Kennedy Center honors fete five

WASHINGTON, D.C. — By producer George Stevens Jr.’s estimation, the lineup for Sunday’s 28th annual Kennedy Center Honors in Washington, D.C., was the most diverse ever.

Host Caroline Kennedy oversaw a lineup of presenters that included Hollywood heavy-hitters, pop stars, classical musicians and cabinet members on hand to salute the five honorees: producer-director-actor Robert Redford, singers Tina Turner and Tony Bennett, ballet doyenne Suzanne Farrell and actress Julie Harris.

Presenter Paul Newman and Tom Brokaw were among those paying tribute to Redford. Willie Nelson sang “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys” and “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys.”

The biggest blunder of the night occurred when President Bush introduced Redford, highlighting the Oscar he received at the 1981 Academy Awards. Bush mistakenly intro’d him as having won as best actor; Redford earned his statuette as director of “Ordinary People.”

Newman flew in only to appear on the show; he declined to attend the pre-show reception at the White House, saying he wanted nothing to do with the Bush administration. Vet thesp sported a bandaged right hand (due to surgery, he said) and was in a suit rather than a tuxedo; of the latter, he declared, “On my 70th birthday, I burned it up.” (Newman also expressed his disbelief that Redford was actually accepting the award, asking, “Is Redford really here? … I honor him because he is a citizen’s citizen and protector of the environment.”)

Beyonce Knowles, taking time off from shooting “Dream Girls,” presented to Turner, who got plaudits from Queen Latifah, Melissa Etheridge and Al Green. Songs in her honor included “Proud Mary” and “Let’s Stay Together.” Oprah Winfrey, fresh from the musical bow of “The Color Purple,” on which she’s a producer, intro’d Turner.

Honoring Harris were Kevin Spacey, Helen Mirren, Alec Baldwin and Mary-Louise Parker. Christine Baranski, Karen Ziemba and Michele Lee warbled their tributes.

Those who performed for Bennett, introduced to the crowd by Quincy Jones, included Wynton Marsalis, Vanessa Williams, Diana Krall and John Legend.

Paying tribute to Farrell were Arthur Mitchell, Maria Tallchief, Jacques d’Amboise and the Suzanne Farrell Ballet Company.

At the medals presentation Saturday night in the State Dept.’s gorgeous Ben Franklin Room, Bennett told the event’s host, Stanford U. provost-turned-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, “Like you, I left my heart in San Francisco.” Rice, known for her piano-playing talents, revealed she would still “perform from time to time,” but said she was happy she didn’t continue her music career, which could have ended with her playing “in some piano bar.” (For his 80th birthday celebration in 2006, Bennett is set to record an album with all who have dueted with him, including Barbra Streisand.)

Marion Seldes brought on honorees’ friends to lead the toasts. Classical violinist Itzhak Perlman admitted he was “surprised to make the toast to Tina Turner,” but added, “I’m a great fan and she’s a great musician.”

The weekend featured a Sunday ayem brunch at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel’s Cafe Mozu with celebs from L.A. and D.C. rubbing elbows. Leslie Moonves and wife Julia Chen and Sumner Redstone and wife Paula led the contingent of execs on hand. President and Mrs. Bush were intro’d by Kennedy Center chairman Stephen A. Schwarzman.

Also making the scene for the weekend activities were the Gordon Davidsons, Alan and Marilyn Bergman, Theodore Bikel, Barbara Davis, Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Michael and Pat York (he’s shooting a “Law & Order” before shifting to the stage as King Arthur touring “Camelot”).

“Honors” airs at 9 p.m. Dec. 27 on CBS. Louis J. Horvitz directed.

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