The tune was "Sweet Georgia Brown" but if nobody recognized the words, at least the dancers looked familiar. Appropriately, both were Georgians even if the name wasn't Brown.
Try Carter, Jimmy and Rosalynn, Saturday night at the 93rd annual Gridiron Club dinner.
They turned up in white tie, tails and sequins, jitterbugging on stage at the Capitol Hilton to become first presidential couple to perform as a team before the Gritiron, which started out in 1885 as a dining and drinking society of working newspapermaen.
Nobody had been sure until almost the last minutw the Carters would join the Gridiron's soft - shoe revne. They had been concerned that they might be the only dancers on stage, according to one sources privy to the negotiations. Thus a contingency plan had been worked out, with several substituti dancers lined up from among the 500 guests.
But while no one was aware of it, the Carters slipped away from their places at the head table and went bacstage. They went public as a Gridiron member impersonating Special Trade Representative Roberts S. Strauss started to sing:
"We've got hicks - now politics are no where around:
"Plain to me, they've claimed D. C. as their Georgia town.
"Two left feet they think are neat in their Georgia town.
"They stumblae and then
"They do it again..."
Except that the Carters, who have been jitterbugging snice the 1940s, didn't stumble. "They were terriciv," said one Gridironer, "Great sports," said another.
And it's always a night where you have to be a good sport. The evening's skirts lampooned:
The Republican Party as an endangered species off on a "big - name" hunt to Panama to agenerate headlines,
"No matter how the treaties may seem to go, sang a member impersonating GOPexpedition leader Ronald Reagan, "we'll let the whole bloom - in country know they gave the damn canal away and they'll pay next election day."
The Democrats as "the country's one remaining collection of natural vaudevillians."
"Give 'em an act with lots of pietry to cover any impropriety.
.A hoofer sans necktie dubbed Hamilton Jordan. Spread on the old southern charm and it will dazzle 'em. It's bound her physical domensions, bust out of all those staid conventions..."
Kansas Sen. Robert Dole, giving the response for the Republicans, was the clear winner for laughs, according to high - placed Gridiron leaks.
Having read about a forthcoming Whit House shake - up, Dole noted that Carter hadn't yet arrived, and asked, "could it mean...?"
He looked down the head table to where the real Hamilton Jordan was seated.
Strauss, point man for the Democrats, said the club had thought about asking President Carter to make the rebuttal speech for the Democrats but had turned to him instead. A self - styled adviser of Carter's Strauss said hos latest had been how to solve the coal strike. His advice: Pardon Tony Boyle.
Jimmy Carter's own solution, he revealed when it came his turn to address the crowd, was to sell jets to both sides in the coal strike, miners and producers.
For 93 years we have been confusing our guests by turning out the lights and lecturing them in the dark," said Gridiron President Allan W. Cromley of The Daily Oklahoman and Times, adding that for the first
Carter stunned some in the crowd - "ohhhhh," they reportedly murmured missed Dole's speech, he was familiar government ranked right up there with the Uniter Mine Workers' Arnold Miller, the president guipped.
Strauss had been a loyal supporter, Carter chided, ever since they had first met at the national convention. Strauss had joined his campaign, he continued, at a time when he was only Department translator to clarify his remarks.
But the ribbing and jabbing was in the tradition of the Gridiron: good - na - tured, bipartisan and all - pervasive
A few years ago, official Washington seemed to be losing interest in the annual dinner which had been a Washington institution since its beginning. The problem arose from its exclusion of women members. The first woman member, Helen Thomas, was sworn in in 1975, and Betty Ford, assisting, did a tango with the clun's soft - shoe revue. Since that time, interest has rekindled and this year's crowd was a veritable the chief justice, cabinet officers,rowd was a veritable Who's Who of American's movers and shakers, with a head table that included the chief justice, cabinet officers, congressional leaders, seversl foreigh ambassadors and members of Carter's own White House staff.
Time there would be an expert State Department translator to clarify his remarks.
"The Gridiron president carnally desires you - all," said sombody in a phony polish accent.
There were some ovations (for Muriel Humphrey, the junior senator from Minnesota, among others); some hisses (for "Prince of Darkness" Robert Novak, one of five new Gridiron initiates) and some surprises (Hamilton Jordan in white tie and obviously enjoying himself despite earlier vows never to darken gridiron's door).
Others in the crowed winning lampoons, courtesy of Gridiron, were presidential assistant Zbigniew Brzezinski ("The only man who can muddle American foreing policy worse than Evans and Novak, our own polish joke"); White House Press Secretary Jody Powell ("I whisper leaks to Reston and Kraft; all I get in return is the shaft," sings his impersonator) and Louisiana's Sen. Russell Long ("meanest man in town")
Long, in fact, loomed larger than life to at least one guest, who told how he had always waited for the day when a southerner would take control of the government. When he finally arrived in Washington, Jimmy Carter continued, he found that southerner had control but it wasn't he. It was Russell Long.
Among the 16 U.S. presidents who have attended Gridiron dinners, Richard NIxon earned the distinction of being the first to entertaion the club. That came in 1970 when he and then - Vice President Spiro Agnew played a pino duet.
And Franklin D. Roosevelt was the first to agitate for black tie. "Your presidency will go down in history as the era when the President of the United States undetook to wear a black tie and dinner coat to a Gridiron Dinner - and got away with it," Roosevelt wrote the club's president, George R. Holmes, in 1938.
Roosevelt never "got away with it." however, according to Harold Brayman in his book "The President Speaks Off the Record." Holmes refused to give in.
But Roosevelt provided one of the most memorable moments at a Gridiron show when he read blistering comments about the American press at one dinner. "There are city editors who do not know what a symphony is or a streptococcus...there are reporters by the thousands who could not pass the entrance examination for Harvard and Tuskegee, or even Yale. It is this vast and militant ignorance, this widespread and fathomless prejudice agains interlligience that makes American journalism so pathetically feeble and vulgar, and so generally disreputable."
Then Roosevelt shoved off, laughing at his stunned audience after revealling the source of his quotes. It was their hero: H. L. Mencken.