Woody Harrelson had his game face on as the crowds pressed in around him.
Woody! Can we get a photo? A first-time guest this year at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, the movie star agreed again and again, at a Friday night pre-party hosted by Google and the Hollywood Reporter; he playfully turned the tables on one group of fans, grabbing the iPhone to take a photo for them, not with them.
Did he realize that Saturday night was going to be like this times five? For a split second, a flash of surprise broke through the star’s usual mellow. But: “I guess I’ll just manage,” he drawled.
Suddenly, Allison Priebe Brooks, a local jewelry designer and socialite leaned in.
“Woody! Did you bring your bongos?” she squealed.
“I think you’re confusing me with Matthew McConaughey,” Harrelson said gently. “It’s okay. We’re like brothers.” [Update: Read more from WHCD Weekend: White House Correspondents’ parties: You can’t fight it, so just go with the flow (photos), 4/29/12]
He may have been the first truly marquee star to light up the masses at what promises to be an unusually showbiz-glutted weekend. Observation: The more A-listy the lineup (George Clooney, Reese Witherspoon, Daniel Day-Lewis, Diane Keaton, Kate Hudson, are among the expected guests), the less likely they are to take advantage of all the pre-game festivities.
The first big party of the weekend -- People and Time's Friday bash at the St. Regis — was packed to the rafters, but mostly with media and administration names: Valerie Jarrett, Kathleen Sibelius, Savannah Guthrie, Wolf Blitzer, Norah O'Donnell, Chris Wallace.
“It feels like a normal party!” Christina Sevilla, a D.C. policy type said approvingly. What, without all the Hollywood celebs? “Oh, it’s good to have a few sprinkled about!” she said.
The topic of conversation, as usual: The increasing difficulty that D.C. folk have getting seats at the big dinner, especially during an election year. “Campaign people take up more room,” noted a White House official (yes, he had a seat, at a cable-news host’s table): This year, media hosts have not just government sources to cultivate but those from the various campaigns.
Yet there were also all these – well, who were they? At the Google/Hollywood Reporter party at the W Hotel, there were the usual roster of celebrity types — Tim Daly, hidden behind a graying goatee; Daniel Dae Kim with long-ish hair; Dallas QB Tony Romo and his beauty-queen wife Candice, looking starlet-slim for someone who just had their first born child; a chunk of the “Modern Family” cast. (Also, Matthew Morrison, the heartthrobby star “Glee,” back for his – let’s do the math – third consecutive WHCD weekend? “You know you’ve been to too many parties when you’re like, ‘Matthew Morrison, again?’” laughed Emily Goodin, a reporter for The Hill.) But also, under the mod-ish red lighting, a lot of shiny, well-groomed faces you couldn’t quite place. “There are a lot of celebrities here,” noted public-affairs strategist Taylor Griffin. “Either that or people I know but can’t remember their names.”
Or were they. . . New Yorkers? A quick scan of the room at Atlantic Media owner David Bradley’s elegant dinner turned up a lot of corporate execs – out-of-towners with only loose connections to media or politics but who wanted a piece of what seems to them an accessibly glamorous event: Less political than an inauguration, more brainy than the Oscars. The dinner drew sponsors like CocaCola, GM, ExxonMobil, Siemens and Vegas's new Cosmopolitan Hotel.
Even the public-radio people were muscling in on the glitzy side of Correspondents’ weekend, with a “Friday Night Spin” party DJ’d by Beyonce’s younger sister Solange, at Gibson Guitar Center.
"NPR is known for many things---throwing parties is not one of them," the public broadcaster’s White House correspondent Ari Shapiro told us. It happened because two trustees thought NPR should have a bigger profile during WHCA weekend and underwrote the cost.
In the dimly lit cave that used to be the 18th Street Borders bookstore, hundreds of overdressed partiers jostled against a roped-off VIP section to stare at Charlize Theron — the uncomfortable center of attention at the after-hours party hosted by National Journal, Impact Film Fund. Like so many A-listers making their first visit, the Oscar winner seemed surprised that what sounds like a dinner with the president would require attendance at yet another celebrity petting zoo.
But for another first-timer, it looked like the best party on earth. A radiant blonde woman in a demure blue frock was dancing her head off to a Michael Jackson tune. She was Kate Upton, 19, the outta-nowhere star of this year’s Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. In a rare spot of light near the velvet rope, she shimmied, she vamped, she vogued, like a young Marilyn Monroe. She didn’t seem to mind if anyone stared – and oh, they did.