Originally published at SpoutBlog:
Presidential Appeal: Bill Clinton By John Travolta
My mom has the hots for President Clinton as badly as I swoon for Arnold Schwarzenegger, both of us turning into goofy schoolgirls at the mere mention of our respective crushes. While the Governator’s arrogant, aggressive virility drives me wild, personally I’ve never fantasized about Arkansas charmer Slick Willy.
And yet I’d be thrilled to bed John Travolta, who embodied Bill Clinton via the character of Jack Stanton in Mike Nichols’ 1998 “Primary Colors,” a thinly veiled account of the would-be president’s rise to stardom during the 1992 primaries, with a swift-moving screenplay by Elaine May based on political reporter Joe Klein’s originally “Anonymous” novel. Travolta as Stanton perfectly captured the sexy essence of Clinton then topped it with his well-honed movie star touch.
The similarities between the two aging icons are striking. “Primary Colors” begins and ends with the famous “Stanton handshake,” shots of the many ways the southern governor greets his supporters, the positioning of his free hand on an arm sending a subliminal signal, from sparkling playfulness to grave empathy, to the adoring fan. He connects with people through pressing the flesh, literally through touch. Stanton, like Clinton, is a visceral character, full of warmth and life. Which also perfectly describes Travolta, who has always cultivated the same image of accessibility, the Jersey boy from the hardworking Irish-Italian-American family who never forgot his roots. Neither Stanton/Clinton nor Travolta were silver spoon fed; both earned fame and fortune through sheer sweat and tenacity.
In fact, it’s nearly impossible to imagine either Clinton or Travolta being spoon-fed at all. Even as Stanton shoves a donut in his mouth as if he’s popping a peanut, Travolta’s own hearty appetite shines right through. These are men of insatiable hunger who attack life with gusto. They’re also not afraid to play by their own rules. Who would have thought a small-time southern politician with a campaign run by passionate novices would become leader of the free world? Who could have imagined the dude who played Vinnie Barbarino would become an international sex symbol? I’m sure Travolta, like Clinton, never thought it farfetched for a second.
And this especially is the root of their steamy appeal: a combination of knowing self-confidence, charm and good looks coupled with a downright honest vulnerability. There’s a lost little boy innocence locked inside their big men’s bodies. Stanton weeps openly as a man in an adult literacy program describes the shame he felt upon graduating with an honor in “attendance” – Clinton’s “I feel your pain” core personified. Likewise, Travolta as sweet Vincent Vega dancing and whacking his way through “Pulp Fiction,” and especially turning in an astonishingly mature, heartrending performance as Tony Manero in “Saturday Night Fever,” garnered Academy Award nominations – and these things just don’t go to guys who fear wearing their hearts on their sleeves.
Which doesn’t mean that they’re not also shrewd and calculating. In “Primary Colors” Stanton has the foresight to have his arrest at the DNC convention in ‘68 expunged from the record, lest it return to haunt him. I don’t think it’s an accident that before the flops following “Urban Cowboy,” Travolta was untouchable, box office gold. Though both men are gamblers never shying from heart-pounding risk (Stanton/Clinton with his serial infidelities, Travolta starring as Edna Turnblad in the remake of “Hairspray”), they’re also experts at planning the next move while making it look like it was all divine provenance.
In “Primary Colors” Stanton refers to Lincoln being a whore before he was a president. There’s something sexy about a man who doesn’t mind getting his working hands dirty – who revels in the mud. And yet sly Stanton/Clinton won the presidency by wooing voters like a patient respectful lover. “Now don’t break our hearts,” a campaign staffer says to Stanton at his inauguration. No coincidence it’s a specialty that’s always been Travolta’s own stock in trade.