"Politics and show business," Warner Bros. Board chairman Ted Ashley was musing at the Kennedy Center last night, "it's a great combination. And look, let's face it. Where else is the president going to show up at a movie?"

It was the Superman premiere and Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter were, indeed, there sharing a box with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and thereby giving the president a chance to practice literally what he had preached only a few hours before.

His lesson yesterday morning at the Bible class he taught at the First Baptist Church was "forgiveness" and he had urged the group "to make a list of people from whom you are estranged" and make amends.

And the estrangement between the president and Kennedy over national health proposals was never more delineated than it was Saturday when the Massachusetts senator galvanized the Democratic midterm conference in Memphis as Carter had been unable to do.

That, however, was all forgotten -- at least for the evening -- when some 500 people, all of whom had paid $500 or more for their premiere seats, gathered for the pre-movie cocktail reception, which rounded out a weekend of activities centered around the film. The proceeds from the weekend events will benefit the International Special Olympics, founded by the Kennedy family.

"I gotta tell you, I'm simply floored with the reception Washington has given us," said Christopher Reeve, who partrays Superman in the movie and was the real star of last night's bash. From the moment Reeve entered the door with girlfriend Gae Exton, he was surrounded by TV cameras, photographers and reporters, many of whom wanted to know just how Reeve felt being America's newest movie star. "I don't know, this is only the third day I've been one," he laughed. "Come back in a year and I'll tell you about it."

Reeve did, however, that the rest of Hollywood is hot on his trail, even though most people -- including several of the film's stars and Warner Bros. executives -- had not as yet seem the movie, which opens here Friday.

"The studios in Hollywood are practically giving me a blank check to do whatever I want," noted Reeve. "But right now I'm Superman until proven other wise."

Reeve went on to say he was at first "dubious" about the script, until he decided he could "take the part and make it real. 'Superman' works because we've all been in situations where we wished we didn't have any problems and Superman can solve any problem. And then, of course, there's the flying -- everybody wants to do that. It's a sexual dream, a fantasy, we've all had."

Asked what he might want to be when he grows up, the 26-year-old Reeve laughed. "I'm not sure I want to grow up. I'm extremely ambitious and I work hard enough to make it pay off. It takes 20 years to make an actor and I'm halfway there now. But who knows? Maybe someday I'll end up going to a home for old Supermen and playing shuffleboard."

Among those who hadn't seen the film was actress Margot Kidder who plays Lois Lane and arrived last night with Michael O'Donoghue, one of the founders of National Lampoon and the former head writer for "Saturday Night Live." Kidder, clutching O'Donoghue's hand, hung somewhat in the background, admitting that anxiety over the film had her "pouring sweat into this white chiffon dress."

Kidder had what you might call a vested interest in the film's success -- she has signed up for not only the "Superman" sequel but for three more "Superman" films as well. "Am I afraid of typecasting? Are you kidding?" she asked. "What those films mean is that I'm finally financially secure. I'm happy as a clam."

Kidder's reticence was quickly filled in by the iconoclastic O'Donoghue who announced for all to hear that his steady romance with the actress began when "I picked her up in the streets. She belonged to any man for the price of a drink," he deadpanned, drawing giggles from Kidder. "And besides," he added, "if she's choosing me over Superman, you can imagine how good I am in bed."

Slightly less excited by all the hoopla was veteran actor Gene Hackman, who after entering with Reeve perched himself at a quiet corner table. Yes, he said, he thought the film was entertaining and no, he certainly didn't feel bad about the $2million salary he got for "Superman" and its sequel. He plays super bad guy Lex Luthor.

"I didn't ask for that much money. They volunteered it," said Hackman, an ironic look crossing his face. "Am I worth $1 million [a picture]? No. Nobody's worth that much. But as the traffic escalates, so do the prices. But, look, you never see the money, anyway. It all goes to your business manager. It's like funny money to me. That's crazy, isn't it?"

Money -- around $40 million according to some reports -- was exactly what Warner Communications, Inc., had riding on the success of last night's film. A situation that found several executives as nervous as the stars. Steve Ross, board chairman of WCI, was seeing the film for the first time himself. "I always resist seeing a film until it's finished," he said. "I'm just a layman like everybody else."

For Ross' date, Amanda Burden, step-daughter of CBS chairman William S. Paley, the evening was something of a family affair. Among the guests was Bill Paley Jr., a local restaurant owner, who greeted his step-sister effusively when they managed to rendezvous.

Despite the multi-million-dollar outlays for "Superman," Ross contended that such expensive ventures are "not as big a risk as people think. In a high-budget movie," he said, "what you do is take a look at it halfway through the filming. If it doesn't look good, then at that point you can wrap it up without it costing too much.Take 'The Exorcist' for example. Halfway through we could have wrapped it up for $6 million. The big swing comes when producers have to make that decision."

The audience was actually rather sedate for the kind of wild and woolly kitsch "Superman" offers, laughing at the funny lines and clapping -- but not cheering -- when Superman performs one of his little feats, like holding the San Andreas fault together...

"I loved it," said Fairfax Hotel owner John Coleman afterwards. "Didn't it bring you back to your childhood?" he asked William McCormick Blair. Blair looked blank for a moment and cracked, "I can't remember that far."

"I thought it was the most boring film I ever saw," said political consultant Gary Nordlinger. "But it was a nice evening."

Phyllis George said, "I laughed, I clapped. I never missed "Superman" on TV. Clark Kent was my idol."

Getting almost as much attention as the movie stars themselves was ABC's Barbara Walters who showed up with Alan Greenspan. Walters said she found Reeve 'a very articulate young man' but, nonetheless, went on to quote her old pal Hency Kissinger, who at Saturday night's dinner for the movie crowd (hosted by Japanese Ambassador Fumihiko Togo) had added his won personal appreciation: "I want to thank Warner Brothers," he had said, "for making a movie about my life."

Walters' arrival signaled a crush of photographers, including New York paparazzo Ron Galella, who appeared somewhat disappointed at the absence of his favorite target, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

However, even though Jackie didn't join the rest of the Kennedy-Shriver contingent for the weekend, her latest escort, filmmaker Peter Davis did. Davis, a shy and private person, seemed somewhat puzzled by the attention accorded him because of his newest companion. "I just wouldn't talk about my personal life and I certainly wouldn't talk about anyone else's," he hedged. "I just took the shuttle and brought my kids down for the weekend By myself."

"Superman" director Richard Donner was clerly on a Superman high, as he nervously awaited the public birth of his bady, convinced as he was that the movie was going to be a smash. "I made the film and I'm my biggest fan. I love it," said Donner, who in his acting days said he always auditioned for "the Clark Kent roles." He said the real test would come with the "kids who pay $4 a ticket. They're the ones I made it for."

And if the movie is not a success? "I'm going to Mexico, dig a hole and jump in."

Following the cocktail party, guests adjourned to the theater where a film on the Special Olympics, accompanied by live music from the Choral Arts Society, was shown before the Superman film itself. Following the arrival of the president and first lady, Sen. Kennedy took the mike to introduce Rosalynn Carter, chic in a long black velvet skirt. Mrs. Carter and Eunice Shrivr then proceeded to hand out Special Olympics medallions to some 11 handicapped Special Olympians who were accompanied on stage by, among others, Barbara Walters, Phyllis George and Baltimore Colts quarterback Bert Jones.

The presidential premiere capped a weekend of activities that included Friday night's black-tie dinner dance for $500-and-up ticket holders at the home of Sargent and Eunice Shriver; a Saturday brunch for WCI executive Jay Emmett, hosted by hotel owner John Coleman, and a Saturday night dinner hosted by the Japanese embassy for the film's participants and Warner Bros. and Warner Communications executives.

For some at the party, "Superman" evoked more than a few fond memories. "He meant everything to me," confided White House media specialist, Gerry Rafshoon. "When I was a kid, we lived in this two-story house. One day I took a towel, placed it around my shoulders like a cape and jumped out the window to see if I could fly. Well, I couldn't and broke a rib instead. So I just had to wait until I grew up to be Superman."