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Activism, Hollywood-Style

5 minute read

Politics is supposed to be Hollywood for ugly people, but in Los Angeles, we can’t even let them have that. Here, Heather Thomas–the Fall Guy actress who was a leader in bikini-poster sales in the sad, dark days before we could see famous people naked all the time–is the city’s most important connector in Democratic politics. She’s been able to do this partly because she’s smart, partly because she’s a terrific networker and mostly because she married one of L.A.’s richest lawyers. Thomas has held fund raisers for John Edwards, Barbara Boxer and Al Franken, but she’s best known for running a salon called the L.A. Café out of her house. Once a month she invites people who run liberal organizations to speak in front of people who like to give money to people who run liberal organizations. I like to think that somewhere just down the street, Bo Derek is doing the same thing for Republicans, only with dolls and fake money.

When I heard that the woman whose picture hung in my basement in the 1980s had become a backroom politico, I felt for the very first time that God had a reason for having me work at Time magazine. Standing near the pastry table at 8:30 a.m., I looked up to see Thomas, 50, descending the stairwell like someone who could still sell a lot of posters. “O.K.! We’re starting!” she screamed, followed by “Sorry, I yelled in your ear.” A bit starstruck, I may have awkwardly responded, “I kind of liked it.” To which she said, “Some people do.” I don’t understand why some people prefer Heather Locklear.

Once we sat down, I realized I had no idea who these people were. Luckily, like every liberal event I’ve ever been to, the breakfast began by having us go around the room and talk about ourselves. I used the time to play L.A. bingo, which I won when every single person used at least one of the following words: activist, conserve, screenwriter, progress, environment, producer or filmmaker.

Then I figured we’d be asked to give money for something or hold hands across America, but instead it turned into a weird kind of show-and-tell. A few people gave long presentations, but everyone was given one-minute slots to talk about projects they’re working on. Watching liberals try to explain something in one minute might be the best game show I’ve ever seen. I asked Wyatt Closs, from the Service Employees International Union–who, to my shock, had flown in from Washington just to make a presentation–what purpose this could possibly serve. He said a previous one-minute speech he gave ended a strike of security guards, since people in the room were friends with the real estate moguls the guards were picketing. I got the feeling he had made this exact same speech every few months to his D.C. bosses when he wanted a trip to California.

For the next two hours, people from different groups gave presentations on their work. I, however, didn’t get to hear them because Thomas grabbed my arm and led me outside so she could talk to someone while she drank diet sodas and smoked. I did not follow everything she said because she talks quickly, only uses first names, knows a lot more about Democratic politics than I do and doesn’t button her shirt all the way up. But I did catch that during the last Democratic Convention, she did a lot of box-hopping. “I was in Ron Burkle’s box explaining to Andre 3000 how the convention works and who Jimmy Carter was,” she said. I imagine there was also a part of the convention when Ron Burkle explained to Andre 3000 and Jimmy Carter who Heather Thomas was. In fact, I’m guessing different versions of that lasted all four days.

Afterward, Thomas took me into her office, where she keeps her parrot and a stack of paintings by Phyllis Diller, and made a series of desperate phone calls to get rooms at Disneyland for her daughter’s birthday the next day. “Two connecting rooms that have no theme and are not a suite?” she said disgustedly. “Well, we’ll survive.” She then had someone put in a call to Michael Eisner to theme and suite things up. This woman gets things done.

Before she left for Disneyland, though, she had to finish editing a YouTube video to promote Trophies, her new novel about second wives. In the video, Gore Vidal narrates while dolls–one of which is voiced by Catherine Bach–act out a scene in which they talk about very dirty things while planning a fund raiser. It’s a lot like Sex and the City, if Carrie and Samantha got husbands and all the shoes they wanted and then got so bored that they tried to end the war in Iraq. And as ridiculous as that might appear, it’s a lot more than I’m doing. Still, as inspired as I was to get politically involved, I was more inspired to make sure I never get divorced.

Extra Stein For Liberal Refrigerator-Magnet Poetry with Joel and Heather Thomas, go to time.com/heatherthomas

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