It’s no surprise that Barack Obama’s closest friends in the entertainment biz aren’t celebs. So Politico.com’s Jeffrey Ressner has put together the less glittery reality of those showbiz types inside the president-elect’s tightly knit circle, though I’m not sure why he skips California Obama campaign finance co-chair Charlie Rivkin, the former Henson head and current Wildbrain animation CEO, or former AMG and Film Roman COO Jon Vein who also opened wallets for Obama:
James Lassiter — Will Smith’s longtime manager and head of their production company, Overbrook Entertainment, Lassiter — always known by his initials, J.L. — grew up in the same Philly neighborhood as Smith and was introduced to the actor/rapper by former sideman, DJ Jazzy Jeff. Launching Overbrook in 1998 (the company is named after their high school), Lassiter struck deals with Sony and Indian media company UTV. He later became close with Obama through a mutual friend, Wall Street investment banker Brian Mathis.
Hill Harper — Yet another Harvard Law School alum who moved to LA, Harper is best known to television audiences as crime scene investigator Sheldon Hawkes on the hit series CSI: NY. (He’s also appeared in several films, including Spike Lee’s He Got Game and the Oprah Winfrey-produced slave drama Beloved.) A member of Obama’s national campaign finance committee, he also participated in the “Yes, We Can” viral video. Aside from his acting, Harper is an activist who formed an online social network, ForRealSolutions.com, and also contributes to several philanthropic efforts, including the recent 10,000 Bookbags campaign to provide school backpacks and educational supplies for underprivileged kids.
Jamie Lynton — The sister of Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter and wife of Sony Pictures Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton, Jamie Lynton was raised in Chicago, where her mom, the late Joanne Alter — the first female Democrat elected in Cook County — spotted Obama in 2003 and convinced her daughter to support him. As a result, Lynton co-hosted an early fundraiser for Obama’s Senate bid in 2004 in addition to hosting a presidential campaign event early last year, when most showbiz types were still supporting Hillary Rodham Clinton. Will.i.am, who composed the viral video for “Yes, We Can,” met Obama during a fundraiser at Lynton’s home.
Nicole Avant — One of Obama’s major fundraisers in Southern California, Avant had boundless energy and networking savvy that gave her a special “in” with the candidate. (Indeed, the half-true joke around L.A. was, “He only talks to Nicole.”) Her dad, soul music legend Clarence Avant, was a major force at Motown Records and eventually applied his deal-making prowess to politics, growing close to Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton as well as state power players such as Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif).
Nancy McCullough — An entertainment lawyer in LA, McCullough was a year behind Obama at Harvard but worked closely with him at the school’s Law Review. Heavily involved in lawyer-monitored voter protection efforts before and during the election, she was also there at the start of Obama’s campaign, huddling in the front row in Springfield, Ill., when he announced his presidential bid. More recently, she sat on Obama’s Arts Policy Committee along with Disney exec Thomas Schumacher.
Crystal Nix Hines — Another member of the “Harvard Law Mafia” who stayed in close contact with Obama years after graduation, Hines opted to forgo legal work and instead pursue television writing in Hollywood. She penned and produced several episodes of the cancelled ABC series Commander in Chief and also served as executive story editor for the second season of Alias. On a campaign website, Hines wrote about Obama, her friend of nearly 20 years: “When he told me he wanted to enter politics to make a difference in people’s lives, I remember thinking, ‘Right, another politico who wants to feed a giant ego.’ But over time, as we spent hours together editing articles at the Harvard Law Review, I came to see and understand the depth of Barack’s commitment to social change.”
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