Never have the stars been more down to earth. The rustling you hear in woody places is petitions being passed amid the greenswards of Bel Air. The propositions that Hollywood moguls are making these days are designed for the ballot box, not for the bedroom. In fact if you look carefully, every peril on the planet seems to have acquired a star to call its own. Sting and Ted Danson have set up foundations to save rain forests and oceans. Robert Redford, Peter Guber and Jon Peters have looked into films about slain Amazon rubber tapper and rain-forest defender Chico Mendes. Meryl Streep has testified on Capitol Hill against the pesticide Alar, which is sprayed on apples. Madonna and Sandra Bernhard headlined at a Don’t Bungle the Jungle! benefit, and Morgan Fair-child has made herself an expert on the ozone layer and acid rain. Should any stars still be in need of ecological alignment, two new organizations, the Earth Communications Office (ECO) and the Environmental Media Association, are more than willing to help.
All this will come to fruition this Sunday, April 22, when hundreds of earnest celebrities, from Tom Cruise to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, will turn out to promote Earth Day at rallies in Washington, D.C., New York City, Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles. That evening, ABC will air The Earth Day Special, a two-hour eco-variety show starring Bette Midler, Kevin Costner, Barbra Streisand, Robin Williams and others, including the casts of Cheers and The Cosby Show.
Seasoned environmentalists are reacting to Hollywood’s newfound ecological zeal with both enthusiasm and skepticism. Are the stars’ expectations too high? Are their attention spans too low? “I have so many mixed feelings about it,” says Bob Hattoy, the Sierra Club’s regional director for California and Nevada. “For years we’ve been trying to publicize the dangers of pesticides, pollution and toxins. It’s wonderful that celebrities can bring glamour and media attention to issues the public has long ignored.” But Hattoy minces no words about the environmental impact of Hollywood’s prevailing culture. “Life-styles of the rich and famous are often life-styles of the wasteful and indulgent,” he says. “It’s not enough to attend a fund-raiser, get into your gas-guzzling limo and head home to your 40-room house that consumes more energy than a small village in the Third World. Yes, celebrities have begun to speak out, but speaking out isn’t enough. Only a handful—Streisand, Redford, Fonda and John Denver—have been around for the long run, giving money, lobbying politicians and putting themselves on the line to influence industry policies.”
In other words, Hollywood reflects the best and worst of America’s environmental attitudes. While some celebrities are manic recyclers, letter writers, and petition gatherers, others consume and spend unconscionably. Still, like the rest of us, many are learning to live in a responsible balance with the earth, either by driving fewer miles, giving up disposable diapers, or supporting ecologically alert political candidates. Seven Hollywood environmentalists—old-timers and newcomers among them—share their hopes and concerns on the following pages.
Fonda: Rallying the troops—one more time
“I’ve always been sensitive to the environment,” says Jane Fonda (below, with co-activists Judd Nelson and Rob Lowe). “I grew up on a 24-acre ranch in the mountains above Brentwood. It’s not exactly a wilderness these days, but back then there were coyotes and mountain lions and bobcats. It was totally wild. My brother [Peter] and I spent our childhood exploring.”
Fonda’s interest in the environment was rekindled in the early ’70s, when her friend Jerry Brown, an advocate of alternative energy sources, was elected Governor of California. “Nuclear energy became an issue, and when I’m preoccupied by an issue, I try to find a way to make a film about it,” she says. “So we made The China Syndrome.” A week after the film opened, the Three Mile Island nuclear accident occurred.” I just felt that this was supposed to be my issue,” she says.
Lately, Fonda has thrown herself into working for Big Green, an initiative proposed for California’s November ballot, which would mandate sweeping environmental changes for businesses and individuals. “It’s the most comprehensive piece of environmental legislation that’s ever been put before voters in the country,” says Fonda, 52. “It’s kind of like the Marines: by land, by sea, by air. It will create an environmental advocate who will be elected every four years. It’s the greening of politics in California. We’ll be able to sue the state to see that the laws are enforced.” To spread the word, Fonda is busily fund-raising. “I hate it, but it’s what I do,” she says. “I’ve raised almost $400,000 by myself, and we hope to raise $5 million altogether.”
If politics are one means of shaping the world, Fonda believes that films are another; she says that environmental themes will figure prominently in her future projects. “Most of the directions I want to go as a producer have to do with women and the environment,” she says. “It’s all I’m interested in. Anybody who is able to touch mass consciousness in this day—all artists, whether it’s filmmakers, poets, writers, painters, musicians—has a powerful opportunity and a powerful responsibility. We need the initiatives and we need the new laws, but we also need new minds and new hearts.”
Bridges: Hoping to bring back the L.A. that was
A few weeks ago in Washington, D.C., congressmen and senators showed up at the Capitol to meet actor Lloyd Bridges at a reception to promote his upcoming television series, Capital News. But as the event began, the star—who plays the editor of a Washington newspaper—was nowhere to be found. Bridges, it turned out, had rushed over to the Senate gallery to watch the voting on the Clean Air Act reauthorization. “We need to send a clear message to our representatives that we’re concerned about our environment,” he says. “Unless they serve us, they won’t get reelected.”
Bridges (left, with granddaughter Emily) wasn’t just getting in character. On Earth Day the 77-year-old film veteran and longtime environmental maverick will attend Los Angeles-based rallies for the Ocean Alliance and Heal the [Santa Monica] Bay. Bridges—father of environmental activists Jeff and Beau—first became aware of the extent of ocean pollution while shooting the 1957-61 series Sea Hunt in Malibu. “Anyone who has spent time in the ocean has to be horrified by what’s happening to the world’s water,” he says. “Unless we change our ways, our plants and our animals—and we’re one of them—will die. It’s going to be terrible. It’s a hell of a world to leave to our kids and grandchildren—and I’ve got nine of ’em—and all of our generations to come.” Despite this doomsaying, Bridges is guardedly optimistic about the planet’s future and urges citizens to bring about change in a good old-fashioned American way—by lobbying their representatives on Capitol Hill.
Bridges belongs to two dozen environmental groups and is currently organizing a pilot curbside recycling program for his L.A. neighborhood of Westwood. His passion begins to surface when he talks about the city Los Angeles once was. “I remember being here way back in the late ’30s,” he says. “The air was so fragrant, it was like orange blossoms. Now the smog…. We’ve had a place on the beach in Malibu for 25 years. When I used to swim, there were lots of fish and the visibility was 30 feet. I used to eat the seaweed. Now I’m lucky if I can see my hand in front of my face. I see few fish, and the seaweed has all kinds of crud all over it. It’s all changed. It’s frightening.”
Beachcomber Danson: One-man Coast Guard
Growing up in Arizona’s dry heat, Ted Danson dreamed of the ocean. His family’s annual beach vacation in California was, he says, “almost a pilgrimage.” So when pollution closed beaches near his Los Angeles home in the mid-’80s, Danson became enraged—and engaged. When his wife, Casey, joined the board of a group opposed to offshore oil drilling called No Oil, Inc., Danson waded in behind her. After No Oil won a skirmish with Occidental Petroleum, Danson wanted to carry his involvement further. “Casey and I decided, why not focus all our time, money and energy in one area and see if we can make a difference as individuals?” says, the 42-year-old star of Cheers. In 1987 Danson and Casey founded the American Oceans Campaign, which is dedicated to the preservation and protection of the oceans. Since then, he and Casey have contributed significant amounts to the organization’s annual operating budget. The AOC has seven fulltime staffers and offices in Santa Monica and Washington, D.C. “Our work against pollution is very much connected with Ted’s children [Kate, 9, and Alexis,4],” says Bob Sulnik, the campaign’s executive director. “He wants his children and his children’s generation to inherit a livable environment.”
Danson does not believe the cause is a hopeless one. “When you look around the world and see what’s happening,” he says, “it is clear that governments react to the will of the people. You and I can make a difference on our own.”
Mayron: Better living through foliage
“When we were kids,” says Philadelphia native Melanie Mayron, looking back thirtysomething years, “we went to the beach in the summer. That’s like a treat when you can go splash in the ocean and play in the waves and build sand castles. That’s a memory most of us have.” These days, Mayron, 37, thinks that beaches are to be avoided because “you don’t know what’s gonna be there.”
Like most of her thirtysomething co-stars, Mayron (right, with her ecologically correct cat, Addie, at home in West Hollywood) is an avid recycler. On Earth Day she will act as a spokesperson for Tree-People, a group that advocates the planting of trees in urban areas. In the afternoon she will attend a rally at Santa Monica Bay.
Everyone can do something to help the environment, Mayron believes. “If we can’t afford to plant a tree for every house on our block,” she says, “we can afford to separate our cans from our bottles and save our old newspapers and take them somewhere. Multiplied by everybody, that’s a lot. Recycle and plant a tree. That’s the answer.”
Bochner: A turnoff when he hits the shower
Environmental vigilance isn’t winning Hart Bochner any new friends at his gym these days. In fact, admits the 33-year-old actor, “I’ve practically gotten into fist-fights lately.” Bochner, it seems, is determined to stake his ecological manhood on the issue of water usage. “These guys just leave the water blasting while they shave their faces!” seethes Bochner. “Forty gallons! I go up to them and say, ‘Excuse me, it’s none of my business, but there is a water crisis, and you don’t really need to run the water while you’re shaving.’ They get very indignant, but I don’t care. The environment’s more important to me.”
Few—inside Hollywood or out—have embraced conservation so zealously. “I’m buying 1.6-quart flush toilets,” says Bochner, who lives alone in Brentwood. The city of L.A. is giving $100 rebates to the first 7,500 people who replace their old toilets with newer, less wasteful ones. “They cost like forty bucks, so it’s like they’re giving you $60 to do it!” There’s more. “I’ve gotten crazy,” Bochner says with a laugh. “I have a big vase in my bathroom, and when I need hot water in the sink, I’ll fill up the vase with the cold water until it starts turning hot; then I’ll take what’s in the vase to water the plants with.”
A way from home, Bochner is pursuing other projects as well. He helped attorney Bonnie Reiss found Hollywood’s Earth Communications Office (ECO), which promotes both celebrity activism and environmental themes in TV and movie scripts. On another front, Bochner and director David (The Naked Gun) Zucker have been trying to convince the Dodgers to plant 10,000 trees in the parking lot of Dodger Stadium. “One of the greatest culprits in generating heat in a city is blacktop surfaces,” says Bochner. “We want to initiate a program to beautify and cool down stadiums around the country.”
Although Bochner may be in the vanguard on some issues, he senses that many Americans share his concerns. He cites a recent Harris poll where 97 percent said that most important to them was a happy family. “Secondplace,” says Bochner excitedly, “at like 95 percent, was a clean environment. A good sex life was 71 percent. I mean, it was way down there!”
Begley: Burning his fossil fuels frugally
In the mid-’70s, when Ed Begley Jr.’s Hollywood peers were debating whether to trade their BMWs for high-performance Jaguars or sleek Mercedes-Benzes, the young actor was facing a dilemma of his own. “I drove a little electric car because I didn’t want to burn fossil fuels,” says the 40-year-old onetime star of St. Elsewhere. “It went all of 20 miles an hour! It looked like a three-wheeled golf cart, with brake lights, turn signals, a horn and windshield wipers. You steered it with a tiller.” Then one day, Begley realized that 80 percent of the electricity used to power his car was produced by burning oil and coal. He got rid of the car and took to his bike.
Long before it became fashionable, Begley (above, holding oranges after the recent malathion sprayings) was quietly putting together an ecologically aware life-style. At his Studio City home, he collects glass, aluminum, newspaper, plastic, cardboard and computer paper for recycling. He uses his Volvo sedan only to travel distances, usually to pick up his children, Amanda, 12, and Nick, 11, who live with his ex-wife, Ingrid, from whom he was divorced last year.
Amid prophecies of planetary doom, Begley has maintained a cheerful composure. “You have to relax,” he says. “You can’t make yourself miserable thinking the world is coming to an end. The big, terrible lie is that it’s too late, that it’s past midnight and there’s nothing you can do. It’s not. It’s 11:59 and some odd seconds, but it’s still not too late to make the necessary changes.”
Newton-John: The Aussie says, ‘Stow it, don’t throw it’
“I had always been involved with animal-rights things, like the dolphin issue,” says Olivia Newton-John. “I made a song about dolphins in ’83 and stuff.”
That was the extent of her commitment until four years ago, when Newton-John gave birth to daughter Chloë. At that point, the Australian singer became more vocal about environmental matters, and her interest began turning to activism. “The environment is an urgent problem for our children, and I wanted to speak out,” says Newton-John, 41. “I’ve always been loath to speak out on any kinds of issues because I thought it wasn’t my place. But in this instance, I feel I have to. I just did a children’s video for Hanna-Barbera, and I said I’d do it if they let me put an environmental message on the tape and if they did the packaging with recycled cardboard. They’ve done both.”
In addition the album jacket and sleeve of Warm and Tender, Newton-John’s 1989 album of children’s songs and lullabies, are printed on recycled paper. Printed on the sleeve is a list of 10 suggestions that Olivia says “will help make the world green and clean for us and future generations.” She says she and her husband, actor Matt Lattanzi (above, in the Brazilian rain forest), follow the suggestions at home.
For instance, they recycle. They also keep a compost heap in the garden. And, when she goes grocery shopping, Newton-John carries her own reusable rope shopping bag. “We have to learn to do without a little bit more,” she says. “We should learn from our parents. I mean, my mother used to save all this string; she’d take packaging off presents, fold it up carefully and use it again. We can’t be a disposable society anymore.”
Although her concern for the earth was fired by Chloë’s birth, Newton-John admits she used disposable diapers on the baby, despite the fact that studies show they may take up to 500 years to disintegrate in landfills. “I wasn’t awake enough,” she says now. “I feel guilty that I used them. That’s the thing. You feel guilty about everything once you start.”
—Susan Reed and Michael Neill, Michael Alexander, Lorenzo Benet, Tom Cunneff, Kristina Johnson and Jack Kelley in Los Angeles