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Creative Coalition's Star(ish)-Studded Inaugural Night

By Richard Leiby
Friday, January 21, 2005; Page C03

What passes for Hollywood glitz in a Republican-controlled town under security lockdown presented itself last night when a smattering of celebs mingled with politicians to kick off the Creative Coalition's inaugural gala. "Look, we've got movie stars here," said Dan Glickman, head of the Motion Picture Association of America, surveying a dining room full of pre-ball dinner guests at the St. Regis Hotel. "We've got Tony Goldwyn. We've got Arlen Specter. We've got Jack Kemp. We've got a very good crowd."

It wasn't exactly a red-carpet paparazzo's dream stakeout, but we glimpsed actors Matthew Modine and Joe Pantoliano, singer Fiona Apple and comedian Joe Piscopo. Everyone sang from the hymnal of bipartisanship. "Republicans are as important to me as Democrats," said director and actor Goldwyn, co-president of the arts advocacy group. "We're determined to work everything from the center."

Joe Piscopo, left, and Tony Goldwyn, singing a bipartisanship tune at the Creative Coalition inaugural gala. (Richard Leiby - The Washington Post)

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Arriving later for a concert headlined by Macy Gray at the Ronald Reagan Building, actors posed for a row of photographers as if it were the Oscars. They included Hill Harper, Stephen Baldwin, Jonathan Lipnicki, Hallie Eisenberg , Zach Bryan and Mario Van Peebles. The concert gala sold out with 1,000 guests paying for tickets ranging from $1,000 to $50,000.

But the biggest name, Dennis Hopper, who was supposed to host the event, canceled after he was abruptly disinvited this week from an official inaugural event on the Ellipse. The Presidential Inaugural Committee gave no explanation for the snub. "We were shocked, and I think Dennis was mystified," Goldwyn said.

Hopper is a staunch supporter of President Bush, but some speculated that his bad-boy image (remember "Easy Rider"? "Blue Velvet"?) or his wife's fundraising for Sen. John Kerry might have sparked questions. "I guess it's that Moral Majority thing," offered radio host Al Franken, who was at the party. He recalled once seeing Hopper "fawning all over Newt Gingrich" at a Washington correspondents dinner. "I can testify to his bona fides as a right-wing nut."

Brother Al, didn't you get that nonpartisan songbook?

A Would-Be Assassin Comes to Reel Life

• After a week of inaugural festivities imprinted with fear of a terrorist attack, perhaps this isn't the best day to release a movie in Washington about a would-be assassin who attempted in 1974 to hijack an airliner to crash it into the White House. But writer-director Niels Mueller, who finished his script for "The Assassination of Richard Nixon" five years ago, never could have predicted that his movie, based on true events, would resonate so strongly now. "It's really taken on frightening relevance since 9/11," he tells us.

Sean Penn portrays unemployed tire salesman Samuel Byck, whose name is slightly changed in the film. In a failed hijacking of a Delta jet at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport, Byck shot and killed a police officer and a pilot before killing himself. Before the incident, he made tapes talking about his hopes to achieve fame by killing Nixon and mailed them to senators, columnist Jack Anderson and notables including Leonard Bernstein.

Mueller says he originally started writing a fictional script, set in 1964, about a man separated from his wife and family who wanted to kill President Lyndon Johnson (and also made tapes about his anger and obsessions). Then, after reading about Byck, a disgruntled divorcé from Philadelphia, Mueller decided to tell that story. He obtained FBI transcripts of Byck's tapes, some of which are quoted verbatim in Penn's voiceovers.

Mueller's film has drawn criticism for its supposed glorification of a madman. "That's just absolutely not the case," the director insists. "If anybody sees this film as a glorification of this character, they're watching a different film than the one I made. . . . The film makes a pretty clear comment on how useless and tragic the whole incident perpetrated by Sam Byck was."

If nothing else, the movie reminds the public that the notion of hijacking an airliner in a suicidal effort to destroy an important Washington edifice was hardly the invention of terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001. Says Mueller: "The film has a relevance today and will remain relevant."


• Republican Rep. David Dreier of California knows how to warm the hearts of voters: Serve hot cocoa. He did that yesterday morning for visiting constituents from his Los Angeles district. Even Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger dropped by to shake off the chill.

• At the Georgetown home of pollster Mark Penn and Democratic fundraiser Nancy Jacobson Penn last night, Bill and Hillary Clinton shared a big heated tent with '04 presidential hopeful Sen. Joe Lieberman and '08 presidential possibility Sen. Evan Bayh. At the buffet party, 300 top Democrats kept their spirits high with red, white and blue martinis and the strumming of Latino guitarist Phil Mathieu playing "Those Were the Days." Said Mark Penn, "We're celebrating that Bush can never be elected again."

With Anne Schroeder

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