Mary Hoyt, who referees Rosalyn Carter's encounters with the press, liked the line best about the journalistic pushbutton doll. "Press a reporter," she chuckled, "and it comes out wrong. Sometimes I feel that way."

The line was from Tom Stoppard's new play "Night and Day" which previewed at the Kennedy Center last night. It's about three journalists in Africa and was been by perhaps 500 of their real-life counterparts in Washington. The performance will benefit the National Press Foundation, which gives scholarships to journalism students across the country.

Stoppard, who wrote stories for the Bristol Evening World before he wrote plays and got rich and famous, was clearly the star of the after-play reception. A lot of Washington's stars -- among them Livingston Biddle, Austin Kiplinger, Rep. John Brademas (D-Ind.), Sen. Ed Muskie (D-Me.), FBI Director William Webster and a sizable herd of journalists -- all wanted to meet the English playwright.

Stoppard, incidentally, thinks being a journalist can be almost romantic.

"I loved being a reporter," he said. "I loved absolutely everything about it. I mean, I began when I was 17 and I thought it was a very glamorous world."

The other star of the evening was Omar N. Bradley, America's only living five-star general. While eating his dessert crepe, he said he enjoyed the play's "wit."

Maggie Smith, the British actress, who stars in the play, had not appeared at the cast reception by 11:30 p.m. People were still craning their necks toward the door in hopes that she would.

But Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmum, who has made decisions lately that the press hasn't liked, was very much in evidence. And did he like the play?

"Sure, sure," said Blackmun. "Kept me awake."

"Don't believe him," said a nearby guest. "I had to pinch him every five minutes."