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Hollywood sees Obama stem cell move as bipartisan blockbuster

March 10, 2009 |  1:32 am

President Obama's decision to expand the federal government's role in stem cell research business may be controversial in some quarters, but don't expect anything but a standing ovation from the friendly folks in Hollywood.

“For those of us who've worked in this area, this is an extraordinarily happy day,” former Paramount head Sherry Sherry LansingLansing said of Obama’s decision to lift the ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. “I've gotten tons of calls. This will lead to huge advances in fighting diseases like cancer and diabetes."

“Obama," Lansing added, "has done everything he said he would do. It’s thrilling.”

Hospitals and medical research are the industry's equivalent of bipartisanship, and stem cell research has become, in many ways, the cause of the hour. In part, that's because it seems to offer hope as a way to produce new treatments that touch prominent film and television families personally:

Spinal injuries (Christopher Reeve); Parkinson's (Michael J. Fox) and juvenile diabetes (Jerry and Janet Zucker and Douglas Wick and Lucy Fisher).

Hollywood agents, producers and studio executives may gleefully undercut each other Monday through Friday. But on Saturday night, they'll all turn up and give generously to a program to combat disease or to a cutting-edge hospital, so to speak.

The industry's tradition of supporting medical causes dates back to the days when purely political giving was poison for stars locked into the studio system and moguls protective of their studio brands. Nobody, however, could criticize anybody for giving to relieve suffering.

The Zuckers and friends Fisher and Wick began organizing the entertainment industry five years ago, when both families discovered their children had diabetes. Since then, Hollywood’s stem cell research advocates have only become more powerful. (Just ask any federal candidate who comes to town looking for a political kind of fundraising.)

Obama promised the group he would take action, if elected, to lift the ban. In preparation for his announcement Monday, his staff invited Lansing, the Zuckers, Fisher and Wick to attend the news conference.

Jerry Zucker said he and his wife declined the invitation because of their production schedule on "Fair Game," the movie about Joseph Wilson and Valerie Plame. (Remember, she's the undercover CIA agent that no one could identify. So keep it just between us.)

The movie features Sean Penn and Naomi Watts, but that's not a secret; you can talk about it.

The Zuckers did watch the announcement on TV. “Government -- and, particularly, science -- needs to be conducted with reason, not ideology,” said Jerry Zucker. “This was a return to reason.”

-- Tina Daunt

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Photo: SherryLansingFoundation.org

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