The paraders waited; the police cruiser blinked silently. Alone in front, a young man in red baseball jacket with face of gentle surprise defined with eloquent palms an invisible wall that held back the crowd.
A moment later, as his exploring fingers revealed an opening, the marchers stepped off to the silence of a band whose instruments hung by their sides. Whitfaced hobos bowed to non-applause, and the boisterous wind nearly kited away the bearers of a "National Mime Week" banner.
Yesterday's noon parade would have gladdened the heart of even G. B. Shaw, the patron saint of brevity. From the Capitol to the Corcoran, it celebrated the arts of mime and pantomime-taciturn tslents all too rare in this city of filibluster.
And it inaugurated an annual observance of mime as "a cherished national treasure in our heritage of art," via a resolution passed in the Senate yesterday under the sponsorship of S.I. Hayakawa. He read his proclamation aloud at the foot of the Capitol while over at the Corcoran, Joan Mondale waited with Effi Barry to repeat the speech like a closing parenthesis.
Centerpiece of the parade was an open convertible that odd-coupled sometimes silent comedian Red Skelton, the parade marshal, with sometime semanticist Hayakawa.
"I've been interested in mime for years," said Hayakawa, crowned in his usual fashion with a brilliantly striped knit beret.
"Yeah-he wrote too many books about words!" joked Skelton, his mouth open in a mask-of-comedy smile, and the hair that gave him his nickname, long since turned steely gray, irrespressibly gusting out from under an identical beret.
The parade-the official portion of a celebration scattered across the country and continuing today at the Corcoran-soon lost its silent-movie aura as onlookers began to laugh, clap and call out "Hey Senator!" and "Hey, Red!" Several pedestrians were drawn into the dancing, posturing procession; some of the onlookers "clapped" silently. From one police motor-cycle the radio grated irritably, "What's going on there?"
Musicians from the University of Maryland, marching out in front, occasionally snake-danced off Pennsylvania Avenue onto the sidewalk, in and out of the crowd. An exaggeratedly female dragon swished beside a Weary Willie; a disembodied nose, reminiscent of the "nose mitten" TV commercials for nasal spray, occasionally rejoined his "eyes" and "mouth" partners.
As the procession drew up before the Corcoran Gallery of Art, it was greeted by Corcoran director Peter Marzio, Joan Mondale, and Effi Barry, "first lady of the District of Columbia." as Marzio called her.
As the Cardoza band trumpeted "The Star-Spangled Banner," the red-jacketed mime, now astride a mettlesome stone lion, pantomimed the rockets' red glare and the bombs bursting in air. But when the honor guard smacked their flags to the ground, the lion "bucked" wildly under him.
Then, after Mondale read the proclamation aloud, Effi Barry undertook to thank Skelton in his own idiom. Lifting back her shoulders, usually curved in like protective wings, she stepped into the silence at the eye of the gathering.
Her long fingers pressed gently against an invisible barrier. Like the youth at the beginning of the parade, she felt slowly and carefully along its cold surface. But she found a window, not a wall, and slid it up to lean out and blow Skelton a kiss. As he caught it and bowed, the quiet shattered into applause, and she stepped back as if from a spotlight.
In his own 20-second skit, Skelton summed up the professional's ability to twist the oldest elements into new humor. Plucking an apple from a tree, he enjoyed the meat, then grimaced over the worm. You see, he seemed to say, there's always a catch to these apples. CAPTION: Picture 1, Effi Barry mimes, with S.I. Hayakawa and Red Skelton, by Joe Heiberger; Picture 2,Eyes, Nose and Mouth marching together by Joe Heiberger-The Washington Post