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Remember when Gary Hart’s supposed “affair” was super controversial?

Atlanta-filmed “Front Runner” is a political, journalistic and cultural history lesson

The moment between Gary Hart and a reporter probably didn’t happen. 

The reporter, assigned to trail the Colorado senator during 1988 primary season, gets frightened when the plane they’re on hits turbulence. Hart, played masterfully by Hugh Jackman, soothes the journalist by encouraging him to close his eyes and imagine they’re just rambling down a bumpy country road. By the time the skies clear, a Zen-like calm has enveloped the professionally adversarial pair.

The impromptu counseling session doesn’t keep the reporter from hitting him with hard questions after controversy envelopes the Hart campaign.

The reason it probably didn’t happen is the reporter is fictional “A.J. Parker” (played by Mamoudou Athie) who is described in production notes as a composite figure.

As to the far more significant moments, with beauty queen turned actress Donna Rice? Maybe Hart had an affair with her as rampant speculation at the time alleged, maybe not. They both have maintained that their relationship was professional and that Rice (played by Sara Paxton), having met Hart at her then-boyfriend’s party, was interested in a job with the campaign, nothing more.

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But the photo of Rice sitting on Hart’s lamp on the cheekily named “Monkey Business” threw kerosene on the smoldering rumor mill, and Hart, who had seemed like a lock for the Democrat nomination, ended his bid for the White House.

“The Front Runner,” shot in Atlanta and based on the book “All the Truth is Out” by Matt Bai, is due out Friday. Area filming locations included the Hilton Atlanta Marietta Hotel and Conference Center, the 200 Peachtree building in downtown Atlanta and Johnny’s Hideaway (which probably needed little in the way of a props makeover to approximate a smokey 1980s bar).

“There’s something really intriguing about how quickly (Hart) was tossed aside and all of a sudden all these walls were erected between politicians and the press. It was the perfect storm for a candidate who thought his personal life was off limits,” director Jason Reitman said in an interview. “Where do private lives come into play when it comes to public officials? What kind of flaws are we were willing to put up with?”

Voters ahead of the last presidential election proved they were willing to put up with a flaws that included disparaging women’s looks, joking about kissing women without their consent and grabbing them by the (word we can post on a family newspaper blog), making fun of the late Sen. John McCain for having been a prisoner of war in Vietnam and saying, during the speech launching his presidential campaign, that people immigrating from Mexico are rapists, drug dealers and criminals.

“We started writing this three years ago,” Reitman said. “It predates this administration.”

He was 11 when Gary Hart was hot news, so doesn’t personally recall the spectacle. His directing thus earnestly transports the audience to that prehistoric era before social media, a clutch of round-the-clock news cable channels (CNN was founded in CNN) and smart-phone footage. 

“I didn’t really know the story. I just couldn’t believe it,” he said. “There was a moment when the presumed next president was in his alleyway with three journalists? It sounded like a thriller.”

He’s referring to the team from the Miami Herald who took Hart up on his flippant remark about how reporters should follow him - and how they’d be bored. 

They weren’t.

 

 

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About the Author

Jennifer Brett is a multiplatform journalist and digital coach. She writes The Buzz blog for accessAtlanta.com.

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