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Kennedy Center attracts showbiz, political elite

IT’S A GOOD MORNING back in Hollywood after a rainy and unseasonably warm Washington, D.C., Sunday night at the Kennedy Center, where the 17th Kennedy Center Honors show was taped for CBS airing Dec. 28. The elite of the performing arts and political worlds, dripping in their finest finery, made their way into the Center as equally gorgeously gowned and attired active Washingtonians stood admiringly in the grand hall — and cheered the arrivals of the celebs. It was so warm Sunday night that ladies in the powder room complaining of the heat were told by Ambassador Pamela Harriman, “Newt Gingrich must have turned off the air conditioning!”… There was no question about the political climate of the crowd that night. When First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton was announced as she took her place in the presidential box, the applause was loud and prolonged. Ditto for Tipper and Al Gore, who joined her in the box. (As noted, President Clinton was by then on his way to Budapest.) The First Lady looked beautiful in a long black velvet gown, her hair in a French twist. (Chelsea Clinton was not to be seen.) The White House is decorated for the holidays with giant Christmas trees in the State Dining Room plus one especially beautiful tree in the Blue Room, where Hillary received guests and posed for pictures with each of us. The ornaments on this tree were contributed by schools for youngsters studying the arts — a dozen decorations from each school of the 50 states.

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A 40-PIECE MARINE CORPS ORCHESTRA played for the guests during the long cocktail hour in the State Dining Room. An enormous table was loaded with choices from shrimp to lamb chops to delicious desserts. On one sideboard celebs ogled a giant gingerbread house duplicate of President Clinton’s childhood house. It was complete with a Santa Claus on the roof and a snowman on the front lawn. Ralph Lauren had aided in the decor of the White House. In the East Room where President Clinton had greeted the honorees earlier Sunday — ceremonies taped for inclusion in the TV special — the President and First Lady were flanked by enormous paintings of George and Martha Washington. The president reminded that John Adams, the first president to live in the White House, had hoped his grandchildren would study “painting, poetry and music” instead of politics and war. Clinton hoped his grandchildren would be able to do the same. On our arrival at the White House, all stood in line to be ushered to the second floor; as we passed a sign pointing to the Jackie Kennedy Garden, it was interesting to note Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg was also patiently standing in line in the house where she once lived. The president closed his remarks to the five honorees, telling them, “We give you all a national standing ovation.” He had gotten a big laugh when he noted Pete Seeger was banned (17 years) from TV. “Now that’s a badge of honor,” Clinton said.

MICHAEL DOUGLAS WAS GIVEN a special tour of the White House Saturday, thus getting time to soak in atmosphere at the place to be his future home in “The American President.” Douglas said Oliver Stone was also on the tour getting some research in … Kirk Douglas’ son Joel was not able to recupe from hip surgery in time to attend with brothers Michael, Peter and Eric — however, Peter brought his portable phone to their table at the State Dept. dinner Saturday night so he could listen in to the accolades for Kirk and the other honorees … At the Sunday night gala, Eric told me he and his brothers were in tears at the touching tribute to their father by the Chevy Chase town children’s choir singing their grandmother Bryna’s lullaby to Kirk as a tot … Michael’s wife, Diandra, also missed Saturday night’s presentation of themedal to Kirk — she was working on one of her projects, said Michael: a TV series with Leonard Goldberg at Fox titled “Hotel Hollywood.” With all the Douglases in tow, Michael told me his son Cameron, 17, has already announced he too wants to be an actor … There were the usual tense moments for producers George Stevens Jr. and Don Mischer, who were awaiting the chartered plane from Boston with Chita Rivera and the 19-member “Kiss of the Spider Woman” troupe for their tribute to honoree Hal Prince. They made it in time. They shifted their Sunday night performance to a matinee in order to appear for Hal on the show. (They winged back to Boston right after the gala.) And Patti LaBelle flew all night from San Francisco to sing (and how!) for Aretha — who had bused in from her home in Detroit … As m.c. Walter Cronkite said, “That’s the way it is.” And that’s the way it was in the Kennedy Center which, as President Kennedy said, “is a contribution to the human spirit.” And as President Clinton said of this year’s “contributors,” who also included composer Morton Gould, we give all of them a standing ovation.

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