Film and TV

A Brief History of Dubious Celebrity Presidential Endorsements

It's September, and after long months waiting through the barren summer months, it's time to welcome back America's favorite pastime: Dancing with the Stars!

I understand some sport or another also "kicked off" this last weekend. That's super.

Truth be told, I probably would've completely missed the show's premiere if not for a certain subsequent Presidential endorsement. But I'm sure it was an otherwise fine start to Dancing's [checks Internet] 21st season?! That can't possibly be right. Why, a nation spending that much time watching Rob Kardashian and Kelly Osbourne mambo across their screens like sequined troglodytes would be pretty much beyond redemption, wouldn't it? 

In wholly unrelated news, DWTS contestant Gary Busey has endorsed Donald Trump for President:
“I know him personally. I know him professionally. He’s a great guy. He’s sharp. He’s fast. He can change the country after the last eight years.”
This is the second time Busey has endorsed Trump. In between, he also threw his hat in the ring for Newt Gingrich. The man clearly knows quality when he sees it.

How one defines "celebrity" will determine how seriously you take announcements like this (and there will be many, *many* more in the coming months). Busey's last "significant" film appearance was as the sexually ambiguous highway patrolman in 1998's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which puts him in good stead with the rest of the quote-unquote stars on DWTS. It also highlights the uneven nature of past celeb endorsements.

Most (meaning both) of the sources I consulted for this agree the 1920 campaign saw the first true celebrity endorsements of a Presidential candidate, when the likes of Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and Al Jolson assembled on Harding's behalf at the likely behest of an ad agency. Harding's presidency was such a disaster that no one else really bothered with the idea again for 40 years.

With a few notable exceptions.

Candidate: Samuel Ralston (D)
Endorsed By: The Ku Klux Klan

The Indiana Senator (and former Governor) was considered the Democratic front-runner and was all but assured of the nomination before abruptly withdrawing. The KKK saw his anti-parochial positions in line with theirs, and Ralston refused to denounce them. He died in 1925. The Klan still lurches on.

 Wendell Willkie 
Endorsed By: W.C. Fields

Fields, the groundbreaking vaudevillian/comedian, was not a fan of Wilkie's opponent, two-term President Franklin D. Roosevelt. And his tasteful reference to the wheelchair-bound Roosevelt as "Gumlegs" can be regarded as the progenitor of our current level of political debate.

 John F. Kennedy
Endorsed By: Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Marilyn Monroe

The main thing that makes this dubious (besides HELLO MAFIA), is hindsight. I mean, I saw a broadcast of that "Happy Birthday, Mr. President" performance when I was maybe seven, turned to my parents and said, "So they were fucking, right?" Camelot was indeed a most congenial spot.

Candidate: Richard Nixon
Endorsed By: Wilt Chamberlain

Candidate: Eugene McCarthy
Endorsed By: Arthur Miller, Paul Newman

Candidate: Robert F. Kennedy
Endorsed By: Truman Capote, Bobby Darin, Peter Lawford, Shirley MacLaine, Norman Mailer

This was a watershed year for the (mostly) beautiful people to go political. Newman was famously on Nixon's "enemies" list for supporting "radic-lib causes," which makes him sound Serbian. The celebrity support of Kennedy is hardly surprising, but someone should really analyze the lethality of Peter Lawford supporting your campaign. Maybe he's a Terminator sent to assassinate various heads of state? In fact, I'm pretty sure there's a tall, wavy-brown-haired guy in the background of McKinley's signing the Treaty of Paris.

Candidate: Jimmy Carter
Endorsed By: Johnny Cash, Charlie Daniels, Roberta Flack, Lee Majors, Mary Tyler Moore, Willie Nelson, Dionne Warwick

Candidate: Ronald Reagan
Endorsed By: Pat Boone, James Cagney, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra

With a lineup like that, Reagan could have nuked Canada and my grandparents would still vote for him. Meanwhile, Carter's endorsements demonstrate his crossover appeal to both patrons of Bob's Country Bunker and R&B listeners. And the endorsement of Majors meant he'd tied up the crucial pre-adolescent boys vote.

 Gary Hart
Endorsed By: Warren Beatty

A.k.a. the Most Appropriate Celebrity Endorsement of All Time.

Candidate: John Kerry
Endorsed By: Bruce Springsteen

I've seen the Boss perform live four times, and never as unenthusiastically as he appears here. America agreed.

 Mitt Romney
Endorsed By: Meat Loaf

After Mr. Loaf's, uh, performance, Romney said, “Was it not just amazing to have Big & Rich performing, and then Meat Loaf?" I'm willing to bet my monthly health insurance premium Romney had not only never listened to a Meat Loaf song in its entirety (and really, who's ever gone wire to wire on "Paradise by the Dashboard Light?"), but he actually had to be told who Meat Loaf was during the rally.


The upcoming elections will undoubtedly be the biggest — and weirdest — yet when it comes to celebrity endorsements. So far, Hillary Clinton is far and away the front runner in the category, with everybody from Ben Affleck to Young Jeezy. Bernie Sanders, however, is no slouch himself, with several dozen of his own.

On the Republican side is where you have the most fun (and how often has that been said?). Neurosurgeon Ben Carson — whom we're obliged to remind everyone is a neurosurgeon because he sounds so dumb in in the debates — is backed by none other than Kid Rock, while Texas Senator by day/lovable vampire by night Ted Cruz has the support of tax-dodging whiner Adam Carolla, while Vince Vaughn backs Rand Paul (and was a big fan of dad Ron as well).

It remains to be seen if Paul will reciprocate the buddy vibes by claiming he enjoyed Season 2 of True Detective, which will be our final confirmation that he's full of shit.

But my favorite in terms of WTF-ery is Scott "Chachi" Baio's endorsement of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Baio is a Republican since the Reagan years and has engaged in Twitter beefs with those who don't agree with his views. You know, like all 50-year olds. Further defining his Class Act status, he also famously tweeted about Michelle Obama: “WOW He wakes up to this every morning.”

I prefer to remember a simpler time, when Joanie still loved Chachi and telekinesis was still within our reach. Let's boogie:

Naturally, one assumes Walker — a paragon of traditional values — is on board with being backed by a champion of extramarital sex.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar