On the Night Before the Big Event, Hollywood's Brightest Stars Are Twinkling in the East

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By Jose Antonio Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 5, 2005

Once more into the intimate, lavish, star-studded dinner at the State Department on the eve of the Kennedy Center Honors: You share an elevator with Bo Derek. You dish movies with Army Archerd. You wink back at Oprah Winfrey. You get mistaken for a waiter.

Kid Rock, wearing a blazer, an open-collared dress shirt and his stringy mop topped with a fedora, is snaking his way through the John Quincy Adams Drawing Room -- past Condoleezza Rice, resplendent in a bright red Oscar de la Renta gown, past the table where the Treaty of Paris was signed.

"Hey, where's the bar at?" he asks. (Wouldn't you think Kid Rock would always know?)

If the 28th annual bash at the Kennedy Center Opera House on Sunday is the big wedding reception, then the dinner for 250 at a red-carpeted, dolled-up State Department on Saturday night -- with this year's five honorees, Tony Bennett, Suzanne Farrell, Julie Harris, Robert Redford and Tina Turner, in attendance -- amounts to the toniest kind of rehearsal dinner. It's a marriage of art and politics, of the Hollywood glitterati and New York theater crowd rubbing elbows with Washington's haute monde .

It's like flipping through the pages of Us Weekly and reading "Stars -- They're Just Like Us!" There's Mary-Louise Parker showing off her son's pictures to Tom Skerritt! There's Florence Henderson (Merry Christmas, Mrs. Brady) asking where the ladies' room is! There's Oprah, seated at Tina's table during dinner, applying some lip gloss! She catches us looking -- we're only a couple of feet away -- and winks. (And we wink back.) It's closest thing buttoned-up Washington gets to a Vanity Fair Oscar party.

Or, as George Stevens Jr., co-creator of the Honors program, puts it: "Well, we'd like to think that Vanity Fair's Oscar party is the closest to Washington they're going to get."

There's Vanessa Williams sharing a chuckle with Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader, while k.d. lang whisks by. We're within earshot of CBS President Les Moonves with his wife, CBS "Early Show" co-host Julie Chen, and then Tom Brokaw, then Bob Schieffer, then Christine Baranski, escorted by her 21-year-old daughter, Isabel, looking for -- who else? -- Turner.

Everyone is looking for belle-of-the-ball Tina, who is wearing a strapless, skin-tight, brown and cream-colored leather number, with her longtime boyfriend, Erwin Bach, in tow. Who are you wearing? we ask. Galliano, the 66-year-old purrs. Then Turner's publicist, a pearl-necklaced woman named Michele ("one 'L,' " she says), tells us that the honoree isn't doing any press tonight, but goes on to add that Turner's leopard-print Christian Louboutin shoes are a gift from her dear friend Oprah.

"I didn't see the shoes. But that dress, honey. Tina was poured into it, honey," says Debbie Allen, who's on the artist committee of the Honors. She is standing next to Mayor Anthony Williams, sipping chardonnay and chitchatting with Herbie Hancock. "Tina is an icon of pure energy, the power of rhythm and blues, the ultimate beauty," she says. "She is the Venus of black women."

A few feet away, Farrell, the great prima ballerina who's now 60 and the head of the Suzanne Farrell Ballet, a Washington-based troupe, is basking in the adoration, taking it all in. As ever, she's modest and demure, saying that receiving the Honors "is a great tribute to all the wonderful dancers that I've worked with, to Mr. Balanchine and all that he's taught me."

Nearby, Redford, 68, takes a minute to talk. He says he's closely following the Valerie Plame leak case and says, on the record, "I'm very interested in this issue of confidential sources." He smiles. "Now, that's all I'm going to say about it." He then excuses himself and takes his 10-year-old granddaughter to meet Harris, his fellow honoree -- and, as luck would have it, his co-star in a play called "Little Moon of Alban" some 45 years ago, though Redford says he died by the end of the Act 1.

"Julie, it's wonderful to see you," says Redford, who towers over the diminutive Harris, who looks visibly moved. "This is Lena."


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© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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