EIGHTY-YEAR-OLD Jack Haley waits impatient for lunch in his sunny white Beverly Hills mansion. He is surrounded by mementos of a half century in show business, including a little Tin Woodman doll from the role he played in the original "Wizard of Oz."
"Where the hell is that Bob Dornan?" he growls impatiently.
Haley's wife Flo, a former Ziegfeld Follies star, rushes around, aided by a Mexican maid, laying cold cuts ordered from a Jewish delicatessen on a large round table. Nephews Dick and Don have arrived, but everbody is waiting for the congressman.
Bob Dornan arrives, late as usual, with a knock on the mansion's massive front door. Red-faced and with the same nervous New York Irish mannerisms as his uncle Jack, Dornan is clad in an Eastern pin-stripe suit. Everyone else is in sports shirts, casual California style.Dornan rushes to his uncle, bending over to deliver an apology and a kiss on his rosy red cheeks.
The men plunge into their cold cuts, discussing, between mouthfuls the clan's favorite topics, show business and politics. The women stay in the background, talking among themselves. No liberated crowd, this.
"Did you see they had Lillian Hellman on the Academy Awards?" Don, a bald 46-year-old television producer asks, screwing up his mouth angrily. "I meant that was all over for people like us in this town, that radical left is on top at this time, the conservatives on bottom."
Everyone at the table nods in agreement - except for Robert K. Dornan.Things will be looking up for the right, he assures everyone. Take the Panama Canal. The people are wtih us on that Torrijos, the Panama manian leader, is a drug-smuggling, corrupt Marxist dictator. We'll win that one, be exclaims. Dornan catches his breath and downs some kosher meat.
"Now isn't that great?" asks a smiling Jack Haley. "He knows what's really going on. Here's a man taking us back stage - it's really interesting - hell, it's like show business isn't it?"
Probably not since Bella Abzug has a freshman congressman so bewildered his peers. Republican leaders in the House speak glowingly about his contribution getting publicity for the badly deflated GOP, then chastise the former television talk show host for being a self-serving maverick, interested only in the bright lights of notoriety. Democratic leaders like House Administration Committee Chairman Frank Thompson (D-New Jersey) openly denounce him as "a paranoiac," other Democrats whisper he's the rein-carnation of another California politician, Richard Nixon, albeit this time in handsomer, more gregarious packaging.
Whatever the topic - be it trying to save the B-1 bomber or stop the Canal treaty - Dornan has managed to get his name linked to the hottest issues in town, and ability prized in the trendy Hollywood world from which he sprang. It sometimes seems that for Dornan the very purpose of politics is to get on the news. And even some members of his own party complain that when it's time to do serious work, Dornan's too busy posturing for the cameras.
"I detect this idea of Dornan grandstanding - I hear it repeated behind my back," he said, as he combed his hair back, looking into a House cloakroom mirror. "I'm even a little surprised," Dornana says of the press coverage. "We didn't plan it, I swear to God." Dornan holds up his hands, like a choir boy about to take absolution.
Dornan has always had a penchant for the dramatic. As a talk show host/journalist, he flew to hot spots like Biafra and Vietnam to bring in personal, filmed reports. Congress has simply provided him with a bigger stage. For instance, when the Hanafi Muslims were holed up with their hostages in Washington last spring, Dornan rushed to the scene and promptly offered himself as substitute for one of the hostages. The sword-bearing Muslims didn't take him up on the idea but the gesture was enough to get Dornan's name splashed across newspapers and magazines across the country.
This adventure-seeking flair embarrasses many of Dornan's stuffier colleagues on the hill. "I can't help it," Dornan explains. "That's the way I am. I'm like a blood-hound; when stuff starts breaking I just have to run down there."
Bob Dornan was weaned on a combination of Irish wit, politics, show business and Catholicism. His father, Harry Dornan, was former Democratic National Committee Chairman James Farley's tailor. His mother, Bara Wilkes, along with Jack Haley's wife, Flo, made up the McFadden Sisters, a leading vaudeville act in the 1920s.
When the Dornans moved from New York to Los Angeles in the Forties, they easily made the transition from Broadway to Hollywood. By then Dornan's uncle Jack was a big star and he introduced his freckle-faced nephew to a bevy of entertainers and movie industrialists who remains to this day the bulwark of Dornan's support.
These stars and moguls have long been united by a combination of cultural and political attitudes. Like, the Haleys and the Dornans, many of them are devoutly religious and conservative. (Dornan's father remained a choir boy until well into his eighties; his brother Dick is a deacon at a church in the San Fernando Valley. Congressman Dornan himself rises every morning at dawn in order to atten early mass on his way to the Capitol and is seeking to become a deacon in the metropolitan Washington area).
The Hollywood right is mostly an older, retired crowd today but their names are still among the bes-known in the business. The late Bing Crosby was a memher, and the group includes such stars as John Wayne, whose autographed picture hands prominently in Dornan's Washington office, Irene Dunne, Loretta Yound, Bob Hope, Gene Autry, relative youngster Pat Boone and, of course, the Gipper himself, Ronald Reagan. With their endorsements and financial backing, Dornan, never before elected to public office, was able to win election last year by 10,000 votes in a middle-of-the-road [WORD ILLEGIBLE] stal Los Angeles district against two well-known Republican challengers and a millionaire Demoncratic opponent.
This conservative-minded Hollywood faction was in its heyday back in the 1950s when McCarthyism swept across the Sunset Strip, sweeping out left-of-center talent in its wake. But in recent years, particularly since the Vietnam War protests, younger, more liberal voices have emerged in Hollywood, diminishing greatly the influence of these rightist entertainers.
Today Jane Fonda and her husband, former SDS leader Tom Hayden, are at the pin society. With the possible exceptions of Pat Boone and the ever-present Osmonds, there is hardly a right-wing star under sixty in town, "These are sad times," complains Jack Haley. "The gays are coming out of the closet and the conservatives are going in."
With Ronald Reagan aging, Hollywood's conservatives are looking increasingly to Bob Dornan for leadership and inspiration. "We're all very proud of him," asserts retired screed star Irene Dunne. "He's still an arch-conservative though the industry isn't. He's a very high type of guy. I hope Washington doesn't spoil hime."
FOr at least the past decade Dornan has been nurtured, in the words of one local writer, as " the great right hope" of Hollywood.
After a stint with the Air Force, Dornan first tried to make it as an actor. "I was pretty bad," he remembers. His only regular work came as a minor character on the old television series "Twelve O'Clock High."
Dornan's big break came in the late Sixties when Gene Autry, the onetime cowboy singing star who is now one of Hollywood's leading entrepreneurs, got him a job as a talk show host on KTLA, the local television station Autry owns. Dornan eventually won an Emmy for the show, where he matched wits with such leading leftists as Mark Lane and Jane Fonda. His style was tough, quick-witted and sarcastic, leaving some of his guests seething to this day. "He's really vicious," recalls Jane Fonda. "He's really a low-grade person."
But Dornana's conservative backers saw something else -- a right-winger with the pizzazz to match any hot-blooded lefty in town. "He's a great spokesman for conservatism," remarks Autry. "I like him ver much - he's a fine guy and a very honest and good American. And things are different now than they used to be around town. There's an awful lot of people who are more left than right. Maybe that's because after Watergate a lot of people thought it was the right time to change over."
This change of mood in Hollywood threatens the very existence of the local right wing and to some extent, could undermine Bob Dornan's political ambitions. "There is a problem in Hollywood now called the closet conservative," Dornan believes. "A lot of conservatives say they can't do or say anything becasue it will hurt their careers. It's like the old backlash has whiplashed."
A case in point, Dornan maintains, was his unsuccessful attempt last year to gain the support of television foz trot king Lawrence Welk. "He said 'I can not help you because it would hurt my television family. I don't want to embarrass them,'" Dornan recalls bitterly. "He said he sent me his book. It arrived the next day."
When he heard that story Jack Haley bristled in his chair, his face turned beet red. "That phoney," Haley fumed, a little smile bursting over his face."At least he could give you a-one, a-two and a-three." Haley giggled; so did Congressman Robert K. Dornan.
Besides a silky speaking style learned in Hollywood, Dornan's most important asset, he likes to say, is his wife Sallie. Blond and attractive in a healthy, large-boned way, Sallie Donrnan, 42, is a hard-line conservative thorougly dedicated to her husband's success - "All the way to the White House," she jokes. She studiously avoids the Washington cocktail party set because "everyone's getting drunk in your face." She spends her time manning the late-night, graveyard shift at her husband's congressional office and running the family household in Vienna, Virginia.
"All I can do for my country is to give him," she says adoringly, leaning back on her husband's desk chair. "All I want is to be his support - what else should I want - a career?" She is one woman who revels in not being "women's lib." She insists helping keep Bob Dornan going and raising their five red-haired children is more work than any woman needs.
Things have not always been so idyllic between the Dornans. When Democratic congressional candidate Gary Famillian charged in last years campaign that Dornan was a wife-beater, he was able to produce a divorce complaint, signed by Sallie Dornan, charging her husband with physically man-handling her. But today Sallie Dornan vehemently denies the beatings ever took place and blames her complaint on a paranoia produced by addiction to the tranquilizer Valium. Now, both Dornans insist, things couldn't be better at home.
In Washington, Bob Dornan has taken up the struggle to make the Right sexy and exciting. "I've never been comfortable with the word conservative as it's used up here," Dornan syas. "It seems like they ('conservatives') are the type who don't ride motorcycles. They don't have any fun. Now, why can't a conservative have fun?"
Bob Dornan is dertermined to have his "fun" - especially if it's at the expense of the opposition. Last summer, for instance, he drove backers of President Carter's new election-day voter registration bill up a tree. Dornan arranged for false Virginia identification cards to be manufactured by a California firm. Under blazing lights at a well-orchestrated press conference, Dornan said that those false Virginia papers could be used to vote illegally under the Carter plan. For a coup de grace one of the false IDs bore the name of Democratic Representative Frank Thompson.
Thompson didn't appreciate Dornan's little spectacle. He blasted the Congressman from California for everything from breaking the law to interfering with Thompson's personal privacy. To top it off he labeled Dornan "a son of a b-," an epithet which was thentransmitted by wire services around the nation.
Thompson eventually apologized.
Bob Dornan, meanwhile, loved it. He heard the news of Thompson's blast as he was rushing through the eerie tunnel between the Capitol and the Cannon Office Building. "Hey, Bob," a youthful, pin-striped Republican aide smiled, "you sure riled up old Thompson today. He called you an S.O.B. on the wires."
Dornan stopped in his tracks, merriment spreading all over his face. "He did?" the Californian chirped, pulling his American eagle tie tighter. "That's great. We really must be getting under their skins."
Later in the day Thompson was sitting in his office, fuming. "You wanna ask me about Bob Dornan?" he growled in the gritty accent of his native New Jersey, launching into a torrent of completely unprintable obscenities. When he caught his breath, Thompson addmitted he and the rest of the congressional leadership were puzzled by this Hollywood stranger in their midst. "Well, I guess we don't have to worry about him. He's just like a New Jersey mosquito," he joked. "He'll bite the crap out of you, but he won't kill you."
The next day the reporter's phone rigns. "Hello," said the gruff voice on the other end. "This is Frnak Thompson. I was just wondeing whether ya want any more comments on that Dornan's character. He's a syphilitic bastard..."
The reporter is wondering - has Thompson gone off the deep end? Then the voice on the other end of the line mellows out, sheds the eastern corridor gutteral. "This is Bob Dornan," a laughing voice comes on, "just trying to keep you on your toes."
And, more to the point, Dornan informs this reporter, (as he would anyone who's vaguely interested) of every ounce of exposure he received from the registration bill caper. "That's pretty amazing," Dornan bubbles, "I'm pretty hot, hot as hell, aren't I?"
This passion for the dramatic has led Hollywood's right-wing messenger to, at times, break the hallowed protocols of politics. On the first foreign trip of his congressional career, a fact-finding mission to Panama taken this spring, Dornan embarrassed then U.S. Ambassador William Jordan by publicly denouncing the strategic Central American country as "a dictatorship."
"When I said that, Jordan went bananas," Dornan recalls."He started chasing me onto a plane back home. He said I set back relations with Panama several years. It was really a riot. It touched some nerve there, I guess. You don't call a dictator a dictator sometimes."
Several months later Dornan was at it again when he shattered the proper procedures by lunging over to the Senate side to save development funds for the B-1 bomber, a move worth 6000 jobs in his Los Angeles district. When Carter announced his opposition to the palne, most B-1 proponents gave up the fight. But not Dornan, a former fightr pilot who decorates his Washington office with models of numerous warplanes, including an enormous replica of the B-1.
Spotting Mississippi's venerable Senator John Stennis ambling slowly into a "Senators Only" elevator, Dornan jumps right in, uninvited. "I know I'm not supposed to do that," he admitted later with the gleeful look a child breaking some assinine parental rule. "But I have to give them the pitch - no 'please, thank you,' just the pitch."
On the hunt again, Dornan spots another congressional heavy, John Tower, emerging from the Senate Floor. "Hi Senator Tower," Dornan says, bargaing right into a conversation between the diminutive Texan and Senator Edward Brooke. "I'm Bob Dornan, the guy whose district is being smashed by the B-1 thing."
Ten minutes later Tower is still standing there by the entrance of the Senate floor, flicking cigarette ashes on the floor, listening to a Dornan B-1 monologue. It all seems a bit absurd but some [WORD ILLEGIBLE] Dornan knows how, when a camera or an important person is nearby, to turn the right phrase the right way. He has an uncanny ability, at the crucial moment, to turn his high-pitched New York Irish accent into the soft, lolling tones of a California television announcer. You're so busy looking for the monitor, you can't turn him off.
Today Bob Dornan is still just a freshman, wet-behind-the-ears congressman from California. But there are already people, on both sides of the aisle, who fear him as a potential right-wing demagogue. One moderate member of the California Republican delegation said that in his career - more than a decade long - Dornan was the best speaker he had ever seen. And that fact, he said, "scares the crap out of me."
"I think on any given circumstance he could get on that tube and convince people he's absolutely right whether he knows what he's taliking about or not," the congressman warned. "He's a demagogue in every sense of the word and that makes him dangerous."
When that comment was repeated to him, Bob Dornan squirmen a little, the blue eyes downcast. "Someone said that about me?" Dornan asked, almost in a squel. "Well, people just call other people demagogues because they get things accomplished they can't." He sat there uncharacteristically silent, surrounded by his wife Sallie and thin, red-headed daughter Theresa, in the nearly empty Rotunda restaurant.
Waiters rustled around, dishes clanging in the nigth. Dornan was deep in thought. Suddenly it was as if the spotlight went on. The smile returned to his face, he brushed back the red hair, the twinkle returned to his eyes.
"Hey, let's have a good time," the pet of the Hollywood Right decided. "You know what I'd like to do? Forget this stuff. I'd like to go on the floor tomorrow and give them a great Bogie imitation - boy, he would have made a great congressman.
Then one after another the congressman rattled off imitations - Cagney, Bogart, Cary Grant - all playing members of Congress, debating an imaginary point of order. Tough guys battled. Cary Grant, smoothtalking, tried to calm things down. A debate of the stars - and Bob Dornan, friend of the stars, was orchestrating it all masterfully.
Everyone at the table in the nearly empty restaurant was laughing in the candlelight, grabbing gulps of water in order to avoid looking foolish. And, once again, Bob Dornan was beaming, the center of attention.