Reprinted from yesterday's late editions

There was hardly a dry eye in the house. And though it wasn't Elizabeth Taylor or "National Velvet," it was the closest thing 1978 is apt to have to the 1944 film classic: "International Velvet" starring Tatum O'Neal as Velvet's orphaned niece.

"I thought it was dry and uneventful," said one filmgoer Sunday night at the Kennedy Center after the world premiere, "but this horsewoman from Maryland who was sitting beside me said she cried off all her mascara. Her husband groaned."

If Sunday night's gala premiere looked oddly familiar, it may have been because it was brought you last fall's gala premiere for "The Turning Point."

And if "International Velvet" does for horses what "Turning Point" did for ballet dancers, then don't be surprised to see Arizona Pie - the horse in the movie - nominated for an Academy Award next year.

"I like to keep these things in the family," said John Moran, former Carter advance man, former advance man for "The Turning Point" and Sunday night's honcho and organizer. "I figure if I can get them crying over horses the way I did over ballet this thing will have been a success."

Bryan Forbes, who wrote, directed and produced the film, said all he ever knew about horses was that "one end bit and the other kicked."

Forbes set with his wife, Nanette Newman, who costars with Tatum O'Neal in the film in the role of Velvet Brown - a grown-up version of the "National Velvet" character originally played by a 12-year-old Elizabeth Taylor.

Taylor wasn't there - she is hospitalized with a virus in California - but there were those who felt her presence, like Ann Anderson, deputy press secretary to Rosalynn Carter, who had said she identified with Taylor as a small child daughter, Laura, to see Tatum O'Neal.

The 14-year-old O'Neal, meanwhile, was doing her best to be pleasant and appreciative in the face of overwhelming press coverage and overprotective flacks. "She's here to relax," insisted Lisa Kasteler, her press agent. "Sure she's here to promote the film, but give her a chance to eat."

Besides the Washington press and about 60 out-of-town journalists junketed in especially for the occasion, there was also a TV film crew courtesy of David Frost, who will feature her and the father, Ryan, on his "Headliners" television show.

For her part, O'Neal signed a few autographs for those who could get to her but seemed slightly uncomfortable with the attention. She wore a satin blazer, slender skirt and silk blouse and teetered along on high-heeled sandals.

The gala was a benefit for the U.S. Equestrian Team, with tickets going at $20 or $75 each. The guests - including many Carter connection - partially filled the Eisenhower Theater. Later they went on to the party where elaborate buffet tables of roast beef, shrimp, crab claws and quiche - and a band as well - awaited them.

Meanwhile, not everybody was enchanted with whatever happened to Velvet Brown.

"This movie," said one movie buff and a self-proclaimed connoisseur of fine film, "this movie is a cross between 'Rocky,' 'Ben Hur,' and 'Love Story.'"

He did not elaborate.