked a teenybopper, her bare midriff quivering with excitement. “Warren Beatty hugged me,” one-upped her friend, whose skin-tight hip huggers barely stretched across her 31-inch bottom. “Has anyone seen Elliott Gould?”

Although it appeared to be the sidewalk in front of the Academy Awards, the scene was El Lay at a new kind of political event: the concert for George McGovern at the Inglewood Forum. Good ole George, honest and bland, is being transformed into Sexy George, George the Hip, George the Magnetic, all because of a powerful new magic weapon in his campaign. The weapon not only attracts Now Hollywood and rock royalty to the McGovern fold, but also raises enough dough in a single night to give the contributors at ITT a run for their money. The magic weapon is not a multi-million dollar media campaign nor even vitamin E. It’s Warren Beatty.

Beatty masterminded and Lou Adler produced the recent concert which sold out in 18 hours, barely mentioned politics, and netted McGovern a cool $320,000. On stage, Barbra Streisand, James Taylor, Carole King, and Quincy Jones performed for hordes of nubile screamers, who paid up to $100 a ticket to hear their favorite artists and gawk at the ushers: Beatty, Jack Nicholson, Julie Christie, Gene Hackman, Burt Lancaster, Jon Voight, Sally Kellerman, Robert Vaughn, Mama Cass, John Philip Law, Peggy Lipton, Michelle Phillips, plus the celebrities in the audience, Gregory Peck, Britt Eklund, Carly Simon, and Joni Mitchell.

Most of the crowd obviously came for the entertainment and sat in $4 to $10 seats, but many said they wanted to see McGovern. “I’ve never voted before,” one young woman explained, “and I’m trying to learn as much as I can about all the candidates. This is a pretty fun way to do it.” The lone 65-year-old man in the audience of 19,000 declared firmly, “I’m a Republican for Carole King.”

“Those damn Republicans,” said a McGovern aide. “Before Warren came along with his Glamor Brigade there was no way we could compete with their $1000-a-plate Agnew-Reagan sit-down dinners.” Now McGovern can compete because Warren Beatty’s tapping the same market that willingly shelled out $2 billion a year to support the U.S. record industry. What’s more, Beatty’s promised a whole series of similar concerts all across the country. “We’ve got 30 or 40 performers of comparable impact and caliber as those tonight ready to go for McGovern.” The take from these concerts could conceivably reach several million and be the major financial base of the McGovern campaign. In one night Beatty et al have already become the largest fund raisers in the Democratic Party. In fact, before Beatty started working his magic, political fund raising in California was dominated by the Republicans and the traditional Democrats’ favorite candidate, Hubert Humphrey. McGovern’s only loyal California financial support came from a small group of Los Angeles anti-war businessmen — his average campaign contribution is still $26. With the Wisconsin primary victory to aid his image as a winner, plus the enthusiasm of hundreds of student supporters ready to campaign throughout California, McGovern is given a good chance to win the California primary and 271 delegates June 6 — especially if Muskie is out of the race by then, as many insiders here predict he will be. “McGovern’s people should wear black pajamas,” said one Muskie speechwriter. “They’re just like the Vietcong — everywhere.”

Jack Nicholson was not in black pajamas concert night, but in a white three-piece Borsalino suit, obviously enjoying his role a usher — he was probably signing more autographs than anyone else. Between gushes and goos from the ticket holders, Nicholson managed to explain why he thought movie stars could be politically effective. “A butcher can be effective politically, but actors have more easy access to the airwaves, to enhance the candidate…”

I wondered if people say that kind of thing to McGovern.

Gene Hackman more or less agreed with Jack Nicholson. “It’s naive not to recognize that certain personalities mean a great deal to some people. In an ideal world people would draw their own conclusions.” Hackman didn’t have any specific plans to continue working for McGovern. “I don’t know what more I can do. I contributed to the campaign. I’m here tonight. If McGovern wins the California primary I guess I’ll work with Warren some more.”

Goldie Hawn, who had never been an usher before, was having trouble finding people’s seats. “I was a go-go girl once,” she said.

Suddenly the house lights dimmed. Carole King and James Taylor walked out on stage. Carole sat down at the piano and James started to tune his guitar. They sang separate sets, but the audience seemed to like them best when they sang together. “Louder! Faster!” Their final song, a duet of “You’ve Got a Friend,” brought down the house. Neither one mentioned politics. A single banner tacked below the stage showed “McGovern” emblazoned across it, replacing the notes in a bar of music in three/four time. Beneath was written, “Use the power to register, to vote.”

“We’ve gotten calls from Humphrey, Muskie, and Lindsay asking James to play for them,” Taylor’s manager, Peter Asher, said, “but this is the first concert we’ve done like this because James likes McGovern — he thinks he’s honest. Before Warren called we supported McGovern, but we hadn’t thought of doing anything for him.”

“It wasn’t such a brilliant new idea to put on a concert like this for a politician,” Beatty said, “but this time the timing’s right. You couldn’t do it in ’64 with Lyndon, and in ’68 people were split between McCarthy and Kennedy. A few weeks ago when Lindsay look like he was on his way out I saw a possibility to unite the New Politics behind McGovern. Since the arts have the ability to raise funds and at times I can organize well, I did it. It’s not like C. Arnholt Smith contributing money or Frank Sinatra going out and doing a bunch of concerts for Hubert Humphrey. It’s a whole group of artists, independent and intelligent people, getting together on the same bill behind McGovern, the man with the immaculate slate. I’m not saying people like Carole King, Quincy Jones or Barbra Streisand couldn’t sell out a concert like this on their own, but having them together is why we know we’ll sell out.”

Quincy Jones followed the lyrical ballads of Carole King and James Taylor, and how he did come on — a full 32-piece orchestra, a full-length robe of crimson velvet, a bevy of four black beauties beseeching “Brother, brother,” oompah, oompah, “Sister, sister,” oompah, oompah, “why did we make war?” That was the most political thing said from the stage all night.

Downstairs in the L.A. Lakers locker room, the “Fabulous Forum,” the press was waiting restlessly for McGovern to fly in from a distinctly Old World political gathering, a Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner in Detroit with Humphrey and Muskie. Haiphong had been bombed that day and everyone was waiting to hear McGovern’s comment. A sign on the wall said, “Winning’s not all — it’s everything.” Upstairs la Streisand was delighting the crowd with a medley of her greatest hits (not to be outdo by Quincy, she added four more members to the rhythm section of his orchestra).

Suddenly a flurry, the 20 secret service men in attendance started parting the waters, and in strode McGovern. He looked a lot more handsome and dapper than in his days a few years ago on Capitol Hill when he used to wear shiny green suits. “There’s so much more excitement around him now,” the man from the New York Times said, making a statement that probably will not be included in all the news that’s fit to print. McGovern first stopped to greet James Taylor and then Carole King. The flashbulbs popped. “I’m one of your ardent fans,” he said to Taylor. “You’re great to do this.” “I hope it’s helping you more than it’s hurting,” mumbled Sweet Baby James. McGovern offered his first homily of the evening, “You know, the Indians have a saying. When you get your picture taken, a little of you gets taken away at the same time.” “Far out,” said Carole King.

Then McGovern faced the reporters and tv cameras, calling the bombing of Haiphong, “a desperate gamble that, at the height of the bombing, the previous administration did not take…ineffectual in the past, reckless now, bringing us one step further away from peace.” “No more questions,” barked an aide. “Senator, you’re wanted on stage.”

Barbra Streisand had been singing hard for almost an hour and the audience of 19,000 was on its feet screaming its approbation. When McGovern with the rest of his star-studded entourage joined her on stage, the roar was deafening, sweet music to a politician’s ears, the energy of 19,000 people surging toward the stage — a great moment in show biz! Sock it to ’em George baby!

McGovern smiled and said, “You know there’s an old French proverb that says gratitude is the heart’s memory. A couple of years ago there was a song, ‘Here comes the sun — it’s all right.’ Well, we’re going to see the sun again. Things can be all right again. With great effort ’72 will be a great year.” He put the microphone down. That was it. No Haiphong. No Milhouse “V” signs, just “it can be all right again.” The crowd applauded and cheered, the Washington Post reporter looked puzzled, the girl next to him shrugged her shoulders. McGovern was very happy.

The party afterward for staff, stars, and press who sneaked in was just your average Reform Demo get-together — drinks for everybody, Peggy Lipton and Quincy Jones noosing in a corner, Britt Eklund wafting by in white sequins, a cozy group of Greg Peck, his wife, Jack Nicholson, Michelle Phillips, Carly Simon, James Taylor, Julie Christie chatting amiably. George McGovern settled in a far corner attempting to talk to someone, pretending six tv cameras weren’t five inches away from his face. Warren Beatty still tirelessly directed traffic, Lou Adler talked percentages, and Joni Mitchell said, “I was going to do one of these Paul Simon and James Taylor in Cleveland.” So far in ’72, Richard Nixon has opened with Rudy Vallee and Virginia Mayo.

We’ve got the Jackson Five and maybe Isaac Hayes next, a black aide to McGovern said, shaking his head in awe at the ghetto dream ticket. “Man, we’re making Warren our ambassador at-large, he’s running the whole campaign!” Even hard-rock fans, Beatty promised, will play for McGovern, groups who may have only done Hell’s Angels benefits in the past. “They’re more in the system than you think!”

If a group like Zappa or the Grateful Dead can earn McGovern 100 thou or so in one night and McGovern wins, aren’t they entitled to be invited to the White House for dinner, just like C. Arnholt Smith used to be? The eventuality poses interesting and delicate problems of protocol. Will the guests snort coke or sip champagne before dinner? Will Cheech and Chong provide the after-dinner entertainment instead of Bob Hope? Will Alice Cooper replaced the Marine Band and play “Hail to the Chief”? Then the New Politics will truly have arrived.