Artistry and Leadership

Ben Miles

Volodymyr Zelenskyy is the proud president of Ukraine. His brave stand and inspiring oratorical skills  in the midst of Vladimir Putin’s cruel aggression has drawn comparisons to Winston Churchill. But prior to being a figure on the international political scene, Zelenskyy was a Ukrainian television actor and comedian, who starred in a Ukrainian TV program about a history teacher who unexpectedly becomes the country’s president after his diatribe on corruption in politics goes viral.

Is this a matter of life imitating art? Or, more accurately, is this another artist displaying the leadership skills that comes with artistic talents and a performer’s charisma? After all, in the USA we’ve seen this formula repeat itself many times in our history.

In California, celebrity bodybuilder and motion picture star Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected governor in a 2003 recall election. Before there was a Governor Schwarzenegger there was actor and product pitchman Ronald Reagan who went on the be elected California’s governor and later to become president of the United States, serving two terms as the nation’s chief executive in the 1980s.

The first actor to be elected to statewide office in California, however, was song and dance man George Murphy, who served as the state’s U.S. Senator from 1965 until 1971. Like Reagan, Murphy had also served as president of the Screen Actors Guild. On municipal levels show business personalities have performed as city council members and mayors. In Huntington Beach during the 1980s and 90s, “Maverick” co-star Jack Kelly  was elected as a councilman for Surf City and served as HB’s mayor from 1983 to 1986. “Let Maverick Solve Your Problems” was Kelly’s campaign slogan. And, of course, Clint Eastwood was elected to the nonpartisan office of mayor of Carmel-By-The-Sea in 1986.

And let us not forget Fred Grandy, who played Gopher on the popular TV series “The Love Boat.” Grandy served four terms as the representative for the 6th Iowa congressional district. Grandy admitted in an interview with People Magazine “that if there were no Gopher there would be no Fred Grandy for congress.”

Creative types, other than actors, have also played roles in American Politics. For example, Jimmie Davis, who wrote the lyrics for the classic love song “You Are My Sunshine,” went on to become governor of Louisiana. President Calvin Coolidge had as his vice president Charles Dawes, a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. But prior to becoming Coolidge’s VP, Dawes wrote a brief instrumental piece titled “Melody in A Major.” Lyricist Carl Sigman put words to the song book standard now known as “It’s All in the Game.”

Let’s face it, a little bit of fame can go a long way. But as we see with the people describe above, it’s not just the fame, but the charisma, vision and ability to guide us toward that vision that can make all the difference in the world of politics and in the world at large – for better or for worse. May President Zelenskyy succeed in his commitment to maintain the autonomy of the Ukrainian government and its fledgling, slowly blossoming democracy.


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