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Stars step up for the Kennedy kudos

GOOD MORNING from Washington and a weekend that was “the one oasis of the year for Democrats,” said Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.). He was referring to the Kennedy Center Honors, at which the Democrats were represented not only in attendance but also among the six honorees: Warren Beatty, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Elton John, Joan Sutherland and John Williams. Jack Nicholson, a presenter to Beatty (which will air Dec. 21 on CBS), said, “For years, Warren has dreamed of attending these awards, unfortunately not exactly as a Kennedy Center Honoree, but as the president of the United States.”

Sunday night’s show at the Kennedy Center followed a reception at the White House by President Bush and wife Laura, where the honorees received presidential praise. “This year, as always, the honorees make up an interesting mix. Tonight, seated on the same platform (with me) we have Sen. Bulworth, a husband and a wife who between them have acted in more than 50 films, the piano man who sang ‘Crocodile Rock,’ a soprano without peer and the composer who brought us the music of ‘a galaxy far, far, away.’ ” He elaborated on their specific accomplishments generously. He reminded that Dee and Davis led the 1963 March on Washington “and stood firm in the cause of justice.” He enumerated Beatty’s professional accomplishments, never noting his political activism except to say Warren “once declared that he intended to live in the White House. He was 6 years old at the time. At the age of 7 he revised those plans and decided he wanted to be governor of Georgia. And then at the age of 8, he dropped out of politics and decided to be an actor.” Big laughs.

It followed Saturday night’s magnificent dinner in the State Dept.’s seventh-floor ballroom adjoining rooms of American memorabilia. American antiques and paintings as well as priceless Chinese export porcelains, many with commemorative themes. Secretary of State Colin Powell and his wife welcomed the exclusive guest list and showbiz honorees. The Powells are no strangers to showbiz: Daughter Linda appeared at the Kennedy Center in “On Golden Pond” and will star in it on B’way next year with James Earl Jones and Leslie Uggams. Powell, in his welcoming remarks, also proved his talents as a performer when noting the achievements of each of the honorees. He segued into a rap version of Warren Beatty’s rap in “Bulworth,” never losing a beat and ending with, “You’ll have to wait and see what’s next.” Also at Saturday’s dinner, Sen. Edward Kennedy, who delivered tributes to each of the honorees — as well as one to the late Cy Coleman. Kennedy noted, “The arts have no political party.”

The honorees received their medals Saturday night. Among those at the weekend’s activities were Summer Redstone (who noted that no successor has yet been found for Sherry Lansing) and Leslie Moonves. Also there: the Academy’s Frank Pierson, who said the 2006 Oscars will occur a week earlier or later than their late-February slot due to the Winter Olympics. Also Jack Valenti, enjoying his new life as a star on the talk circuit as well as his work on the Global Funds for AIDS. Leslie Bricusse, who was a presenter on past Honors toasting Quincy Jones, says he hopes to return as a presenter to Michael Caine, who he thinks is a cinch as a future honoree. GOP supporters present included Bo Derek and Ron Silver, who campaigned for George W., and Dina Merrill and Ted Hartley. She was sporting a “GOP Choice” button. “I’m wearing it to the White House,” she proclaimed.

Noting the mourning of the Democratic party, Terence R. McAuliffe, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, vowing that work has begun on the next campaign. The traditional Sunday brunch was again hosted by Elizabeth and George Stevens Jr. He was commuting from the Mandarin Hotel to the brunch to the Kennedy Center. Stevens has been producing the show since its start with Nick Vanoff in 1978. Louis J. Horvitz again directed the TV show.

Steven Spielberg, who made a presentation to honoree Williams on Sunday night, noted, “Sometimes I think the reason I make so many movies is just to keep John writing only for my films, pretending I have captured the lightning in my bottle. John Williams is a national treasure — he’s as American as apple pie and President Bush’s mom(!) If a director can tell a one-hanky story, John Williams’ scores are guaranteed to make you use the whole Kleenex box.” Davis and Dee received tributes on the show from Courtney B. Vance, Angela Bassett and Brian Stokes Mitchell for their activism and courage as well as their professional artistry. Sidney Poitier also was to be a presenter, but he was called to Delaware to testify in the Disney-Michael Ovitz case. Marilyn Horne paid tribute to Joan Sutherland. Walter Cronkite, who has been the host of the awards since their beginning, again opened the show and Caroline Kennedy was host this year and last. Robert Downey Jr. gave his tribute to Elton John, followed by the musical tribute by the Rob Mathes Band, Kid Rock and Heather Headley. It was a grand night for singing.

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