The male novelist standing at the bar at the ERA fundraiser at Elaine's who was there because his agent told him it was a good cause, took a look at the crowd of well-dressed feminists and celebrities around him and wished them well.
"I hope you women get it. Oh God, I hope you get it. I'll vote for it six times myself if it would help," said the novelist, who introduced himself as "the legendary Shane Stevens" author of "Go Down Dead." "If the ERA passes in two months then I'll marry for the fourth time and six months later I'll get the alimony tax free, God, yes, I see a golden future in it!"
Not quite the party line, perhaps, but no matter - Steven had put his money ($50) where his mouth was, and that, for the moment, was what was important.
For with one year left to gain support for the Equal Rights Amendment, the National Women's Political Caucus set up two days of fund-raising parties in New York. And since nothing drives a "true believer" to her/his checkbook faster than the approving smile of a celebrity, there were, to serve as hosts for the six parties (average entry fee; $35) a passel of Household Words; from Judy and Jack Carter at Elaine's, to Eartha Kitt and Diane von Furstenberg at the U.S. Steakhouse Co. Restaurant, to Joel Grey at the Village's Trattoria da Alfredo, to Lorraine Newman, Martha Graham, Louise Nevelson, and Gilda Radner at Tavern on the Green.
The partying was kicked off with Sunday brunch at Elaine's, the Upper East Side literary hangout where in non-fund-raising times, plain folks often find it difficult to get a table. There, $35 bought a chance to shake hands with a real live Carter, say hello to Gordon Parks or Polly Bergen, learn that Nora Ephron's and Carl Bernstein's upcoming baby is going to be a boy (Nora's had amniocentesis), and dine on cold scrambled eggs and pasta. (With restaurants contributing food, grub at these parties was not wonderful.)
The predominantly female party was held at Elaine's not because the plump proprietor, Elaine Kauffman, has been particularly active in the women's movement.
"I never needed a group to tell me about working," said Kauffman, casting a somewhat ironic eye on the tax proceedings, "but Gloria asked me to do it and did you ever and try to tell Gloria Steinem you just wanted to give a contribution?"
The crowd at this party was chic (feminists, this year, favor flowered skirts and perms) and the speechmaking was brief. Steinem, who stood on a chair to emcee and apparently doesn't mind cold eggs for a course, said "revolution had never been so pleasant" and introduced Bella Abzug (hat beige), who waved her fist through the air and suggested economic boycott for states that refuse to ratify the ERA. Steinem also introduced Judy Carter, saying that while she complained about "inherited power" Judy Carter was "the exception - the Eleanor Roosevelt of daughters-in-law." Carter, in her two-minute speech (also from a chair) said she was delighted to see the crowd. "I travel in a lot of unratified states.
"We would be less than realistic to say we're not in trouble - the opposition has lots of money to spend," said Carter. One of her suggestions: sending letters to representatives and senators "even if it sounds corny and tacky."
Privately, Carter, who was the host for two parties, said the she had been a longtime ERA backer, but the discrimination had been particularly apparent to her last April, when she bought a car back home in Georgia.
"Jack doesn't even drive my car, but even so, the insurance papers, everything has to be in your husband's name . . . even your insurance rates are based on your husband's rates . . . and his record isn't as god as mine."
Another moment of discrimination revealed at the party (you hear a lot of these at feminist functions) was that of actress Barbara Feldon, a tall brunet who was one of the weekend's key organizers. She spoke of the time she learned that "93 percent of the voice-overs in commercials are male. It seems that some people feel that women's voices don't have the authority to sell - but we're 51 percent of the population," she said. She also said that her formerly famous commercial, as the girl on the tiger-skin rugs in Revlon's Top Brass commercial, "was all tongue-in-cheek, very much a spoof."
The youngest feminist at the party appeared to be 2-year-old Rachel Abrahms, daughter of lawyer Diane Schuler and Bronx Burough President Robert Abrahms. Abrahms, his wife reminded the press, was running for state attorney general, and had been a longtime supporter of women's rights. Nonetheless, it was Schulder who schlepped Rachel through the party for three hours, as Abrahms stood in the back room, talking with Carl Bernstein and Jack Carter.
Sunday's evening's bash ($35) at the Ginger Man, opposite Lincoln Center, found Barbara Feldon outside the restaurant, up on a ladder, pointing out for the photographers, that the name of the establishment for the evening, had been changed to "Ginger Person."
"Too bad she's not wearing a skirt," said an older male passerby.
Inside, among the once-again predominantly female crowd, composer Stephen Sondheim, singers Novella Nelson and Judy Collins, and actor James Earl Jones were among the celebrity hosts. Oklahoma State Sen. Cleta Deathridge (D.) 27, was the key speechmaker. "Maybe some of you know some good celebrities who'd like to come to Oklahoma," Deathridge said. "We've got ladies raising $175 on Saturdays, but that's not enought to beat the opposition."
Jones, portraying Paul Robeson on Broadway, likened the cause of women to that of blacks; Collins, looking just like one of her old album covers in the long skirt, long hair, silk blouse, and shawl, said she had been involved iwth the ERA "ever since I was born," and retreated to a corner table.
Ruth Chalith, a noncelebrity guest among the crowd; was a more recent ERA supporter. A divorced mother of three, Chalith, 42, said she had become aware of discrimination when she was fired from her job as office manager in a trucking firm, when an efficiency expert the company brought in said he didn't like women office managers. Chalith brought suit and won, but ultimately left that job. ("You can't work in a atmosphere like that.") She drove a cab for two years, now works as a traffic coordinator in a moving firm and as a part-time claims adjuster.
She had learned about the fundraiser in Liz Smith's column in the Daily News, she said, but the famous hosts were not the draw.
"Celebrities don't show me much," she said.