Published: September 1, 2004
The actor Ron Silver was leaving a cocktail party at the Four Seasons restaurant on Monday evening, headed for Madison Square Garden, when he ran into Henry A. Kissinger, whom he once played in a made-for-television movie. They greeted each other warmly, but as they shook hands, Mr. Kissinger raised a quizzical eyebrow and said, in his distinctive, German-tinted rasp, "What are you doing being a Republican?"
It was the question of the night for Mr. Silver, who has long been known as a liberal Democrat, but who spoke from the podium on Monday, the opening night of the Republican National Convention.
He was asked the same thing, over and over, by a variety of people, including Brit Hume, the Fox News anchor, who compared Mr. Silver to Zell Miller (the Democratic Senator from Georgia who will deliver tonight's keynote address), and insinuated that because of his political views he was being blackballed in Hollywood.
Before the cameras rolled in the Fox booth, high above the Garden floor, Mr. Hume explained to Mr. Silver that he was going to ask him why his loyalties had shifted. "And then I'm going to ask you how your career is going since," he said.
The attention paid to Mr. Silver reflects the unusual territory he has staked out, both politically and in the entertainment world. Arnold Schwarzenegger, erstwhile movie star and current governor of California notwithstanding, the Republican convention is not heavy on Hollywood glamour. The list of "celebrities for Bush" is laden more with stars from country, heavy metal and evangelical music than from the movies and television.
But Mr. Silver is a highly visible Hollywood figure with ample credits on popular television series ("The West Wing," "Chicago Hope"), in movies ("Reversal of Fortune," "Ali") and onstage (David Mamet's "Speed-the-Plow," for which he won a Tony Award in 1988).
In addition, for most of the 1990's, he was president of Actors' Equity, the labor union, and in 1989 he was a co-founder, with Alec Baldwin, Susan Sarandon, Christopher Reeve, Blair Brown and Stephen Collins (most, if not all, outspoken Democrats) of the Creative Coalition, a group that advocates on behalf of First Amendment rights, arts support and public education.
So as well-connected and outspoken in the traditionally Democratic circles of Hollywood as Mr. Silver has been, his support of President Bush can be described as a defection.
Even his 21-year-old daughter, Alexandra, who accompanied him to the convention but whose first presidential vote in November will be for John Kerry, teases him about it. As they waited for their ride to the Garden, which was delayed in traffic, Mr. Silver paced nervously.
"He was much less uptight as a Democrat," Alexandra remarked.
In fact, he is still a registered Democrat, and Mr. Silver told his convention audience that he has not disavowed the left's social agenda. But at the moment he represents a particular slice of the American political spectrum: voters who put national security before ideology and want to keep President Bush's hand on the nation's rudder.
"I'm a 9/11 Republican," he said. "If we don't get this right, all the other things don't matter worth a hill of beans. I'll live to fight another day on health care, environmental concerns and sensible gun legislation. But this is such a predominant issue that it towers above all others, and I'm not certain both parties are capable of handling it the right way."
Mr. Silver said he admired Senator Kerry, whom he described as honorable, but added he did not think the candidate represents the rank and file of the Democratic Party, most of whom, he said, "I think are Howard Dean-Kucinich-Sharpton-Michael Moore people," the kind of people "who like the projection of American force for humanitarian reasons, so they'll support Clinton's intervention in Bosnia, but they don't like it in support of our own defense."
In response to Mr. Hume and to others, Mr. Silver said he had no evidence that his views had cost him any work. He has just finished filming a "Law & Order" episode, and he's revisiting a one-man stage show, based on the life of the rock 'n' roll impresario Bill Graham, that he worked on in the late 1990's.
But socially, he said, he has felt ostracized in Hollywood, reopening a chasm created when he supported Rudolph W. Giuliani, whom he describes as a friend, in his campaigns for mayor of New York.
"I just don't get invited to the same dinner parties I used to like to go to," Mr. Silver said. "And when I do get invited, there's no engagement. It's 'Ron, you're too smart for this,' 'Ron, you must be kidding,' 'Ron can we not talk about the war and have a nice dinner party?' And then they talk about it, but everybody has the same opinion.
"I'm getting friendly with the Gatlin brothers, what can I tell you?"
On Monday there was no such social disdain, but there was some surprise.
Running into Al Franken, the comedian and liberal talk show host, at the Four Seasons party on Monday, Mr. Silver said, "I'm speaking tonight."
Puzzled, Mr. Franken asked, "For Bush?"
Reinforcing the point, Mr. Silver replied, "I'm speaking."
"For Bush?" Mr. Franken said.
"I'm speaking," Mr. Silver said again.
"For Bush?" Mr. Franken said.
As Mr. Silver excused himself, Mr. Franken was asked his reaction.
"It's crazy," he said, and his facial expression made the case that he really thought so.