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Connery, Wonder among Clintons’ guests

GOOD MORNING: President Clinton and wife Hillary greeted the honorees last night at the White House saying, “Tonight we honor four Americans and one Scotsman whom I declare an honorary American.” He was, of course, referring to Sean Connery who broke out into a James Bond-like smile. Clinton introduced each one of the honorees with warm, humorous, touching, complimentary remarks. The honorees included Victor Borge (91, one of the oldest), whom he called a “Great Dane”; Sean Connery; Judith Jamison; Jason Robards; and Stevie Wonder. As for Wonder, Clinton admitted, “We all try to sing his songs.” Clinton also noted that Wonder is “A wonderful friend to Hillary, me and the Vice President, Al Gore.” Hillary opened the presentation by telling everyone that the Kennedy Center Honors is their joyful welcoming of the holidays. Hilary was wearing a gorgeous and slim Oscar de la Renta with a ruffled neckline in velvet with taffeta. The White House this year is particularly decorated with buildings of interest from around the country, small and large, historical, poignant, all in miniature with one tree decorated in countryside buildings, train stations and stores. The whole theme is Americana, and the trees are decorated in huge pine cones and pears with gold streamers. As you enter the White House, you are greeted by a marine duo playing harp and flute. Upstairs, in the grand foyer, between the East Room and the main dining room, a 28-piece Marine Corps band played Christmas tunes as the crowd made its way from one room to the other.

FROM WASHINGTON where the White House millennium celebration actually started Sunday with the Kennedy Center. The Kennedy Center honorees were awarded their medals the previous night, Saturday, in the State Department’s magnificent Benjamin Franklin dining room where a painting of Franklin looked down on the honorees in a hall filled with the creme de la creme of the arts and showbiz world, plus politicians and national and international power players. The cocktail hour found the magnificently gowned ladies and black tied men schmoozing around priceless mementos, furnishings and paintings, part of America’s early history. With the extremely warm weather, the doors were opened, permitting a breathtaking view of the city’s monuments, glistening in the clear, starry night. The mall in front of the Lincoln memorial will be one of the sites (in addition to the White House) for the upcoming, three-hour CBS New Year’s Eve special which George Stevens, Jr., Quincy Jones and Steven Spielberg (among many others!) are readying. CBS’ Les Moonves, on hand for the Kennedy Center honors, was happy to learn from Quincy that Will Smith was set to be one of the host/stars. Moonves said Jack Nicholson and Garth Brooks are also to participate. And, past Kennedy Center honoree Benny Carter (’92), on hand again this year, will also be part of the three-day(!) and three-hour New Year’s Eve celebration. CBS has set Dec. 29 to air this 22nd “Honors.” Moonves was particularly pleased that the show, “a pro bono,” had a 35% ratings increase last year. “Maybe because of Cosby?” (an honoree), he said.

GEORGE STEVENS, JR., A CREATOR of the “Honors” (along with the late Nick Vanoff), again produces the show with Don Mischer. Liz Stevens and husband George hosted the Sunday morning brunch in the Westin Fairfax hotel to the Honorees. Liz and Buffy Cafritz took bows for the Saturday night party. Quincy Jones, in addition to the Millennium show, is preparing the B’way Sammy Davis Jr. musical “Bojangles” with Leslie Bricusse (who was also on hand for this weekend). Jones said he’s also working with Jim Henson’s London shop for another B’way musical, “Noah’s Ark.” And Quincy would have us believe that after these, “I’m going to take it easy.”

ALTHOUGH THE HONOREES are assumed to be American, Connery told me he believes he is the fourth non-U.S. citizen to be thus honored. P.S., no one objects! He maintains residences in Scotland and the Bahamas. Past winners on hand for bows included Edward Albee, Edward Villella, Maria Tallchief, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, Jacques d’Ambroise and Benny Carter. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, in welcoming all, paid tributes to each honoree with serious notes, but for Sean Connery, she hoped “in some future film, that he would spend some time with the Secretary of State!” These awards differ from all others — in many respects — but among them, the honorees are not required to acknowledge with any speeches, no thanks to “agents, mothers, fathers, schoolteachers, etc., etc.” The honoree just takes bows, first at the State Department dinner, where they are medaled. Then, Sunday, as they are each introduced by the President in the White House, and, lastly, at the open house where each receives a full tribute on stage in words, music and dance and onscreen. Lawrence Fishburne m.c.’d the medal ceremony at the State Department with appropriate remarks for each. And each also received a toast from a fellow celebrity. F’rinstance, Michael Douglas said of Connery, “He’s a ladies’ man, a man’s man and a Scots-man.” Jason Robards was described as playing Ben Bradlee and “being more like Ben Bradlee than Ben Bradlee!” Christopher Plummer, who admitted being on a stage with Robards, said, “We also shared many a barstool …” Herbie Hancock paid tribute to Stevie Wonder, who lifted his shades and feigned being able to see the medal placed around his neck. Members of the Cabinet, House and Senate were on hand. The Demos’ leader of the Senate, Tom Daschle, gave a speech of appreciation to CBS, Les Moonves, George Stevens, Don Mischer, Buffy Cafritz, Liz Stevens, Ann Jordan. Daschle noted, “All Americans are beneficiaries of what JFK saw in the arts. Great countries will be remembered not by their power — but by their poetry.”

AS I EARLIER GUESSED, eyes were also turned on the handsomest couple — Michael Douglas and Cartherine Zeta-Jones. She was in a skin-tight, translucent, beaded Versace gown. At the White House, she wore the most extraordinarily revealing and décolletage absolutely simple, Crimson gown. A knockout. They had attended the N.Y. preem of Kirk Douglas’ “Diamonds,” and will next be seen together in L.A. at Kirk’s (second) Bar Mitzvah, Thursday. Michael, who has never been Bar Mitzvah’d, has a special religious gift for his dad, with whom he still hopes to make a film. And Jones said she, too, hopes to make a movie with Michael. Her next is “Beyond Borders” with Kevin Costner for Oliver Stone. They’ll shoot “everywhere!,” she said. At the dinner, Mary Tyler Moore said she’d just wound her two-hour special “Mary and Rhoda” for ABC. Asked whether she wanted it to go to (another) series, Moore admitted, “Not if every segment has to have executives hanging over every word of every script.” … Among those representing theater, Peter Stone, whose “Annie Get Your Gun” is a continued success, and his revival of “Finian’s Rainbow” is en route. And, he’s working on his original “Curtains” for B’way the following year. As also predicted here, eyes were also on the renewed pairing of ex-husband and ex-wife Andre Previn and Mia Farrow. And she was busy collecting dinner place cards of celebs — after the dinner — “to bring to my children,” she said. They included such collectibles as Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones — and Andre Previn and Mia Farrow? … At the Sen. Ted Kennedy and family table were Kevin Spacey and Dianne Dreyer. Spacey was a presenter to Jason Robards in Sunday’s gala show … Ted Kennedy is en route to L.A. Wednesday for a dinner in his honor at the home of Edie and Lew Wasserman. Kennedy noted, “They (the Wassermans) have been with my family for generations.”… Author A.E. Hotchner, on hand with Virginia Kiser, had just returned from Russia, having been sent there by Secretary of State Albright on the occasion of the l00th anniversary of Hemingway. Hotchner spent 14 years with Hemingway, having written “Papa Hemingway.” But he told me the favorite U.S. authors in Russia are: O’Henry and Jack London. Hotchner is now writing the screenplay of “After the Storm,” from a Hemingway short story, for Trimark, with Benjamin Bratt starring. “It took place in Bimini,” recalled Hotchner, “so, they’ll shoot it in Australia!” Among the many celebrities on hand were: Michele Lee and Fred Rappoport. She’s headed back to B’way — he’s got a Christmas special. “Grandma Was Run Over By a Reindeer!” Also on hand for the weekend “Honors”: Sam Waterston, James Earl Jones, Dennis Hopper, Cy Coleman, Larry Gelbart, Skitch Henderson, Lynn Redgrave, Dina Merrill, Ted Harbert and Gordon Davidson, who will be honored by the Theater Hall of Fame at the Gershwin, Jan. 31. He is most pleased for its recognition “of the West Coast” rather than for himself. Also there, the Michael Yorks, just in from Ireland, Jason Robards’ son Sam and his l0-month-old son Calvin. And these Great Dames: Kitty Carlisle, Gloria Stuart and Fay Kanin, adding to the sentiment of this annual love fest between D.C., N.Y. and L.A.

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