Hollywood has always gravitated to the fresh face, so the crushing turnout there yesterday at a rally and a series of fundraisers for presidential contender Barack Obama followed a familiar Tinseltown story line.
The Democratic senator from Illinois drew thousands to a South Los Angeles park, then headed to Beverly Hills for a fundraising double feature that organizers said yielded him an estimated $1.3 million.
Movie stars Tom Hanks, Jennifer Aniston and Denzel Washington wrote checks, and scores of producers and agents paid $4,600 per couple -- the maximum allowed -- to jam a hotel ballroom for a two-hour, closed-door cocktail reception hosted by entertainment moguls Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen.
Those who collected $46,000 in checks for the event, which attracted 300 people, were invited to Geffen's house for a more intimate sit-down dinner with Obama.
Organizers said they expected the freshman senator to leave town flush not only with money but also with valuable connections in a city that has for decades served as a lifeline for Democratic presidential contenders.
Money collected now could provide an important boost, in that it will appear on Obama's first quarterly earnings report. Those figures, when released in April, will help signal his campaign's viability.
A clear undercurrent to yesterday's high-profile Hollywood swing was the ease with which Obama swept up support from entertainment industry titans who had once been squarely with President Bill Clinton and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.).
"There will be lots of excitement about her," Donna Bojarsky, a Hollywood-based political consultant who attended last night's Obama event, said of Hillary Clinton. "But with him, there's this overwhelming sense that people could be getting in at the ground floor of a historic journey."
That is not to say Hollywood is leaving Hillary Clinton behind. Spielberg is one of many who have pledged to raise money for Obama, Clinton and former senator John Edwards. Next month, former supermarket magnate Ron Burkle will host a major fundraiser for Clinton.
"Senator Clinton has been a box-office hit in this town for 15 years," said Chad Griffin, a Hollywood-based political strategist and staff member in the Clinton White House. "Anyone who can survive the industry for 15 years has lasting power."