Redford: Honors put ‘art above politics’

  • The Washington Examiner
  • |
  • December 06, 2005

by Karen Feld

It’s an honor putting art above politics,” Robert Redford told me Saturday at the lunch for the Kennedy Center honorees. “Politics can be seductive in terms of things reductive to the soul.” Hmmm. Now that’s food for thought from the Sundance Kid.

When asked about the irony of liberal political activist Robert Redford being invited to the Bush White House, rapper Kid Rock put his thumbs up. This past weekend, politics took a back seat to the passion and pizzazz of show business. The Kennedy Center honored five icons: Redford, Tina Turner, Suzanne Farrell, Tony Bennett and Julie Harris.

Among past honorees participating in the musical tribute were Willie Nelson, Quincy Jones, choreographer Jacques d’Amboise, ballerina Maria Tallchief, Glenn Close and Paul Newman (whose right hand was in a cast following surgery – an injury from opening his pasta sauce or – more likely – from compressing the engine-less Porsche that Redford gave him?). Melissa Etheridge, k.d. lang, Kevin Spacey, Florence Henderson, Michelle Lee, Diana Krall, Wynton Marsalis, Vanessa Williams, Christine Baranski, Marian Seldes and Beyonce Knowles contributed to the festivities as well. Actress Mary Louise Parker cried when she met Julie Harris for the first time.

‘Nutbush’ Tina

President and Mrs. Bush hosted a reception for the honorees Sunday afternoon at the White House. That’s where the president reminded Redford, “Behave,” when the actor/director couldn’t take his eyes off Tina Turner’s legs. Both men shared a laugh when the president said Turner was born in Nutbush, Tenn. The president said he’s never campaigned there. (Not to worry: Turner now lives with partner Erwin Bach in Switzerland.)

Lots of players

At the CBS reception before the show, rumors were flying about Katie Couric moving from “The Today Show” to the CBS Evening News … Cal Ripken, anxious to see Tony Bennett again, said he sat with Bennett at John Travolta’s 50th birthday party in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. “I’m just a little [not so little] baseball player. Is this happening? Is it real?” Ripken said as he looked around the room and spotted Lynda “Wonder Woman” Carter, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Reps. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Henry Waxman, D-Ca., and more politicians, broadcasters and entertainers. “I can’t keep the players straight.”

‘Dance your heart out’

“There are lots of potential diamonds,” Suzanne Farrell said when asked about upcoming stars in her dance company. “Both among students here in Washington and students from China.” Former honoree Arthur Mitchell said he was proud to have been Farrell’s first partner with the New York City Ballet, even if she did punch him in the jaw doing a pirouette. He didn’t mind at all and sent her flowers with a note: “Dance your heart out and you can punch me anytime.”

Jane Alexander, the actress who served as chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, said she’s “pleased that the budgets have been going up and the arts are receiving a lot of attention.”

Oprah: ‘Groupie for Tina’

Oprah Winfrey came to honor her gal pal Tina Turner. “I would win the title of biggest name groupie for Tina Turner,” she said. At one time, Oprah even took her show on the road to follow Turner. “There’s a girlish quality about Tina, a sweet vulnerability.” Oprah was accompanied by “best friend” Gail King, but the two made it clear at the White House that they wouldn’t be photographed together.

Oprah wore a bright coral long-sleeved knockout gown with a train and slit up one side. At one point when she lifted the dress so as not to trip on it, her white mid-thigh panty girdle – not exactly contemporary seductive lingerie – was in clear view. A stand-out, she’s slim, but not that slim.

Another Turner fan

Interior Secretary Gail Norton confided that Turner is her favorite nominee: “She’s great, but I only dance to her music in private.” Why is that, Madame Secretary?

The Bushes and Cheneys seemed to enjoy the show in the Opera House Sunday evening, but Karl Rove left early. We saw him walk out while Melissa Etheridge was belting out “Nutbush City Limits” as part of the tribute to Tina Turner.

Future honorees?

Were there future honorees in attendance as well? Perhaps. Here are two of my picks: Academy Award-winning composer Marvin Hamlisch, who is the National Symphony Orchestra Pops conductor and in addition has just signed on to be maestro with the San Diego Symphony; and Broadway songstress Barbara Cook, who looks forward to singing with the Metropolitan Opera in New York on Jan. 20. Cook told me she had to decline the offer to do a musical tribute to Julie Harris because she had a concert in Atlanta on Saturday. Cook flew in for the Kennedy Center event after just two hours’ sleep. “Julie’s work improved as she got older,” said Cook, who serves on the Kennedy Center Artists Committee. “She distilled it and concentrated it.”

Even publicist impressed

The Kennedy Center publicist in charge of the event walked around the late-night supper carrying a large cardboard cue card, searching for Willie Nelson to sign it to her. “I can’t find him,” she said in frustration at half past midnight. “I may have to settle for Redford.” And so it went.

Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., perhaps summed up the weekend best: “It’s Washington on steroids.”

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