Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
The evening ended with a song and a standing ovation.
"Happy birthday to you," sang Daniel Boorstin, Librarian of Congress, decked out in a black-tie ensemble with a red bow tie shot with gold.
"Happy birthday to you," sang television journalist Howard K. Smith.
"Happy brithday, dear Mickey," sang Clare Booth Luce.
"Happy birthday to you," chorused 140 of the leading artists, intellectuals and administrators in the nation's capital.
Standing on a platform before them Monday night at the Library of Congress was the largest and most famous mouse in the world - a mouse who, according to Donn Tatum, president of Walt Disney Productions, is "one of the best money-getters in the history of the world - an actor who in his career has brought in at least $100 million."
Eat you heart out, Robert Redford. Mickey Mouse, 50 years old and looking as good as ever, was the guest of honor at a black-tie, candle-light dinner.
As might be expected, it was a most animated evening.
"Once you've played the White House, the only place to go is the Library of Congress," said White House adviser Barry Jagoda, who ought to know; like Mickey, he has appeared in both places.
Mickey showed up to help kick off the exhibit honoring him: "Building a Better Mouse," which will be at the library until the end of February. Like most Americans of a certain age, those at the party Monday had strong opinions about Mickey and what he meant to their lives.
"Mickey Mouse embodies the idea of the underdog," summed up Clare Booth Luce. "A clever, unimportant little creature outsmarting the big boys. He's where we were 50 years ago. You couldn't create Mickey today."
About today's heroes, Luce was a bit less enthusiastic, particularly when the conversation turned to Jimmy Carter. "I think he's exactly what we deserve," she said, between furious puffs on a cigarette. "Camp David? Well, if he's pulled it off, I'm for it. But I'm not sure anyone could pull it off except God Almightly, and of one thing I'm sure; Jimmy Carter is not God Almightly."
On her own durability as a national symbol, Luce credited her success to "luck, perseverances, genes, and being pretty.
"Let's face it, being pretty doesn't put a woman back," said the lady who described herself as "the largest employer of women in American theater," noting that over 300,000 women have played in her drama, "The Women."
Mrs. John L. Truyens, the former Lilly Disney, appeared to be as surprised at the success of her favorite mouse as she was at the success of her late husband. "I had no idea every thing would become as beautiful as it did," she said. "When Walt wanted to go into television, I said 'You can't do that; there's no way it will work.' But then, I said the same thing when he went into color and into sound. But my husband was a real sweet guy. He had something then, and his work still has it now."
The menu was a fairly conventional Washington meat-and-potatoes dinner until dessert time came and the waiters pulled the bouquets out of the centerpieces, which were set into brick-colored flowerpots. Then, what appeared to be potting soil turned out to be the surface of a gelatine, fruit and cake concoction which was spooned out by bemused diners to be eaten while librarian Boorstin gave his after-dinner talk.
In justification of his turning over the marble-walled spaces of the library to cartoon characters, Boorstin noted that the United States is "the only nation in the world that has included among its stated purposes the pursuit of happiness."
"Do not be surprised," he said, "that we offer to him and his animated world the honors that other nations reserve for their priests, their potentates and their soccer players. . . . While we must be serious, we must not be solemn."
He hailed the Disney exhibit and the history of Disney's studio as examples of "a free society . . . where anyone can try anything and see what happens."
He then introduced the guest of honor, who spoke not a word but was serenaded by the other guests. In the middle of the ovation for Mickey, dozens of other Disney characters appeared along the top balcony overlooking the library's great hall, including Pluto, Goofy and Minnie Mouse, as well as assorted rabbits, frogs and other creatures.
Minnie was greeted with applause and calls for stage-center: "We want Minnie, we want Minnie." But true to her pre-women's lib roots, Minnie knew her place and stayed there. On the balcony. Like Juliet.
One of the guests at the party had known Mickey and Minnie intimately from the time they were born and had classified information about their relationship.
Ward Kimball, one of the original Disney animators, gave an ambiguous answer when he was asked whether Mickey and Minnie had ever been married. "In one cartoon," said Kimball, "he got married and had about 20 kids - but then he woke up with pluto licking his face and it was all a dream."
Mickey was one of the few people who got prosperous during the 1930s, Kimball recalled: "He started out in the Depression with short pants, no gloves and no shoes, and as he got more prosperous, he acquired long pants, a coat and a bow tie.
"It wasn't that we got more money to buy him clothes, but in black-and-white, whenever he walked into a shadow, he would lose his arms and legs - so we had to put gloves and shoes on him."
He said that "the good thing about this exhibit is that it moves - all the memorabilla are great, but the bottom line when you're talking about animation is to show the films themselves."
Donn Tatum said that the secret of Mickey's success was "not that he was clever, but that he represented a force of mirth and practicality . . . he always tried to do his best.
"Not only was he an American in America, but a Frenchman in France, a Venezuelan in Venezuela, a Pole in Poland, and even a Russian in Russia."
Host Boorstin resembled his guest of honor principally in wearing a bowtie - an accessory he always sports because, "I am not maladjusted; maladjusted people always oscillate between a four-in-hand and a bow tie, but I can't remember when I didn't wear bow ties." Someone noted that historian Arthur Schlesinger also wears a bow tie, and Boorstin remarked that, "Maybe I wear a bow tie because I want to be as good a historian as Arthur Schlesinger - but then perhaps there are other qualities required to be a good historian besides wearing a bow tie."
Boorstin is currently at work on a one volume history of the world, of which he hastened to add that "not one word was written on these premises, while I'm doing my job here."
"The world is an interesting place," he concluded, "but don't quote me on that."