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'Old Gumlegs,' the Rat Pack and star wars of 1980

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  • Celebrities jumped into politics decades ago
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Mental Floss

(Mental Floss) -- Some historians credit Republican President Warren G. Harding with running the first campaign that made use of celebrity endorsement.

When Harding ran in 1920, film was still just a fledgling industry. Harding was backed by conservative silent film stars like Lillian Russell, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and Al Jolson, evidently as part of a well-orchestrated campaign by ad agency Lord & Thomas.

Other stunts planned by Albert Lasker, president of the agency, included having the aforementioned celebrities -- as well as around 60 of their celebrity friends -- sing "Harding, You're the Man for Us" at an event hosted by the president-to-be, and bringing the Chicago Cubs down to Harding's home town in Ohio for an exhibition game.

It worked. Harding was elected, although it soon became evident that he couldn't sustain that initial popularity: He's actually been called the worst president in history.

'Old Gumlegs'

Evidently, W.C. Fields, curmudgeonly comedian on the early 20th century, wasn't a big fan of Franklin D. Roosevelt -- so much so that he allegedly called the polio-victim "Gumlegs," in addition to supporting Roosevelt's challenger, Wendell Wilkie.

Of course, Fields's lampooning of politics (and pretty much everything else) is part of his legend -- in 1940, the same year of the Roosevelt-Wilkie election, he became an "also ran," publishing Fields for President, a collection of humorous essays made out like campaign speeches.

Kennedy and the Rat Pack

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Back in the day, John F. Kennedy was practically a card-carrying member of Frank Sinatra's Rat Pack and some political types believe his relationship with the coolest people in the world at the time aided in his defeat of Vice President Richard Nixon in the 1960 election.

Kennedy's good looks and seemingly glamorous lifestyle identified him with the Hollywood elite that had adopted him, rendering him incredibly popular with the people. During the Democratic convention that election year, Hollywood's support of Kennedy was on brilliant display: Kennedy shared the stage with stars like Marilyn Monroe and Marlene Dietrich and some political pundits reportedly joked that if elected, he would appoint Sinatra as Secretary of State.

Wilt and Tricky Dick

Remember back in the day when basketball great Wilt Chamberlain was bedding all those ladies? Well, it's possible that the lanky Lothario took a brief break from all that sexin' in 1968 -- to stump for Richard Nixon. We guess it worked, because who wouldn't want to vote like a man who claims to have slept with more than 20,000 women?

The star wars of 1980

The 1980 presidential election was so chock full of stars, it threatened to overshadow the actual politics involved.

In incumbent President Jimmy Carter's corner was a greatest hits album of country and western stars: Loretta Lynn, Willie Nelson, Charlie Daniels and Johnny Cash all put on concerts and supported the southern Democrat.

Carter also had the star power of Mary Tyler Moore, Muhammad Ali, Roberta Flack, Dionne Warwick, Neil Simon, Lee Majors, and Elizabeth "Bewitched" Montgomery on his side.

But it evidently wasn't enough. Former actor Ronald Reagan won, with a celebrity line-up that read like a Christmas special in Vegas: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Pat Boone, Wayne Newton, and Zsa Zsa Gabor, as well as James Cagney and Robert Stack (Unsolved Mysteries!)

Before Carter took the Democratic nomination, Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy (he of the Chappaquiddick scandal) was also in the running. And he too had no dearth of Hollywood friends, including Warren Beatty, Angie Dickinson, Goldie Hawn, Martin Sheen, Bette Davis, Jack Lemmon and Shelly Winters.

Other candidates who time has forgotten also boasted all-star lists of endorsements: Paul Newman, Norman Lear, Jason Robards, Ed Asner, Margot Kidder and James Taylor supported John Anderson, while Helen "I Am Woman" Reddy and Linda Rondstadt both lifted their voices to support Jerry Brown.

The Boss and the 2004 election

In our most recent presidential election, the celebrities were also out in force. Before that terrifying rebel yell that may have cost him the primary, Howard Dean was endorsed by director and erstwhile actor Rob Reiner (When Harry Met Sally, All in the Family's "Meathead").

Governor and "Terminator" Arnold Schwarzenegger backed President George W. Bush, as did evangelist Jerry Falwell and Curt Schilling.

And the Boss himself, Bruce Springsteen, backed Massachusetts Senator John Kerry both in words and song, playing a fundraising concert for Kerry in the last days leading up to the election. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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