By RONI TOLDANES
It was a strange scene last October when more than 60 movie and TV personalities opened fire with shotguns and pistols. There were no directors. There were no stuntmen. And while in movies they flinched and grimaced as they peppered their targets with bullets, this time around they were smiling while shooting guns. Real guns loaded with real ammo.
America’s gun owners have unlikely new heroes of late. These new heroes belong to an industry some gun advocates blame for the negative public image of firearms – Hollywood.
Despite gusty winds roaring at 40 to 50 mph, gun-toting actors and actresses came out and joined about 250 other shooters in a newly-formed shooting tournament. It was called Hollywood Celebrity Shoot at the Angeles Shooting Range, just a few miles from Burbank, home to many major film studios.
The shooting match, involving the use of shotguns, center fire and rimfire handguns, was organized by Sanford Abrams, and Catherine and T.J. Johnston. Having served as volunteers at the Charlton Heston Celebrity Shoot, which has been in limbo during the past two years, the trio decided to host their own tournament. It had a double-barreled goal: to promote the shooting sports and to counteract the scathing anti-gun propaganda from other celebrities, some of whom, incongruously, even portray gun slinging characters in action movies.
“Some celebrities are standing up and declaring that guns are evil,” Abrams says, “but there are many other celebrities who shoot and don’t see anything bad about owning guns.” The Hollywood Celebrity Shoot, Abrams says, aims to promote the positive aspects of gun ownership.
Abrams hopes that the crackle of gunfire would resonate all the way to Washington. He knows that lawmakers have begun to accept celebrities as powerful backers of public issues.
For decades, Washington has attracted famous activist actors such as Jane Fonda and Charlton Heston. But the city’s elite scoffed at the performers, urging them to tend to entertainment and let “real” politicians worry about the nation’s business. Over the past few years, however, this historic irritation has transformed into a reluctant appreciation of the power of celebrity. Why? Because lawmakers have finally realized that having a Hollywood luminary at a hearing may be the best way to get a cynical public to tune in to their issue. A star’s endorsement can mean the difference between a bill that dies in committee and one that becomes a law.
Abrams says he intends to reproduce videotapes of the match for distribution to influential politicians. Copies will also be syndicated through major cable TV companies.
While some of the participants at the Hollywood Celebrity Shoot are not household names – yet, others have familiar faces. Most of them have been in dozens of films.
Sylvester Stallone wasn’t there, but his nemesis in some of his films shot the tournament. Does the name Charles Napier ring a bell? No? Well, how about Murdoch, the bad guy in Rambo II? It was Napier, who also starred in Silence of the Lambs. Sly’s brother, Grammy Award winner Frank Stallone, was seen smiling as he pulverized his clay targets.
RoboCop himself didn’t come, but his police commander in the first series, Michael Gregory, who also starred in Total Recall and Eraser, traded jokes with colleagues and new friends as he waited for his turn at the Trap event, where shooters fired at two flying clay targets using shotguns.
“Each time you raise the gun to shoot at a clay bird there is always a challenge,” said Frank McRae, who played Arnold Schwarzenegger’s boss in the movie Last Action Hero and has appeared as a supporting actor in about 100 films. “Once you hit the clay, it transforms into a puff of smoke and you get such joy and thrill at knowing that you did something correct.”
McRae said the shooting sports lost its attractive cachet among Hollywood gun owners in the 1960s, especially following the JFK assassination. He said many celebrities still suffer the same sort of schizophrenia in their attitude toward the shooting sports. They use guns in their movies and they own guns, but they refuse to declare their pro-gun stance.
Celebrities on hand at this event, however, were not afraid to let the public know that they were having fun with guns. They include Martin Cove (Karate Kid), Dawn Wells (Gilligan’s Island), Lou Ferrigno (The Incredible Hulk), Leslie Easterbrook (Police Academy), Kimberlin Brown (The Bold and the Beautiful), Branscombe Richmond (Renegade), Shari Shattuck (On Deadly Ground), Steve Henneberry (American Gladiators), Ron Mazak (Murder She Wrote), Roy Rogers, Jr. (The Roy Rogers Show), Andrew Prine (Chisum) and Erin Gray (Baywatch).
After an open-air dinner followed by the presentation of awards, all of the shooters said the same thing as they headed to their cars in the parking lot. The chilly weather failed to dampen their enthusiastic comments about the Hollywood Celebrity Shoot. And what they said was something you seldom hear from celebrities: “Great shooting match … Whew! I never thought I could have fun with a shotgun! … Hey, that was some shooting match, wasn’t it? … ”
(Roni Toldanes was managing editor of Gun World, the oldest firearms magazine in the United States; group managing editor of Knives Illustrated, and editor of Gun Games, America’s shooting sports magazine. He also worked as editor-in-chief of weekly newspapers; news editor, senior copy editor, assignment editor and editorial board member of major daily newspapers in California, Texas, New Jersey, Florida and Georgia. He covered southeast Asia as a foreign correspondent and chief editor of an international news agency.)