Mr. Williams goes to Washington

  • The Washington Examiner
  • |
  • April 11, 2006

by Karen Feld

“I feel like Jimmy Stewart when I go up there,” Paul Williams said the other day following a breakfast with House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and a day of lobbying on Capitol Hill with composers and songwriters (American Society of Composers Authors and Publishers) to ensure protection of intellectual property.


The very eclectic and private Mansion on O off Dupont Circle where creative talent seem to easily gather, was the place to be last week. Williams and his wife, Mariana, whose wedding I attended there a year ago, said, “This is home away from home for Marianna and me.” Where else in Washington would Alice Cooper, Skunk Baxter and writer Studs Terkel engage in spontaneous casual conversation?


Terkel, almost 94, said over lunch that the Mansion reminds him of an “inn,” with great food, drink, companionship and conversation.” Terkel describes his new book on music, “And They Sang: Adventures of an Eclectic Disc Jockey,” as the “adventures of an eclectic DJ.” Terkel, still the very sharp and engaging raconteur, walks with an elegant cane, and explained that he tripped at a cocktail party at his neighbors’ last year. “It wasn’t choreographed by George Balanchine but by Bob Fosse,” said Terkel, who broke his neck.



When his cardiologist told Terkel that his aortic valve was shot and he had three months to live, Terkel’s first reaction was: “I’ve had enough. Let it go.” But then he thought about it for about five minutes before “my ego and curiosity took over,” and he went for the surgery. When it was over, the surgeon told him: “Studs, you’ve got four more years.”

“Four more years. That’s a very familiar phrase,” said Terkel, who calls himself “an agnostic or cowardly atheist” and enjoys expressing his wise philosophy and outspoken political opinions. “The same humans who gave us Hiroshima and weapons of mass destruction gave us the medical machines that help us live longer,” Terkel continued. “Now we have a choice of sanity or lunacy.” Terkel said of embattled Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas: “He left public life long ago. He’s not a public servant but a private servant.”


Terkel revealed his secret to successfully interviewing ordinary people. “I’m inept mechanically,” he said. “I can’t drive a car. I fall off a bike. I can’t find the button on a tape recorder. The other person sees this guy in trouble, and they feel important. They feel needed.”



At a small dinner at the Mansion last Thursday evening, Williams sang his original material, including a composition from his new Broadway-bound musical, “Happy Days,” a collaboration with producer Garry Marshall based on Marshall’s hit ’70s TV series of the same name. “This is not a concert; it’s a hang,” he said about the informal gathering.

When one guest’s cell phone rang while he was singing, Williams grabbed it, singing into the phone, “Day after day I must face a world of strangers,” serenading the guy’s wife. The embarrassed guest pointed to his lady friend, whispering: “This is Dana … not a date.”

“Never let professionalism get in the way of a good time,” Williams said afterward. All in a week at the Mansion on O, one of D.C.’s best-kept secrets.

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