Acting on a Political Impulse

September 17, 2018

Sex and the City star Cynthia Nixon lost her bid to become the next governor of New York, losing in a primary to incumbent Andrew Cuomo. She’s certainly not the first well-known actor to ever run for office.

Shirley Temple

Her heyday was the 1930s, but Shirley Temple arguably remains the most famous (and beloved) child star of all time. She starred in tons of movies as a child and teenager, acting, charming, and singing her way through movies like Bright Eyes, Curly Top, and Heidi. Temple retired from acting at the ripe old age of 22 for a life of diplomacy. Temple (or rather Temple-Black) served as a representative to the United Nations, and was the U.S. Ambassador to both Ghana and Czechoslovakia. Temple tried to win elected office, but never got enough votes. She ran to fill an open California congressional seat in 1967 and came in a distant third.

Park Overall

This character actress is best known for her roles in the ‘80s as sharp, straight-talking Southerners, such as in the film adaptation of Neil Simon’s Biloxi Blues, and as the sassy Nurse Laverne on the long-running sitcom Empty Nest. Overall is also an outspoken environmentalist and frequent protestor against water pollution and nuclear energy. Those positions propelled her to a 2012 run in the Democratic primary for a U.S. Senate seat representing Tennessee. (She came in third.)

Nancy Kulp

Kulp has a slew of TV, film, and theater credits, but she’ll always be Miss Hathaway from The Beverly Hillbillies. Apart from entertainment, she was heavily involved in local politics in her home state of Pennsylvania. In 1984 she ran for a U.S. Congressional seat representing Pennsylvania’s ninth district, opposite incumbent Bud Shuster. Not so great for her campaign: Her old Beverly Hillbillies cohort Buddy Ebsen, a diehard Republican, offered to make an ad for Shuster…criticizing Kulp. She lost the election, and Ebsen later admitted he deeply regretted doing the commercial.

Fred Grandy

On TV’s The Love Boat, Grandy played “your ship’s purser,” Burl Smith…but everybody called him Gopher. When that series wound down after nine seasons in 1986, the TV veteran switched gears to politics…which he’d quietly pursued during his acting days, serving as a speechwriter for Wiley Mayne, the elected congressman from Grandy’s district in his home state of Iowa. Mayne was succeeded in his post by Berkley Bedell, but when he decided not to run for re-election in 1986, Grandy decided he’d give it a shot. And he won, edging out his opponent by a 51 to 49 percent vote. He wound up serving for eight years, stepping away in 1994 to run for governor of Iowa, an election he didn’t win.