Clinton shmoozes with honorees

GOOD MORNING: President Clinton, at the White House Sunday evening introducing the Kennedy Center honorees, noted to Jack Lemmon, “I understand that you’ll be portraying a former president of the United States in a new movie … maybe in a few years you can give me some pointers.” And in remarks to Johnny Cash Clinton admitted, “We (the White House) have all your records.” As for honoree Benny Carter, Clinton said, “From the start, Benny Carter’s fellow musicians said the way he played the sax was amazing. They say that about me too, but I don’t think they mean it in the same way.” The showbiz doings at the weekend Kennedy Center Honors were the setting for the first public appearances of new cabinet nominees Madeleine Albright (Secretary of State) and William S. Cohen (Secretary of Defense). The latter, also a poet and novelist, is no stranger to the creative Hollywood community. Among those at the traditional Sunday a.m. brunch hosted by George Stevens Jr. and wife Liz at the Ritz Carlton Hotel were CBS/Westinghouse chairman Michael Jordan and wife Kim and CBS net president Les Moonves and his wife Nancy — CBS airs the “Honors” 9-11 p.m., Dec. 26. Don Mischer and Stevens exec produced, Louis J. Horvitz directed the show … Eli Wallach mc’d the Saturday p.m. medals presentation at the State Dept. dinner … Kenneth Branagh, who directed Jack Lemmon (briefly) as Marcellus in “Hamlet,” opened the Honors tribute to Lemmon by introducing Jack’s film biography. Lemmon told me “Hamlet” “is the best feel-good movie I’ve seen in years!” Harvard’s Hasty Pudding Theatricals honored their alumnus (Lemmon) with special lyrics to “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” — and in true Pudding tradition, several members were in drag. The white-tied Harvard Glee Club marched down the aisles singing “Ten Thousand Men of Harvard” and in the grand finale they also sang with the Choral Arts Society of D.C. (80 strong) on “You’ll Never Walk Alone” solo’d by opera star Bryn Terfel. Host Walter Cronkite reminded that the song had been written by first year honoree Richard Rodgers with Oscar Hammerstein. The Choral Arts Society had also opened the show singing the National Anthem under the leadership of past Kennedy Center Honoree Robert Shaw.

GOLDIE HAWN, A LIFELONG ADMIRER of honoree Maria Tallchief, paid tribute to her and introduced her biography. American Ballet Theater’s new superstar Angel Corella and N.Y. City Ballet’s bright new star Margaret Tracy performed “Sylvia: Pas de Deux,” which had been originally created for Tallchief by George Balanchine … Robert Duvall gave a tribute to friend Johnny Cash, as did Pete Seeger (’94 honoree), followed by Kris Kristofferson singing “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” Lyle Lovett on “Folsom Prison Blues,” Emmy Lou Harris singing “Ring of Fire,” and Cash’s daughter Rosanne singing “I Walk the Line” — with all joining with the Choral Arts Society on “I’ll Fly Away” … The ageless Carter received his biographical tribute from Wynton Marsalis followed by guitarist Kenny Burrell, Phil Woods, David Sanborn and Jimmy Heath, all on sax playing Benny’s most loved pieces. And then followed by the Howard U. Jazz Ensemble (20) playing Benny’s “Cow Cow Boogie” with the other tooters tuning in. After the intermission, the audience was rocked by 20 members of the “Riverdance” troupe (which just left the Pantages) doing their signature piece, “Riverdance” … The legitimate theater’s honoree, Edward Albee, was toasted by Albee play alumni: Elaine Stritch, Rosemary Harris, Irene Worth and George Grizzard … The White House, where the Clintons hosted the Honorees and guests on Sunday pre-show, was decked this year in tribute to “The Nutcracker Suite” with the giant tree in the Blue Room adorned with the “Nutcracker’s” many colorful characters … President Clinton toasted the five honorees, saying, “America is an ideal. Our artists express that ideal and give voice to our common experience: They are the singers of the American soul. Their art challenges us and deepens our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.” His words could be the bywords for all efforts of the National Endowment of the Arts programs … The weekend closed with the traditional ball and supper in the Kennedy Center’s glamorous halls with a final treat — the inimitable Joe Williams backed by the Jazz Members Big Band of Chicago.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO KIRK DOUGLAS celebrating his 80th birthday today … Christine and Sean Astin welcomed daughter Alexandra Louise A. Nov. 27. Patty Duke and John Astin are the happy first-time grandparents … Eclipse’s Bernard Erpicum and Deborah Callan have called off their engagement and, natch, Saturday’s engagement party is canceled. Erpicum just returned from opening another Eclipse eatery in Cap Juluca resort … Ismail Merchant, James Ivory and Anthony Hopkins receive France’s Badges of Commanders in the Order of Arts and Letters Tuesday. The trio was teamed on three pix, “Howards End,” “Surviving Picasso” and “The Remains of the Day.” Merchant-Ivory, teamed for 35 years, are prepping “The Man-Eating Leopard,” “Mystic Masseur” and “A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries.” And of course always planning another movie with Tony — who is now Mexico-bound in “The Mask of Zorro” … “Charm’s Annual Teddy Bear Hug Boutique” — once again at the MPTV Country House Lounge — will be held Dec. 12, to benefit the Fund’s residents’ Christmas gifts and party at the MPTV Fund Hospital … Vin Scully voices “Chariots of Fire” for RP International’s Theatre Vision, which will air Dec. 22 on KCOP UPN 13.