Honors Eclipse Election Buzz For One Brief Shining Moment

  • Capital Connections ®
  • |
  • December 05, 2000

by Karen Feld

“This is the most unique of all the awards,” said a beaming Angela Lansbury surrounded by her son and grandson. “It’s from the heart of the country, of the people. The Kennedy Center Honor is the highest American award,” and that from the actress who played a Machiavellian media mogul in “State of the Union.”

In addition to Lansbury, four other performing arts legends were honored: founding father of rock ‘n roll Chuck Berry; dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov; tenor Placido Domingo; and the “Man with no name” Clint Eastwood. A star-studded weekend of events culminated in a White House reception and a musical tribute taped for CBS-TV (airs Dec. 27) followed by dinner and dancing at the Kennedy Center.

When Chuck Berry — who performed at both Clinton Inaugurals and the President’s 25th Georgetown University reunion bash at The White House — isn’t “duckwalking,” he says he’s sitting at the computer correlating all his dates and songs. “My music has been lying dormant for 17 years. I want to produce it.” As for the President, “He’s a fan,” said Berry, “no doubt about it.”

Former Kennedy Center Chairman and World Bank President James Wolfensohn described the evening as one that “concentrated on diversity and equality in the performance.” Certainly Misha exemplified a leap to freedom in the U.S., and Berry, who launched his career in segregated times, found this truly the American dream.

Composer Leslie Bricuse flew in from London where he’s working on “Noah’s Ark,” scheduled to open there next year. He’s also working on a show with Quincy Jones about the life of a former Kennedy Center honoree, Sammy Davis, Jr. Quincy is producing the musical called “Sammy,” to open in Las Vegas.

But this is Washington, so the buzz wasn’t all entertainment. Actor Michael York, disgusted with the drawn out election process, said, “Flip a coin.” And DC Arts honcho Dorothy McSweeney wore a Gore 2000 pin with a “Free Florida” orange ribbon.

“TV Guide gave Angela Lansbury a perfect 100 on its lovability index,” said President Clinton. “We need more of that in Washington.” Glenn Close attributes Lansbury successful ability to play all roles to “her frugal imagination.” Close adds, “She never sits in judgement of her characters.”

Actor Tommy Lee Jones, who was Al Gore’s roommate at Harvard, had lunch with the Gores twice over the weekend and said, “He’s holding up very well and so is Tipper.”

Sen. Joe Leiberman and Hadassah, attracted more attention than most of the Hollywood stars. It was only Janet Langhart Cohen, the outgoing Defense Secretary’s wife, who tried to get between the VP hopeful and the cameras. As for the election, Leiberman confided, “We’re not going to get nuts about it.”

Palm Beach Congressman Mark Foley said, “As for our Secretary of State, she ‘ll be a star, I’m just not sure where.”

Don Rickles quipped: “I’m a Jew, I’m voting for Barak.”

Democrat Senate Leader Tom Daschle said he looks forward to leading the Senate, albeit briefly. “We hope to set the tone for a new spirit of bipartisanship that we hope will transcend the Congress.”

A GOP insider insisted that “W” hasn’t asked Gen. Colin Powell to be his Secretary of State, at least not yet. “It’s premature.” And a Democratic insider says that former democratic Sen. Sam Nunn was approached to be Bush’ s Defense Secretary. Trial balloons everywhere of possible appointees in the next administration.

After the First Lady introduced her husband, the “First Fan,” to the honorees at a reception in the holiday decorated East Room of The White House, he said, “Thank you Senator,” and then quipped, “Look, I have to take every opportunity I can to practice.”

“Clint Eastwood has done pretty well for a former elected official. I hope I’m half as successful,” President Clinton said. “Once you’re in politics you can’t do what you can in movies although you can wish to do it.”

“Clint won Mayor of Carmel, Calif., by 1356 votes,” said Donald Sutherland. “By this perspective that seems like a landslide.”

Later on stage, Little Richard led the cast in a Chuck Berry tribute, “Roll Over Beethoven.” Watching Gregory Hines and Goldie Hawn dance to the music was worth the price of admission. The show closed with Auld Lang Syne as it did for President Reagan’s final term. Then the audience emotionally swayed arm in arm; this time, the performers and audience alike, chanted “Four more years.”

As the evening drew to a close, Sen. Lieberman summed it up, “I think this is the best night of the year in Washington. President Clinton was touched.”

Another Kennedy Center Honors weekend has ended, the last for the Clintons as President and First Lady. “You may find people who’ll do this night better in the future,” said the President tearfully. “But you’ll never find anyone who loves it as much.”

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