The joke about the celebrity-studded White House Correspondents’ Association dinner used to be that showbiz luminaries would gladly show up once — and then never again. Maybe after they realized they’d been roped into a 3,000-guest banquet at the Washington Hilton, not the White House. Or the feeling of being in a petting zoo, besieged for photos by throngs of D.C. reporters.
Something’s changed, though, because the roster of Hollywood types expected at the annual dinner Saturday looks awfully familiar.
Steven Spielberg will be the guest of Time for the third time since 2009. ABC is bringing back their actor guests from last year: Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Eric Stonestreet and Jesse Tyler Ferguson. Anna Paquin, who sat with Newsweek last year, is returning to sit with the Huffington Post. John Legend, a guest of Politico last year, is being hosted by NPR this year. Rashida Jones, a guest in 2009 and 2011, is coming back with Fortune, and Rosario Dawson — well, she’s here almost every year now. Even George Clooney, who caused hallway gridlock when he attended in 2006, is due back; he’s another Time guest.
It’s a huge shift from the days when celebrities first popped up at what was a strictly media-political affair — and there was some kind of news rationale for the star picks: Zeitgeist figures like Marla Maples (1990), Ozzie Osbourne (2002), or Ellen Degeneres with her first out-in-public girlfriend, Anne Heche (1997).
Now media organizations seem to gravitate toward safer picks — actors from hit shows (“30 Rock,” “Modern Family,” etc.) popular with, well, middle-aged media types; stars (like Legend, Clooney, Dawson) attached to do-gooder causes — all the better to impress the corporate honchos and politicians sharing the tables. Julie Mason, a longtime WHCA board member, told us that some news bosses will spot a favorite star at someone else’s table and then track them down the following year for their own.
But it’s clear, too, that as the dinner has become a hotter ticket, celebrities are more than willing to return. “Some guests are quite aggressive in asking for invites, and their people will sort of shop them around to various hosting news organizations,” said Mason, a national talk show host on SiriusXM radio.
Some showbiz folks even contact the WHCA directly seeking tickets– as well as stating their particular demands for transportation, hotels, entourage, etc. “That’s always a good laugh,” Mason said.
Among the slightly fresher A-list faces expected this weekend: Reese Witherspoon and Viola Davis (with the Daily Beast), Diane Keaton (with People), Daniel Day-Lewis (with Huffington Post) and Martha Stewart (with USA Today).