High-powered women without ruffles and flourishes

  • The Washington Examiner
  • |
  • January 17, 2006

by Karen Feld

Laura Bush enjoyed a girls’ night out in the presidential box at the Kennedy Center on Thursday evening before leaving for Liberia for the inauguration of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first woman president in Africa. The first lady and pals – Karen Frist (wife of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist), Ann Johnson (wife of Office of Management and Budget’s Clay Johnson), her sister-in-law Margaret Bush (an actor married to first brother Marvin Bush) and Margaret’s daughter – watched the opening of the revival of “The Subject Was Roses.” No word as to whether any of the wives viewed their own marriages differently after watching Pulitzer Prize winner Frank Gilroy‘s dark play about that institution.

Playwright Gilroy and his sons attended the small cast party after the performance. Tony Gilroy, who begins shooting “Michael Clayton” with George Clooney at the end of the month, said: “This is a large theater [the Eisenhower] and it’s amazing to get that much intimacy. This play is about the chemistry, and the family becomes the fourth character.”

Matthews out again

Guests were surprised to see Chris Matthews and his wife, Kathleen, since he had been MIA for three days from the MSNBC-TV coverage of the Alito hearings. Chris is recovering from a respiratory infection he picked up in Africa over the holidays. Kennedy Center Honors producer George Stevens and his wife, Liz, were spotted among the guests as well.

Tribute to ‘Clean Gene’

Aging liberals – some with campaign buttons – and political observers were among the 800 attendees at the moving memorial tribute to former Sen. Eugene McCarthy at the National Cathedral Saturday. Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., sat in the front row, as did former President Bill Clinton. Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., interrupted the mellow mood captured by Peter Yarrow‘s tribute in song reflecting on “the time we were bound together by the essence of Gene” to deliver political rhetoric, essentially the same anti-war message that McCarthy delivered some 40 years ago. “[McCarthy] set a new moral tone for presidential campaigns,” Oberstar said. “He spent more time thinking about the nation’s problems than most politicians do manipulating them.”

Walking in McCarthy’s shoes, literally

Clinton told the group assembled that he learned what it was like to walk in McCarthy’s shoes during the summer of 1970 while working in Washington and living with Dick and Helen Dudman. When they got him an invitation to a black tie dinner, he rented a tux but didn’t have any shoes. Clinton had big feet, and Dudman told him he had a friend with big feet. McCarthy showed up with his shoes and Clinton wore them to the dinner. He recalled, “Nixon was in the receiving line. I didn’t go through it. I just didn’t think it was the right thing to do wearing McCarthy’s shoes.” Clinton added, “In one way or another, every Democrat since ’68 has had to walk in them.”

Bold bio on Brandon

Unauthorized biographer Darwin Porter has just published a new biography on Marlon “Bad Boy” Brando, the first since the actor’s death in 2004. In the book, “Brando Unzipped,” the author documents the actor’s involvement with an A-list roster of boldface names. This ’50s sex symbol – an admitted bisexual – not only had affairs with Grace Kelly (in her pre-princess days), Marilyn Monroe, Bette Davis, Shelley Winters, Rock Hudson, Cary Grant and James Dean, according to the author, but he also seduced two women – one before and one after they were first ladies: Nancy Davis Reagan and Jackie Kennedy. The author writes that Nancy Davis first met Brando in New York when she was dating Clark Gable, and saw him again in Hollywood when she was involved with Benjamin Thau, head of casting at MGM. As for the widowed Jackie Kennedy and Brando, they were introduced by George Englund, who was a friend of Jackie’s sister, Lee Radziwill. After a dinner at the Jockey Club in D.C., the author reports that the couple spent a romantic weekend at New York’s Carlyle Hotel at Jackie’s invitation.

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