The invitation came addressed to Bruce Willis at the Century City offices of his publicist at Rogers & Cowan, who forwarded it on to the Die Hard actor’s home a few weeks ago. The return address on the thick white envelope listed the Republican National Committee, inviting Mr. Willis to attend the convention in New York City. Was Mr. Willis going to join his fellow G.O.P. warrior, Arnold Schwarzenegger, to scream and holler on behalf of Dubya, Dick, Rummy and Condi?
“He’s not attending,” said Samantha Mast, his publicist. What’s he doing? Is he out of the country on location? “He’s still touring with his band, the Accelerators, going to venues in the U.S.”
Mr. Willis is not alone in being AWOL. Along with pop tarts Britney Spears and Jessica Simpson, there are a host of right-thinking celebrities who were invited to lend some star power to the usually staid G.O.P. shindig, but are rejecting the Republicans.
As a result, the convention will feature the usual suspects: guitar-strumming country boys and girls like Brooks & Dunn, Lee Ann Womack, Darryl Worley, the Charlie Daniels Band, the Gatlin Brothers, and a scattering of Christian artists such as rockers Third Day and vocalist Donnie McClurkin.
And that lineup is much more in line with the party’s tradition, especially when compared with last month’s Democratic convention, where Ben Affleck and Alyssa Milano were more ubiquitous than some of those multi-buttoned delegates. And it fits with the G.O.P. party line, which relentlessly skewers the Democrats for their support from out-of-touch Hollywood liberals like Barbara Streisand and Leonardo DiCaprio.
“There is a real ambivalence there, a hesitation on the part of the G.O.P. to do the whole celeb thing,” said one event planner involved in the convention. “On the one hand, they want the star power to light up the parties and give a little thrill to these delegates who’ve come all the way from Nebraska. But down deep, they know that a majority of their base don’t go for that Hollywood thing; they’re suspicious of it.”
Several event planners involved in the convention said that Ms. Spears, who famously praised the President and his handling of the war in Iraq (as seen in Michael Moore’s Farenheit 9/11 ), was approached several times to attend convention-related events, but has declined to do so.
Ms. Simpson, who once confused Interior Secretary Gale Norton for Laura Bush, telling her “You’ve done a nice job decorating the White House!” on a visit to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, was invited to the convention, but also declined to attend. She’ll be in Miami for MTV’s annual Video Music Awards.
One of the few high-profile guests attending the convention is Kid Rock. Despite spitting rhymes just as misogynistic as Ludacris and Nelly, the bêtes noires of the rap world for conservative commentators like Bill O’Reilly, Kid Rock has been actively courted by the G.O.P. Last month, at a book party for retired General Tommy Franks, he expressed his support for the war in Iraq, crowing to the Daily News ‘ Lloyd Grove that “we should go on to clean up the next country, and then the next one.”
Yet for all his Bush-boosting bravado, Kid Rock doesn’t seem all that enthusiastic about joining the campaign. In fact, he wasn’t planning on going at all until the Recording Industry Association of America contacted his management and offered him a nice chunk of change to perform at their Sept. 1 gala in honor of House Speaker Dennis Hastert.
Even Senator John McCain, who’s unafraid of the klieg lights, isn’t pulling in the big names to the party he’s hosting with his wife Cindy on Sept. 1 at Cipriani 42nd Street. He’s got the glossiest invitation-it plays Abba’s “Mama Mia” when opened-but the only names it promises are Saturday Night Live Dick Cheney impersonator Darrell Hammond and potential New Jersey gubernatorial candidate and human punch line Joe Piscopo.
On the other side of the fence, the protesters flocking to get close to Madison Square Garden won’t see too many boldface names on the barricades alongside them. Despite the star power at the Democratic convention and the antagonism expressed by many in the Hollywood elite towards Bush et al., most of them won’t be in New York during convention week.
The portly propagandist Michael Moore doesn’t know what he’s doing yet, although the activists at United for Peace and Justice have invited him to attend their rally. Those liberal lovebirds, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins, are taking a pass: Mr. Robbins will be out of the country, acting and vacationing, and Ms. Sarandon is working on a project. Rob Reiner and John Cusack aren’t coming to New York. Even native New Yorker Spike Lee will be on vacation that week.
“Traditionally, people take the last week off in August anyway,” explained publicist Peggy Siegal, who’s organizing a screening of the new Johnny Depp movie Finding Neverland in Southampton on Sunday night. (Hosts of the event will be John Kerry’s stepson Chris Heinz and the Bush twins’ boy toy Fabian Basabe, who’s rumored to have been told to stay away from the Garden.) “And this year even more so, because no one wants to be in the city during the convention.”
Even the Democratic-leaning Creative Coalition has had a hard time attracting talent. “Logistically, it’s really tough,” acknowledged executive director Robin Brock. Unlike the Boston gala, where the group pulled in some big names, the best it could do for its party at Spirit on Aug. 31 are a lineup of has-beens, including Rob Morrow, William Baldwin, Daniel Stern and Mr. Piscopo.
“A lot of them are parents. The first week of school is starting,” said Ms. Brock.
-Marcus Baram with Jake Brooks
Stationed on a busy corner of Seventh Avenue just a few feet from Madison Square Garden last Saturday afternoon, Ray Agostini was busily engaged in some last-minute button-pushing. Curiously: The usual crew of ranting Black Hebrews who occupy the corner was missing.
Mr. Agostini’s wares-Republican Party paraphernalia, including buttons proclaiming “W Stands for Women” and “Bush/Cheney ’04″ in both square and round varieties, as well as John Podhoretz’s Bush Country -haven’t attracted jeers from passers-by. (What happened to all those angry liberals?) Instead, for the past four Saturdays, Mr. Agostini has created a nexus of the like-minded.
“We’re very happy to see this here,” said Bronx native Frank Szas, who’d already affixed the Bush button he’d bought moments earlier. “I feel like a minority among all these Democrats in New York.” His wife Maryanne chirped in: “I can’t believe anyone would be stupid enough to vote for Kerry. He’s an empty-headed idiot. I wouldn’t let him be the teacher of a kindergarten!” The image seemed uncanny, on the whole; a recent documentary featured the President in a strangely similar setting. Ms. Szas continued: “Can you imagine him on foreign policy, with all those Hindus over there who want our heads on their backs?” She turned back to the table. “How much is that book there?”
Mr. Agostini, who works at a finance company during the day, also attends the Conservative Book Discussion Club, a nonprofit group that’s behind his old-fashioned down-home campaign drive. The group, Mr. Agostini explained, met regularly at a local Barnes and Noble to study conservative thinkers like Edmund Burke, Roger Kimball and Dinesh DeSouza (no Ann Coulter or Bill O’Reilly here, thank you very much). “We’re a very literate, educated group.”
More customers arrived. Two Australian tourists handed over $4 for a pair of Bush/Cheney buttons. “If I lived here, it’d be Bushie all the way. He’s gonna take all the terrorists out,” said Aaron Lindsey, 21.
“I love George Bush,” added a woman with a thick European accent. “George W. Bush give freedom, Baltic states-Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania. Thank you, George W. Bush. Thank you, Ronald Reagan. All East Europe loves George W. Bush.”
So far, a pretty eclectic bunch.
“There’s no stereotypes here,” said Mr. Agostini. “For example, I’m Puerto Rican, she’s Cuban. Republicans are like everybody else.” His Cuban friend Ann from New Jersey joined in, dismissing the claim that New Yorkers are liberals by default: “New Yorkers voted twice for Giuliani. And Reagan carried New York.” As for the conventional wisdom that minorities and Bush just don’t mix, Ann said, “Because I’m a Hispanic woman, people think I should be kowtowing the Jesse Jackson motto or jamming for Al Sharpton. I’m a person who’s self-sufficient. I don’t think the government needs to take care of all my needs.”
Mr. Agostini plans to reopen his campaign table after the convention.
Transom Also Hears …
When News Corp. scion Lachlan Murdoch, the spiky-haired publisher of the New York Post , purchased the mysterious 14,500-square-foot building at 11 Spring Street for $5.25 million last November, many neighborhood watchers wondered whether another wave of celebrities would follow in lockstep to the Euro-chic neighborhood. While A-listers have occupied lofts in Nolita since the late 1990′s, including the star-studded building at 285 Lafayette Street that filled up with the likes of David Bowie and his supermodel wife Iman, Mr. Murdoch’s audacious purchase of an entire 19th-century building known for its mysterious candelit windows turned many real-estate heads.
And he may have started a trend.
Other celebrities have now eyed their own private Nolita palaces. According to neighborhood sources, the actor Jared Leto recently looked at a three-story building at 209 Elizabeth Street, adjacent to the trendy restaurant Public. Would the actor, famous for his role in Requiem for a Dream , hope to transform the property, that had once been a muffin factory, into a gargantuan Nolita residence? The building’s owner said no deal is in the works, but according to Mr. Leto’s spokesperson, the 32-year-old actor did indeed look at properties in the neighborhood during a recent New York house hunt, but has since decided not to buy.
“Yes, he looked at properties,” Robin Baum, Mr. Leto’s publicist, told the Transom, “but he’s not buying anything.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Murdoch continues renovations on his Nolita palace.