The 1960 Democratic National Convention marked a watershed in the involvement of entertainers in politics. John F. Kennedy’s sister Pat’s husband Peter Lawford had formed the Democratic Convention Los Angeles Committee for the Arts with his friends. One-by-one, the performers walked onstage, formed a choir, and sang the national anthem.
By 2012 performers were giving speeches. In the audience at the 2008 DNC, actresses Anne Hathaway and Susan Sarandon looked like figures in a Renaissance painting experiencing the Rapture. At the 2012 Republican convention, Clint Eastwood scolded a chair he pretended was Barack Obama. “One advantage of being my age is that you know what they can do to ya?” he told CNN afterwards.
Frank Sinatra came out for both parties. He sang That Old Jack Magic at Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural gala and Nancy with the Reagan Face in 1980 (“I’m so pleased that you’re First Lady Nancy/ And so pleased that I’m sort of a chum/The next eight years will be fancy/ As fancy as they come”). Sammy Davis Jr., who was a member of the Democratic Convention Los Angeles Committee for the Arts, embraced Richard Nixon onstage at the 1972 RNC. “You’re not going to buy Sammy Davis Jr. by inviting him to the White House,” Nixon said during his speech, “You’re going to buy him by doing something for America.”
The most significant campaign appearance by a film star was when Ronald Reagan launched his political career with a speech on behalf of Barry Goldwater entitlted “A Time for Choosing.” Also known as “the Speech,” it was delivered on Rendezvous with Destiny, a half-hour television program paid for by Brothers for Goldwater (chaired by John Wayne).
“You and I have a rendezvous with destiny. We will preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we will sentence them to take the first step into a thousand years of darkness. If we fail, at least let our children and our children’s children say of us we justified our brief moment here. We did all that could be done.”
Democratic National Convention, 1960 (John F. Kennedy)
Nat King Cole, Tony Curtis, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, Janet Leigh, Shirley MacLaine
Rendezvous with Destiny, 1964 (Barry Goldwater) Actor and ex-SAG president Ronald Reagan; “You and I have a rendezvous with destiny.”
Richard M. Nixon headquarters, Election night, 1972. Sammy Davis Jr.: “I’m actually so jubilant about the whole thing I have nothing smart or funny or clever to say.”
Republican National Convention, 1980 (Ronald Reagan) Frank Sinatra on the night Reagan accepted his party’s nomination.
Republican National Convention, 1984 (Ronald Reagan) Ray Charles performs America the Beautiful.
Democratic National Convention, 1988 (Michael Dukakis) John F. Kennedy Jr. introduces his uncle, Senator Edward Kennedy.
Republican National Convention, 1992 (George Bush) Shannen Doherty leads the pledge of allegiance
Democratic National Convention, 2008 (Barack Obama) Jennifer Hudson sings the national anthem on the final day of the convention.
Democratic National Convention, 2012 (Barack Obama)
Republican National Convention, 2012 (Mitt Romney)
Sammy Davis Jr. at the Republican National Convention: http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/video/sam-donaldson-reflects-sammy-davis-jr-richard-nixon-17099643