Ronald Reagan, our 43rd president, was the biggest movie star on Tuesday night at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota — even if, like President George W. Bush, he was there via remote transmission. Reagan, of course, has been dead for four years, and his most recent film was in 1964 (Don Siegel’s The Killers, in which the Gipper played, as the Voice‘s own J. Hoberman has written, “the villain we always knew he was.”) Meanwhile, even before the Gustav interruption, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the GOP’s greatest living actor, had preemptively cancelled his Monday night keynote address and his trip to the convention.
And so the task of lending some Hollywood glamour to this show fell last night to two TV personalities (where was Elizabeth Hasselbeck?). The first was CSI:NY‘s Gary Sinise, a sometime cinema character actor who narrated a support-the-troops “Medal of Honor” video (his voice, I guess, being enough since, as Entourage‘s Ari Gold has noted, Sinise has a mug made for the smaller screen). The second was Fred Thompson, the former Tennessee Senator/presidential candidate, and the night’s only actual celebrity to get on stage in person.
Thompson has appeared in numerous films (including Die Hard 2 and Aces: Iron Eagle III) but it’s his performance as Law & Order‘s improbably Dixiefied Manhattan D.A. for which he remains best known. Thompson’s job last night was to dramatically recount the story of Senator John McCain’s internment in the Hanoi Hilton. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard a rendition [of McCain’s story] quite as effective as that. [Thompson]’s a very good storyteller,” said CNN’s David Gergen afterwards — betraying, if nothing else, the fact that he’s never read David Foster Wallace’s definitive essay on the GOP nominee, “Up, Simba.” If Thompson’s languorous yet inappropriately off-color recital is the best the Republicans can do this week for star power then things are certainly looking up for Mr. McCain’s “celebrity” opponent. — Benjamin Strong