Bob Dornan

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Bob Dornan
Member of the
U.S. House of Representatives
from California
In office
January 3, 1977 – January 3, 1983
Preceded byAlphonzo E. Bell Jr.
Succeeded byMel Levine
Constituency27th district
In office
January 3, 1985 – January 3, 1997
Preceded byJerry M. Patterson (38th)
Succeeded bySteve Horn (38th)
Loretta Sanchez (46th)
Constituency38th district (1985–93)
46th district (1993–97)
Personal details
Robert Kenneth Dornan

(1933-04-03) April 3, 1933 (age 87)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
Sallie Hansen
(m. 1955)
ChildrenMark Dornan, Robert Dornan Jr., Teresa Cobban, Robin Griffin, Kate Dornan
Alma materLoyola University of Los Angeles

Robert Kenneth Dornan (born April 3, 1933) is an American politician who is a former Republican member of the United States House of Representatives from California.

A boisterous former actor and television and radio talk show host, Dornan had a flair for the dramatic that drew supporters and detractors well beyond his congressional district. Though never a major power in Washington, he became one of the most well-known members of the House of Representatives as a participant in televised "special orders" speeches and has been described as "one of the leading firebrands among American politicians."[1]

Early life[edit]

Dornan was born in New York City, the son of Gertrude (McFadden) Dornan (1900–1967) and Harry Joseph Dornan (1892–1975).[2][3][4] In New York, Dornan's mother had been a vaudeville performer as part of an act called The McFadden Sisters and a Ziegfeld Follies showgirl, and had performed under the stage name Bara Wilkes; her sister was the wife of actor Jack Haley.[5][6] Harry Dornan owned a haberdashery, and after moving to California, he became a real estate entrepreneur in West Los Angeles and was active in harness racing, a pastime in which many celebrities participated during the 1940s and 1950s.[7][8] Robert Dornan was able to take advantage of his family's entertainment industry experience and connections after he embarked on his own acting and talk show career, and make use of celebrity endorsements and campaign contributions to launch his political career.[7][9]

Dornan attended Loyola University of Los Angeles (later renamed Loyola Marymount University) from 1950 to 1953. Harry Dornan was a veteran of World War II who had attained the rank of major in the army.[10][11] At age 19, Robert emulated his father by volunteering to join the United States Air Force. He became a fighter pilot, and during his time in the Air Force, he survived two emergency parachute ejections and two "dead stick" forced landings (including one of an F-100). Dornan also served as a combat journalist and photographer on several missions in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia during the Vietnam War and flew relief flights into Biafra. He was on active duty until 1958, and attained the rank of Captain.[12] He served in the California Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve until 1975.[12]

Bob Dornan took an active role in the civil rights movement. He took part in the historic 1963 March on Washington led by Martin Luther King Jr. The following year he helped register African Americans to vote in Mississippi.[13][14][15]

Dornan was involved in the entertainment industry. He starred in the film The Starfighters, cast as Lt. Witkowski, an Air Force pilot who was the son of a U.S. congressman. The Starfighters aired on Mystery Science Theater 3000 on October 29, 1994.

In 1962, he portrayed Air Force Lieutenant Alden in the episode "Dennis at Boot Camp" of the CBS sitcom, Dennis the Menace, starring Jay North and Gale Gordon, with Roy Roberts in this segment as Captain Stone.[16]

Dornan had a frequent role as Captain Fowler on ABC's Twelve O'Clock High television series and smaller roles on ABC's Bewitched and NBC's I Dream of Jeannie. Dornan was an Emmy-award-winning television talk show host on Tempo and The Robert K. Dornan Show broadcast from Los Angeles from 1967 to 1973.


Dornan moved into politics in 1973 as national spokesman for the Citizens for Decency Through Law advocacy group. He made an unsuccessful run for mayor of Los Angeles the same year. In 1976, Dornan was elected to the House of Representatives, representing the 27th Congressional District in western Los Angeles County. He was re-elected twice. He was such an unswerving advocate for the development of the B-1 bomber, that he was soon nicknamed "B-1 Bob."[citation needed]

After the 1980 census, California's congressional map was redrawn. Dornan's district, previously a Republican-leaning swing district, was made significantly more Democratic. Believing he had no chance of winning this new district, he opted to run for the United States Senate in 1982. He finished fourth in the Republican primary behind San Diego mayor and future Governor Pete Wilson, who won in November.[citation needed]

Dornan moved to Garden Grove, in the more Republican Orange County. In 1984, he was elected to Congress from the 38th District in central Orange County, defeating 10-year Democratic incumbent Jerry M. Patterson by a 53% to 45% margin amid Ronald Reagan's massive landslide that year. In 1986, he won a tough race against Democratic state Assemblyman Richard Robinson, winning by a 55% to 43% margin. He was re-elected four more times and served on the Intelligence Committee.[citation needed]

Dornan made headlines in March 1985 for a confrontation with Representative Thomas Downey (D-NY) on the House floor. Downey asked Dornan about comments he had made calling Downey "a draft-dodging wimp." According to Downey, Dornan, grabbing him by collar and tie, said, "It's good you're being protected by the sergeant-at-arms. If I saw you outside, it would be a different story" and threatened him "with some form of bodily harm." Dornan claimed he was merely straightening Downey's tie and refused to apologize for the incident or the derogatory comment. A Dornan aide said, "It will be a cold day in hell before he gets an apology from Bob Dornan."[17]

Dornan standing on the ladder of an F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft during a visit to Torrejon Air Base, Spain, 20 September 1988.

Dornan was staunchly conservative. However, he did hold some positions that some might call liberal, including sponsoring animal protection acts, earning him the recognition of PETA in 1988.[18][19]

In 1995, he received a minor reprimand from the House for stating in a floor speech that President Bill Clinton had "given aid and comfort to the enemy" during the Vietnam War. In 1996, Dornan was a dark horse candidate for President of the United States, using his campaign primarily as a vehicle to continue to criticize Clinton. In a GOP debate in Iowa on January 13, Dornan called Clinton a "criminal" and a "pathological liar." When asked why voters should choose Dornan over his Republican rivals to challenge Clinton in the general election, he argued that he had more children and grandchildren than the others, with only Indiana Senator Richard Lugar coming anywhere near him on that score.[citation needed] Dornan dropped out in order to run for reelection to his seat in the House.[citation needed]

In 1997, Dornan sought and received information concerning reports that Israel had purportedly received from former military men who had emigrated from the Soviet Union, concerning an alleged successful water landing of the KAL 007 airliner, shot down by the Soviet Union in 1983. These included what Dornan termed "credible reports" of the supposed survival of Congressman Larry McDonald of Georgia, who had been a passenger on KAL 007, and Dornan featured this on his radio program.[citation needed]

For his final successful run for Congress, Dornan had signs posted at polling places that warned voters in Spanish that they should be prepared to prove their citizenship in order to vote, suggesting that immigration officials would be present. The success of this action was believed to have kept enough Latino voters away from the polls to eke out a final victory for Dornan against Mike Farber in an election that featured allegations of domestic violence by Dornan.[20] A long court battle deemed these signs illegal and inappropriate, and he was not able to post them again at the next election, which he then lost to Loretta Sanchez.[clarification needed][citation needed]

Controversial statements[edit]

During his political career, Dornan became known for his controversial or offensive statements. Among his remarks:

  • During a House debate in 1994, Dornan outed fellow Republican representative Steve Gunderson, accusing him of having a "revolving door on his closet."[21]
  • In a 1986 U.S. House speech, he called Soviet journalist Vladimir Posner a "disloyal, betraying little Jew who sits there on television claiming that he is somehow or other a newsman."[22] This was the only statement Dornan apologized for, saying, "That's the only thing in my life I ever lost sleep over."[23] Dornan also said that he intended "to say 'Judas,' not 'Jew,'" as a rebuttal to Posner's insistence that the Soviet Union was free of anti-Semitism.[23]
  • "Every lesbian spear chucker in this country is hoping I get defeated."—to a Los Angeles television reporter in 1992 regarding a female challenger in the primary election.[23][24]
  • On a January 28, 1994 appearance on Politically Incorrect, Dornan declared it was "The Year of the Penis" due to recent events in the news. This was a joke in regard to the 1992 media and political reference as that election being referred to as "The Year of the Woman," when four women won election to the United States Senate.[25]
  • "You are a slimy coward. Go register in another party."—to Orange County (CA) Republican Central Committee member William Dougherty after he supported Dornan's opponent in 1996.[26]

In 1994, a 120-page book of quotations of Dornan was compiled by Nathan Callahan and William Payton and published as Shut Up, Fag! The quotation that gives the book the title was actually shouted by Dornan's wife, Sallie, at an AIDS activist during an Orange County town forum. Dornan claimed the book was backed by director Oliver Stone, whom Dornan labeled "a Bolshevik enemy."[27]

Dornan's comments and behavior have led his political opponents to question his mental health. Mike Kaspar of the Orange County Democratic Party said, "The primary issue is Bob Dornan, himself. I think his character and his own sanity are an issue here."[28] At a White House Correspondents Dinner, Al Franken (who is actually a friend of Dornan's) joked "having Al D'Amato leading an ethics investigation is like getting Bob Dornan to head up a mental health task force."[29] Michael Moore devoted an entire chapter of his book Downsize This! to his efforts to get Dornan involuntarily committed for psychiatric examination.[30]


Dornan ran for president in 1996

For most of Dornan's second stint in Congress, his district had been considered the only Orange County district where a Democrat had a realistic chance of winning. However, it became even more Democratic after the 1990 Census, when it was renumbered as the 46th District and absorbed a considerably larger number of Latino voters than he had previously represented. After failing to win the GOP presidential nomination in 1996, Dornan ran for reelection to the House against Loretta Sanchez, a Latina and former Republican who had switched parties and run as a Democrat. Dornan lost by 979 votes.

Following the narrow defeat, Dornan alleged that Sanchez's winning margin was provided by illegal voting from non-U.S. citizens. A thirteen-month House of Representatives investigation ensued, during which Sanchez was seated provisionally, pending the inquiry.[31] A task force found 748 votes that had been cast illegally—624 from non-citizens in addition to 124 that had already been thrown out by California officials. This was not enough to overturn Sanchez's margin of victory and she was allowed to keep her seat.[32] However, in consultation with the INS, the House committee identified 4,762 questionable registration affidavits.[33]

Post-congressional career[edit]

Dornan ran against Sanchez in 1998, but lost by a 17% margin. Proving just how Democratic this district had become, no Republican candidate has crossed the 40 percent mark in the district (renumbered as the 47th in 2003 and back to the 46th in 2013) since Sanchez unseated Dornan.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Dornan hosted the "Bob Dornan Show", a radio talk show syndicated nationally by Talk Radio Network.[34][35]

In 2004, Dornan challenged Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, a fellow Republican, in the primary. Dornan charged Rohrabacher with being soft on terrorism and being too close to Islamic extremists.[36] However, he lost by 84% to 16%.

During the summer of 2005, Dornan briefly expressed interest in the 48th Congressional District seat that became vacant when then U.S. Congressman Christopher Cox resigned to become Chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.[37] He was interested in running as the nominee of the American Independent Party but did not, allegedly rebuffed by party officials.[38]


In 1955, Dornan married Sallie Hansen.[39] They are the parents of five children—Robin, Robert Jr., Mark, Theresa, and Kate.[40][41] Dornan's grandchildren include Mary Dornan, Jack Dornan, Robert Dornan III, Molly Dornan, Haley Dornan, Daniel Dornan, Tara Whelan, Richard Cobban, Anna DeWitt, Morgan Cobban, Liam Penn, Joe Ferrer, Kevin Griffin, Colin Griffin and Erin Griffin.


  1. ^ Barone, Michael; Ujifusa, Grant (1996). The Almanac of American Politics. National Journal. pp. 210–12. ISBN 0892340576.
  2. ^ Marquis, A. N. (1987). Supplement to Who's Who in America. 44. Chicago, IL: Marquis Who's Who. p. 231.
  3. ^ "Obituary, Harry J. Dornan". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles, CA. January 26, 1975. p. Part II, page 2 – via
  4. ^ "Obituary, Gertrude Consuelo McFadden Dornan". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles, CA. June 7, 1967. p. Part II, page 2 – via
  5. ^ Bailey, Eric; Warren, Peter M. (November 23, 1996). "Congress Loses One of Its Leading Characters". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles, CA.
  6. ^ Kotkin, Joel (November 27, 1977). "Hollywood's Great Right Hope". Washington Post. Washington, DC.
  7. ^ a b "Congress Loses One of Its Leading Characters".
  8. ^ Murphy, Jeanmarie (October 27, 1985). "The Downs". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles, CA. p. F22 – via
  9. ^ "Hollywood's Great Right Hope".
  10. ^ "New York Abstracts of World War I Military Service, 1917-1919, Entry for Harry Joseph Dornan". Provo, UT:, LLC. Retrieved January 23, 2018.
  11. ^ "Weds State Star; Mrs. Jack Haley". Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader. Wilkes-Barre, PA. February 20, 1930. p. 22 – via
  12. ^ a b Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
  13. ^ William Claiborne, 'B-1 Bob' Is on the Attack Again," The Washington Post, May 16, 1998.
  14. ^ "Bob Dornan On Civil Rights,"
  15. ^ Renee Tawa, "Dornan Presidential Campaign Staffers Fired for Using Racial Slurs," Los Angeles Times, September 2, 1995.
  16. ^ ""Dennis at Boot Camp", November 25, 1962". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved February 9, 2013.
  17. ^ "Dornan Won't Apologize for Wimp Remark," Los Angeles Times, Mar 5, 1985. p. 2.
  18. ^ The Utne Reader, Issues 34-36. Lens Publishing Company, 1989. p. 51.
  19. ^ Rockwell, Lew (1990). The Economics of Liberty, Ludwig von Mises Institute. p. 304. Retrieved April 3, 2017.
  20. ^ Martinez, Gebe (1994-10-26). "Dornan Challenges Foe's Claims of Spousal Abuse," Los Angeles Times, October 26, 1994. Retrieved from
  21. ^ Dina ElBoghdady, "Dornan Accuses Fellow Republican of Being Gay", States News Service, March 24, 1994
  22. ^ United Press International, "Lawmaker Apologizes for 'Inelegant' Words", The New York Times, Mar 1, 1986, pg. 1.11.
  23. ^ a b c Francis X. Clines, " Appearing Nightly: Robert Dornan, Master of the Put-Down", The New York Times, June 27, 1995
  24. ^ Romano, Lois "The Reliable Source," The Washington Post, June 4, 1992, p. c.03.
  25. ^ Jennifer Senior, "When Politicians Get Silly," The New York Times, Mar 6, 1994. p. A.1.
  26. ^ Time Magazine, December 2, 1996 v148 n25 p. 28(1)
  27. ^ Faye Fiore, "'Shut Up' Is Not in Dornan's Vocabulary," Los Angeles Times, Jul 15, 1994, p. 3.
  28. ^ Dana Parsons, "Democrats Unveil Weapon Against Dornan — Dornan," Los Angeles Times, May 4, 1994, p. 1.
  29. ^ Mark Schapiro, "The Salon Interview: Al Franken" Archived September 26, 2007, at the Wayback Machine,
  30. ^ Michael Moore, Downsize This! Random Threats from an Unarmed American," Harper, 1997.
  31. ^ - News - News stories about Sarasota, Manatee and Charlotte counties in Florida, from the newspapers of record. -
  32. ^ Proof Of Illegal Voters Falls Short, Keeping Sanchez In House - February 7, 1998
  33. ^ Warren, Peter (1997), "Signature Lists Sought in Sanchez Probe" Los Angeles Times November 8: A1.
  34. ^ "One Dornan Stays Out, One Gets In", Los Angeles Times, December 02, 1999. Retrieved April 3, 2017.
  35. ^ "Savage gets the boot after on-air anti-gay outburst", Los Angeles Times, July 08, 2003. Retrieved April 3, 2017.
  36. ^ Brandon, Karen (March 2, 2004). "'B-1 Bob' Dornan tries for a comeback". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved March 7, 2019.
  37. ^ "Still another Special Election". Legislative Update Archives. California State University Northridge. December 2005. Retrieved April 28, 2016.
  38. ^ Israel, Josh (July 7, 2008). "Chuck Baldwin interviewed by Josh Israel". Independent Political Report. United States of America. Retrieved April 28, 2016.
  39. ^ Grove, Lloyd (April 4, 1985). "Bob Dornan, Combat Ready". Washington Post. Washington, DC.
  40. ^ Lesher, Dave (June 24, 1993). "'I Take Full Blame': Sallie Dornan says a longtime drug addiction drove her to falsely accuse her husband of abuse". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles, CA. Each time, Sallie Dornan and the couple's five children have braced for the day when Dornan's role as a controversial public figure would lead to exposure of the darkest period of their lives.
  41. ^ Gould, Jack (October 31, 2002). "The Bob Dornan Hall of Fame". OC Weekly News. Fountain Valley, CA. Bob Dornan's confirmed offspring (Robin, Kate, Theresa, Mark and Bob Jr.)

External links[edit]

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
Alphonzo E. Bell, Jr.
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from California's 27th congressional district

Succeeded by
Mel Levine
Preceded by
Jerry M. Patterson
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from California's 38th congressional district

Succeeded by
Steve Horn
Preceded by
District Created
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from California's 46th congressional district

Succeeded by
Loretta Sanchez