In Prospect‘s November issue, Renegade’s item on rising Republican star Eric Cantor notes that, in the 2002 midterms, Cantor’s Democratic challenger was Ben Jones, who played Cooter Davenport in the 1980s television series The Dukes of Hazzard. Jones was no political novice; he was previously a congressman for Georgia’s fourth district. It’s perhaps not that surprising a fact—there is quite a long list of US actors turned politicians. Most famously, there are those governors of California, and wrestler-turned-actor Jesse Ventura served a term as governor of Minnesota. On a smaller scale, Clint Eastwood was a mayor and Sonny Bono a congressman. More recently, lawyer and sometime actor Fred Thompson made a run at the Republican presidential nomination and the Independent reported that Val Kilmer was considering having a shot at the governship of New Mexico. And then there’s Al Franken, comedian, writer and actor and now junior senator of Minnesota. Meanwhile Britain has… Glenda Jackson.
Why don’t we have more actors turned politicians? Actors’ transferable skills of looking good on screen and being able to deliver speeches are surely as relevant over here, even if our political culture is less television-dominated. Do we just want our politicians to project as little of a life outside politics as possible? And, whether or not this is so, why are many of American actor/politicians Republican—when both Hollywood and acting culture in Britain lean firmly leftwards? (Conservapedia has pondered this question too.)
Also this month in Prospect, our EU diarist Manneken Pis notes that Howard Gutman, one of America’s ambassadors to Brussels, had a small role in the recent remake of Fame! Gutman is a diplomat rather than a politician, but if he ever runs for office, he’ll certainly be in good company.