By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
The first time I met David, 45, was at a book party at Nicaraguan author Gioconda Belli's house. And it didn't take long to discover how altruistic and socially conscious, quite literally, she is — a concerned but high-maintenance Jewish-mom type, a brassy New York go-getter with a warm demeanor and a sharp tongue. A modern-day Rhoda of sorts, if Rhoda were amped up on caffeine. That evening, David rescued me from the acerbic former state Senator Tom Hayden, who'd snapped at my cutting in on his one-on-one time with Larry David. Laurie swooped in and linked her arm through mine and said of her good friend, laughing: "Oh, just ignore him, he really needs to work on his social skills." As she guided me to a corner oasis in this liberal Westside cocktail crowd, I asked David why she didn't appear on her husband's hilarious HBO docu-sitcom, on which most everyone in Larry's world plays themselves. "I have my own career," she said. "I'm an environmentalist."
As is her alter ego Cheryl Hines, who plays Larry's wife on Curb Your Enthusiasm; but that's where their likeness ends. The small-screen Mrs. David, a sweet, almost saccharine über-shiksa, seems to get blonder with each season and typically lounges in comfy stretch pants and a fitted T while playfully nagging her husband from the couch; the real Mrs. David, who has sleek, ink-black hair and favors tailored monochrome pantsuits, is a force to be reckoned with. "She's Larry's dream wife. I'm the real wife," David says. "He wishes I was like that. I'm much more aggressive — that character is so much nicer than I am."
Later, Larry weighs the question — to what extent are his wives alike? — carefully. "The actress on the show wouldn't get quite as, um, worked up as Laurie," he says. "You'll be having breakfast with her, and then all of a sudden, something will get her attention in the newspaper — some environmental rollback — and she'll start screaming. And it's, like, 7 o'clock in the morning!"
Committed is the word that pops up, over and over again, in conversations about David. In addition to political fund-raising for Democratic candidates, relentless lobbying for environmental-policy changes and presiding on the boards of community organizations such as P.S. Arts, which raises money to restore arts programming in public schools, David co-founded, with Arianna Huffington, the nonprofit Americans for Fuel Efficient Cars. Its much-talked-about Detroit Project launched the biting TV ads that satirize the Bush administration's anti-drug ads by linking driving SUVs to supporting terrorism. The sound bites are now ingrained: "I helped hijack an airplane," says one suburban mom, deadpan. "I helped blow up a nightclub. So what if it gets 11 miles to the gallon?"
The ads ran mostly on cable outlets in select markets around the country — Detroit and Washington among them — but most major television stations refused to air them, including KCBS and KABC in Los Angeles. The controversy generated millions of dollars in free publicity on more than 350 TV shows nationwide, including NBC Nightly News, Inside Edition and CNN's Crossfire. But the campaign also stirred up a tremendous amount of criticism of celebrities — a barrage of snarky quips running rampant across the AM radio dial, ridiculing famous people for preaching about fuel efficiency while living large, energy-dependent lives that include stretch limos and private jets.
David scoffs at the sniping: "It's like they don't want you to do anything. What are people who have resources, power, money — what should they be doing with their time? Nothing? Going to lunch? You know, you do one thing at a time, and we chose cars."
Among the four Detroit Project founders, who also include film producer Lawrence Bender and Hollywood agent Ariel Emanuel, Huffington was, by far, the biggest talking head during the media blitz. And more often than not, the ad campaign was referred to as "Arianna's project." But David was the real engine behind it. She persuaded Huffington, while on one of their weekly hikes together, to give up her hulking 13-mpg Lincoln Navigator for a 26-mpg Volvo station wagon — a stopgap measure before Huffington moved on to a 52-mpg (chauffeur-driven) Prius. "I picked Arianna up, and in her driveway there was that . . . [She twists her face and spits out the words as if talking about an old, unfaithful boyfriend.] . . . that disgusting Lincoln Navigator. Arianna gets these issues, she's writing about these issues, and she hadn't figured out that what's in her driveway . . . [David cannot complete the sentence.] . . . That blew my mind."
When Huffington returned home after their hike, she penned a column addressing the illogic of Bush's drug-war ads and rhetorically asking if anyone would be willing to fund an alternative "people's ad campaign . . . using the same shock-value tactics the administration uses in the drug war to confront the public with the ultimate — and much more linearly linked — consequences of their energy wastefulness. Imagine a soccer mom in a Ford Excursion (11 mpg city, 15 mpg highway) saying, 'I'm building a nuclear bomb for Saddam Hussein.'"
The next morning, Huffington awoke to more than 5,000 e-mails offering money. "They were so moving," says David: "'I'm a student, I have no money. Here's $25.' Or 'I just got laid off, here's $5.'" Within seven days, they'd raised $200,000 for a week of airtime. The ads were written and directed by "Got Milk?" creator Scott Burns, and all the actors, equipment and production costs were pro bono. "It was an absolute populist campaign," says Huffington, "entirely funded by small donations. In a sense, the public created the Detroit Project."