THE BLOG

Hooray for Hollywood

11/13/2012 06:23 pm ET | Updated Jan 13, 2013

Los Angeles-based Stanley K. Sheinbaum, was, in his "younger years," referred to as the head of the Malibu Mafia, a self-styled group of L.A. Westside liberals active in Democratic politics which included his wife, Betty Warner Shainbaum. He was also a key player in the original negotiations with then-Palestinian President Yasser Arafat -- negotiations that eventually lead to the Camp David Agreements. The following is a compilation taken from his recently published memoir, Stanley K. Sheinbaum: A 20th Century Knight's Quest for Peace, Civil Liberties and Economic Justice. In this compilation, Sheinbaum describes how he first became involved with the Malibu Mafia through the "Pentagon Papers" Trial of Daniel Ellsberg.

When I first became involved with fund raising for the Daniel Ellsberg trial and the Pentagon Papers, I was very upbeat. Then, when the trial was moved to Los Angeles, I had a problem because I needed to raise a lot of money and I didn't really know that many people with money in Los Angeles to help me get our efforts off the ground. At that time, the connection between Santa Barbara and LA was not so strong. My best friend, the writer Bob Scheer who had also moved to Los Angeles, was certainly not close to the money interests given his left-leaning politics. That left Hollywood as my potential primary funding source. And, to quote the hoary tale told about the famous outlaw Willie Sutton who answered, when asked why he robbed banks, "...'Cause that's where the money is," I began to work the Hollywood crowd because that's where the money was. And okay, it's true, sure, it didn't hurt that I was married to Betty Warner.

Most people now assume that Hollywood producers, directors and actors have always been big contributors to political causes, especially liberal causes, but that's not correct. Of course, everyone has heard about writers who were blacklisted, accused of being communists during the (Joe) McCarthy era. Unfortunately, there weren't huge fundraisers to support them.

It's true that the Hollywood community was (and is) sort of genially Democratic, but in the early '70s, their political activism had not yet been organized into effective fund raising. The somewhat derogatory appellation "radical chic" developed from the glitzy, arty, liberal fundraising parties in New York, not in Los Angeles.

Well, I'm not going to claim I am solely responsible for creating the archetypal left-liberal fundraising apparatus in Hollywood that has become so infamous to Republicans and a generous source of much needed cash for progressives, but yes, I was instrumental, absolutely instrumental in creating that fundraising juggernaut. Our group included, at times, such major stars as Paul Newman, Barbra Streisand, Robert Redford, Burt Lancaster, Neil Diamond and Warren Beatty, the hugely successful producers Norman Lear and Sydney Pollack, along with business people like Harold Willens, co-founder of Business Executives Move For Peace In Vietnam; Ted Ashley, chairman of Warner Bros.; Attorney/Businessman Miles L. Rubin, an original founder of Energy Action; and entrepreneurial investors like Leo Wyler and Max Palevsky. Some of these people were also central figures in our fundraising group that came to be known as the "Malibu Mafia," but I made my first contact with most of them managing the fundraising for Daniel Ellsberg.

Regrettably, my organizing and fundraising efforts often made it impossible for me to spend as much time in the courtroom as I would have liked. I remember there was a payphone just outside the court. (For those of you who are too young to know, a payphone was a land line that you could use to make a call after depositing a certain amount of change in little slots on the top of the machine.) Well every day I arrived at the courthouse with a huge bag of quarters, and I spent much of my time on that damn payphone working with our organizers around the country and calling people to try and raise money. Obviously, I was finding that being a behind-the-scenes guy and an effective go-between often isn't so very glamorous. Not very glamorous at all -- walking around with bags of quarters that weighed down my pockets and made my jackets lopsided.

Out biggest fundraiser was an event that has gone down in the history of fantastic liberal fundraising events. On April 7, 1973, on Daniel Ellsberg's 42nd birthday, we held a huge gala at the mansion of a top talent agent turned movie producer, Jennings Lang. Everyone who walked through his door paid significant money just to be there including the celebrities, among them, Joni Mitchell, David Geffen, Ringo Starr, John Lennon and George Harrison, Yoko Ono, and the agent Freddie Fields. Peter Bogdanovich, Diahann Carroll, Hugh Hefner, Burt Lancaster, and Sally Kellerman also attended. But the big attraction, the reason the event was so successful, was that Barbra Streisand performed throughout the evening accompanied by the incomparable Marvin Hamlisch on piano.

Barbra was extraordinary. First of all, she looked incredibly beautiful in a beige, low-cut silk gown. Her hair was piled on top of her head and held there with some sort of clip that looked to be made of diamonds that sparkled like her eyes as she sang song after song. And the agreement was that each song would be requested by a member of the audience willing to pay really big bucks to hear her sing it live. She sang dozens of songs, but some of the more memorable moments were a version of "I'll Get By" dedicated to Ellsberg but paid for by Lang, "I Don't Know where I Stand" for the producer David Geffen and, believe it or not, "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" for writer/comedian, Carl Reiner. We raised more than $50,000.00, a significant sum even in today's dollars. I remember that night at Jennings Lang's mansion with a great deal of nostalgia and a certain bittersweet sadness when I realize that I will not experience such an evening again.

Meanwhile, at the Ellsberg trial, things were happening behind the scenes that were to determine the eventual outcome even more than the proceedings taking place in open court. When people sometimes question why top lawyers are paid so well, they fail to understand that a case is often determined by the hard work the lawyers and their support teams perform outside the courtroom. The Ellsberg case deftly illustrates what I mean.

Our lawyers discovered that the government prosecutors were withholding the evidence that connected that break-in at the office of Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist, Lewis Fielding, to the Watergate scandal. It turned out that the Nixon/Erlichman/Liddy controlled group that broke into the Democratic offices at the Watergate Hotel--the scandal that eventually brought down Nixon -- were the very same crooks working for Liddy who had previously broken into Fielding's office to try and find dirt on Ellsberg. When the trial judge, William Matthew Byrne, Jr., ordered the prosecution to hand that information over to our defense team, the government's case began to crumble.

I remember the day Leonard Boudin pulled me aside and in a hushed but excited voice told me their discovery requests had pried loose new information about Byrne.

"You're not gonna' believe this, Stanley." He was smiling, an expression not commonly seen on Leonard Boudin's face during trial.

"What...so what is it I'm not going to believe?"

"Guess?"

"Oh, come on, Boudin."

"Okay. Turns out Nixon's chief hatchet man John Erlichman, after the trial had already started, called Byrne into his White House office and offered Byrne a job as head of the F.B.I. once the trial was over."

"Did Byrne accept the offer?"

"Doesn't matter," said Boudin gleefully. "The offer in itself contaminates the trial."

Well, my sympathetic view of Judge Byrne turned out to be accurate because he didn't try to hide his conversation with Erlichman once it became known to us. He even revealed his contact with Erlichman in open court, and then a few days later, on May 11th, 1973, Judge Byrne declared a mistrial. Bye-bye Byrne's chance for a Supreme Court appointment, but hello the end to Daniel Ellsberg's legal troubles. We won against what had seemed, just a few years earlier, to be insurmountable odds. In the process, we had raised the public's consciousness about the war and how our government controlled access to information. We were, to say the least, jubilant.