November 27, 1978 12:00 PM

In politics, where appearances sometimes are decisive, Mike Curb seemed like a natural to his fellow California Reagan Republicans. At 33 he had the squeegee-clean look of a Bible salesman—as well as a self-made personal fortune estimated at more than $20 million. In the early ’60s, as leader of a schmaltz-rock band called the Mike Curb Congregation, he had a run of hits like Burning Bridges and See You in September. From there he became a hard-nosed recording executive with artists like Pat and Debby Boone, Lou Rawls, Shaun Cassidy, the Osmonds, Wayne Newton and Sammy Davis Jr. “Building a business,” he noted smugly when declaring for the lieutenant governorship of California nearly two years ago, “is much harder than building a political career.”

Maybe so. This month, in his first political race, the boyish novice easily unseated Democratic incumbent Mervyn Dymally, a veteran pol of 52. In a state that had previously elected an old tap dancer as senator and an actor as governor—and in a nation where a singing hillbilly like Jimmie (You Are My Sunshine) Davis had held high office—the first rock era entertainer had arrived. But on his way to victory, Curb’s choirboy image had been thoroughly spattered in one of California’s bitterest campaigns ever.

Almost from the start, the issues gave way to an ad hominem free-for-all. Curb, Dymally charged, had once been involved with a porno movie titled Mondo Hollywood. (Dymally later admitted he had never seen the film, which was a cheap splice-up but, with Ronald Reagan and Elizabeth Taylor, decidedly unpornographic.) Curb, meanwhile, charged that Dymally was under “all kinds of investigations” for personal financial dealings and added: “I believe he will be indicted, and I think he is guilty of criminal offenses in office.” One week before the election, a New West magazine cover story on Curb detailed “a trail of broken promises” and “questionable business conduct.” Curb’s fortune, the magazine suggested, had been built on a stock kickback, excessive billings and the withholding of royalties from recording artists. Four days before the election, a Los Angeles Times cartoon showed Curb and Dymally posters hanging side by side over the caption: “Two good reasons for a constitutional amendment abolishing the office!”

Curb, the son of a lawyer and a schoolteacher, was first turned on to politics by his grandmother, a Chicano and passionate Democrat. As a junior high schooler in Van Nuys, Calif., he began performing at nearby colleges. He dropped out of college after two years and by his early 20s had created his own Sidewalk Records label and made his first million. When MGM Records bought Sidewalk in 1969, Curb became president of the parent company—and five years later sold his interest to launch Warner-Curb Records. Last year, thanks to the Boones and Osmonds, that company did $22 million in business.

All along, Curb lived with his sister and business partner, Carol. But last April (he is vague on the exact date) Curb married Linda Dunphy, 28, a former stewardess and daughter of L.A. TV anchorman Jerry Dunphy. With their first baby due in late June, the couple plan to commute between their ranch-style home overlooking Beverly Hills and a yet-to-be-purchased home in Sacramento.

Curb’s arrival in the state capital promises to be one more burden for Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, who now faces the prospect of a Republican stand-in if he decides to make the race for the White House in 1980. But even if he doesn’t, says Curb, “I would run for governor [in four years] if I did a good job as lieutenant governor and found it fulfilling.”

His GOP colleagues are ambivalent. State chairman Mike Montgomery, citing Curb’s “lack of political knowledge and sophistication,” predicted he would “never win another statewide race.” Bill Orozco, committee chairman in L.A. County, thinks exactly the opposite. “I wouldn’t be surprised if some close advisers aren’t thinking of Mike in terms of some national office—even as President of the United States.” If nothing else, Curb wouldn’t have to ask for an introduction if he needed a political embrace from Sammy Davis.

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