Correction to This Article
The Reliable Source column in the Jan. 25 Style section failed to credit staff writer Hamil Harris for his reporting assistance on an item about Simeon Booker. Harris also should have received credit for a photograph accompanying the item.

Party Planner Winds Down at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

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By Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts
Thursday, January 25, 2007

White House Social Secretary Lea Berman is stepping down next month after two years on the job.

"I've had four great jobs in this administration in six years -- and that's a long time to work at the White House," she told us yesterday. "I admit that I am tired." The decision to leave was entirely Berman's, said Susan Whitson, spokeswoman for Laura Bush."Mrs. Bush adores Lea and thinks her work is outstanding. Lea will be greatly missed."

The prominent Republican hostess became the nation's most prestigious party planner in December 2004 -- after stints as social secretary for Dick Cheney, chief of staff to Lynne Cheney and a staffer in the president's 2004 reelection campaign. It was, she said yesterday, like "winning the lottery, to go from being a housewife to the White House social secretary." Berman is married to millionaire businessman and GOP donor Wayne Berman.

She oversaw a dramatic overhaul of the White House's entertaining style: The hiring of Cristeta Comerford as the mansion's first female executive chef, the hunt for a new White House pastry chef (Thaddeus DuBois left for piles of dough at a new Las Vegas casino), and the first lady's push to entertain more than in the first term.

Berman will leave at the end of February, after two more big dinners: one for the nation's governors and another honoring Ford's Theatre. She informed the first lady shortly before the midterm election that she planned to resign. Whitson would not say whether anyone had been interviewed for the position, but said no successor has been named.

Your Questions About the State of the Union Address Answered

How'd the Baby Einstein lady end up saluted as a hero? Is she a big campaign contributor? Also, is she available?

We've checked but can find no evidence that Julie Aigner-Clark, founder of the series of instructional videos intended to produce genius tots, is a donor, big or small. Just another business entrepreneur turned "social entrepreneur," whatever that entails, who caught the eye of the White House. Sorry, fellas: The millionaire is married with two kids.

Were Martin O'Malley and other guests really snoozing, as it appeared in that photo in the paper?

Antonio Villaraigosa, Adrian Fenty, Martin O'Malley and wife Catherine.
Antonio Villaraigosa, Adrian Fenty, Martin O'Malley and wife Catherine.(Linda Davidson - The Washington Post)
Photos are funny things, aren't they? We know this shot was taken during the speech itself, and not during the interminable wait beforehand. Perhaps the shutter just happened to catch a moment when more than one guest in Nancy Pelosi's box was mid-blink or neck-stretch. O'Malley's spokesman, Rick Abbruzzese, says the new Maryland guv "was very interested to hear what the president of the United States had to say." We're also told that many VIPs captured on film with downcast eyes may simply have been following a text of the speech handed out at the start.

One Cabinet member always has to sit out the SOTU, to provide for a succession in case the Capitol gets blown up. Who was it this time?

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

What was Dick Cheney chewing on ever so subtly? Cough drop? Breath mint?

The vice president's office did not return a call for comment.

Spielberg, Sharing the Wealth

Vacations in the Hamptons, overnights at the White House, lots of big fat checks over the years -- from all appearances, Steven Spielberg has long been one of Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton's bestest buddies in all of Hollywood, which is saying a lot. So why is the Oscar winner, along with fellow moguls Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen, hosting a $2,300-a-person fundraiser for . . . Barack Obama? Invitations to the Feb. 20 event at the Beverly Hilton went out this week.

Spielberg's rep, Andy Spahn, said the director is simply spreading the love in these early months of the '08 race. "He expects to be helpful to several candidates in the primary race," he said, mentioning Clinton and John Edwards by name. "In particular, he has been very impressed by Sen. Obama. . . . It is an indication of the seriousness and strength of his candidacy."

The fundraiser does not equal an endorsement for Obama, Spahn said. "He will ultimately settle on one candidate" -- just not yet. Is he hosting a similar party for Clinton? Nothing's planned yet, said Spahn.

Simeon Booker Looks Back at a Storied Career

Simeon Booker, the longtime Washington bureau chief for Ebony/Jet magazine, is finally retiring at age 88, so the tributes were long and heartfelt Tuesday night. "We have reaped the benefits for his nearly 60 years in journalism," said his boss Linda Johnson Rice, prez and CEO of Johnson Publishing.

Old colleagues and admirers cited his stories on the White House beat, the civil rights movement and the rise of the black middle class. Booker himself cited a different career highlight: The time he brought Martin Luther King Jr. to the then lily-white National Press Club. "He was their first black speaker," Booker told the crowd.

Among those turning out to pay tribute: Bernard Shaw, Gwen Ifill, Rep. Charles Rangel, Eleanor Clift, radio host Joe Madison, and perhaps the most delightfully random guest -- Kellie Williams, the D.C. native who played Urkel's dream girl on "Family Matters" and now works here in children's theater.

A Heady Day at the White House

During the anxious days of late spring 2003 inside the White House, as the rationale for the Iraq war was eroding, Scooter Libby was especially worked up one morning about a visit from a couple of VIPs. CIA official Craig Schmall testified in Libby's perjury trial yesterday that notes he took from a June 14 intelligence briefing with Dick Cheney's then chief of staff included this sentence: " Tom Cruise and Penelope Cruz at his office."

"Apparently Tom Cruise was there to talk with Mr. Libby about how Germany treats Scientologists," Schmall told the jury, reports our colleague Amy Goldstein. Libby "was a little excited about it," he said. "I was a little excited about it."

THIS JUST IN . . .

Jennifer Aniston had a nose job last weekend, reports Us Weekly -- "a procedure done to correct a deviated septum that was incorrectly done over 12 years ago," confirmed her rep. The fact that her nose will look thinner is entirely coincidental.

Brandy was involved in a fatal car accident last month, her publicist said. On the morning of Dec. 30, the singer was driving in Los Angeles when her Land Rover rear-ended a Toyota, which was then struck by another vehicle. Brandy was not injured, but the driver of the Toyota died the following day, reports TMZ.com. The singer was not arrested; there's no evidence that drugs or alcohol were involved.

Former New York Post gossip writer Jared Paul Stern won't be indicted for trying to squeeze big bucks from a billionaire in exchange for good press in the paper's Page Six column. "It is definitely a relief," he told the Associated Press. "But I'm still basically in the same situation vis-a-vis my life being ruined." Stern was dumped from the paper when Ron Burkle alleged that Stern demanded $100,000 and a $10,000 monthly payment to prevent negative items about the playboy billionaire in the column; Stern denied it, and his lawyer said he plans to sue Burkle.

LOVE, ETC.

Born : William Whitman Bartlett to presidential counselor Dan Bartlett and his wife, Ally. The 8-pound 1-ounce boy showed exquisite timing by waiting until the morning after the president's speech to make his entrance -- and inspired a day of Bartlett "state of the union" jokes. He joins big brothers Jake and Sutton.

Split: Anne Heche and her husband of five years, cameraman Coley Laffoon, reports People magazine. The actress was involved in a sensational romance with Ellen DeGeneres before her marriage to Laffoon. The couple have a 4-year-old son.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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