Julius the hairdresser is on her right, ponging his brush into his palm. Fred the peripatetic producer is on her left, stage-mouthing instructions. There is a guy flipping idiot cards, a cameraman with his touring hat turned around, a couple of sound guys, a writer, the publicist, the director, the director's wife, and of course the star herself, standing there in her butterscotch boots and sheepskin-trimmed suede coat, beating hell out of Robert Pierpont and Sam Donaldson when it comes to looks.
What could be finer than Dinah from the White House lawn?
Okay, shouts somebody important, let's take it from the wide shot. Remember, we want the flag. In 10, in nine, in eight, seven, six . . .
"This is Dinah Shore reporting to you from the White House, well, outside of it anyway," says a honey-warm voice just deep enough and smooth enough to remind you where it came from -- Winchester, Tenn., where her pop had the general store next to Sprague's Hardware right on the square. You could listen to that kind of voice all day.
"When Charles Dickens visited Washington 137 years ago, he called it a city of 'magnificent intentions,'" the voice goes on, warming to cue cards.
"GREAT," silently mouths Fred the producer off camera.
"We're going to take you inside the White House for an exclusive interview with Jody Powell. We'll get the candid views of one of the most colorful and powerful men in Congress, Tip O'Neill. We'll laugh with Mark Russell. We'll get a rare glimpse of the busy White House press room and Helen Thomas . . ."
"Hold it," shouts somebody. "Go back to Helen Thomas."
Julius darts in for a quick comb-through. A few feet away, a squirrel is foraging for acorns. It may rain any minute.
". . . And we'll be talking to Sen. Barry Goldwater at the Lincoln Memorial."
"I'm standing here where . . . MORLEY SAFER must have stood," she says, seizing on the name like the Pilgrims reaching for land.
Fred is all smiles.
". . . This is a unique city, filled with exciting people, who make it happen."
(Who writes this stuff?)
". . . So look for us right after 'The Today Show.'"
She stops cold. "Hey, can I say, 'right after "The Today Show?'" like that show."
"Gee, I don't know," says the publicist. "But I'll find out. Tom . . ."
And so it goes -- long shots, wide shots, strolling shots, sweeping shots. Through it all, maybe two dozen takes, maybe 10 promos in the can, in the kind of raw flag-whipping dampness you don't get in Beverly Hills, she never once loses patience or shows her weariness. In fact, she seems to get stronger as the tedium goes on.
"Damn, we had an airplane right at the top," says a soundman.
"I could do this show forever," says Dinah Shore.
"Dinah! & Friends," syndicated to 100 stations in 10 countries, came to Washington Wednesday. Yesterday, the whole crew, roughly 20 people, plus the local hands picked up from WRC, were over at the White House causing general havoc but making the place look a lot better. They will continue taping segments today around town. All of it will be boiled down to one 90-minute show to be aired after the first of the year.
Has she ever taped here before, a reporter idly wondered.
"I don't know," she said with her resolute cheerfulness. "They just point me."
Actually, said the publicist -- she was here once playing tennis with Art Buchwald and they did some footage, that's all.
She is a remarkable-looking woman. Celebrity Register, for one, lists her birthdate as March 1, 1917. That would make her 62. Other books say she's older; some say she's younger. It would be tacky to bring it up: She's too damn nice, and what does it matter anyway? You could say she looks half of 62 and that would only be half an exaggeration.
Little wonder she was able to take a rube from Florida named Burt Reynolds and teach him to do his apartment in something other than Formica and Naugahyde. Reynolds is the top male box-office draw in the world right now. Posing in his birthday suit for Cosmopolitan didn't get him there. Neither did Dinah. She merely made it easier. Reynolds himself will say so.
And what it did for Dinah was to put some salts in the sugar. For every woman over 50, her romance with Reynolds, nearly a generation younger, became a talisman for the notion that any dream of love -- older woman, younger man; enduring star, new sex symbol -- was possible. Just like in Hollywood. Even today, the afterglow of that amour lends her a sly luster.
Her skin is tanned and lustrous, to a glowing. The hair is blond and touseled and Flex-Balsam-healthy. Her lipstick is deep pink, not understated, not overdone. Up close, there are lots of lines and creases, but somehow they don't mar what is even now a striking beauty. And not a grandmother's beauty, even though she is a grandmother and has a son, John David Montgomery, who's 30.
"Da songboid of da South," Jimmy Durante said 40 years ago when he first spied her. He'd probably say it now.
She was born Fanny Rose. At 13, she was stealing backstage at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, warbling her act for Smiling Jack Shook and the Missouri Mountaineers. (She ended up working with them.) She got her own radio show, later batted off to New York where she teamed with a slick-haired crooner named Frankie Sintra on WNEW. In World War II, she was the GI's camp show favorite, though she didn't have Grable's legs. She had her voice. She married a cowboy star, George Montgomery, mothered two kids. After 18 years of marriage, she and Montgomery were divorced. Later, there was a shorter marriage. There is no particular man now for her. In 1970, on "Dinah's Place," she started gabbing on TV for dough.
Her critics would say she suffers from ersatz, insufferable happiness. A couple of weeks ago, in a cover story on daytime talk king, Phil Donahue, Newsweek said in comparing him to other TV talkers -- that watching Dinah for a week is like being trapped inside a giant sundae.
Is it possible she is really as happy as she seems? Is that a crime in a world zonked on Valium? "When we came into the airport last night, the first thing I told the driver is, 'Oh, go by the Lincoln Memorial. I'd just love to see it.' And I wanted to see Arlington, too, and that eternal flame."
It sounds a little like the remake of "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" and yet it sound believable.
Her guests seem to believe her. In a society seemingly in danger of getting babbled to death on the Great Trivializer, she creates, at her best moments, a parlor atmosphere not all that far removed from the courthouse square of her middle Tennessee hometown.
Writer Nora Ephron has said we read People magazine like we eat potato chips: You can't stop not matter how bad it is. We watch talk shows that way, too, hoping against experience for illumination, for the unexpected.
There was the time Cloris Leachman was a guest, took a seat, and said: "Tell me, Dinah, how's your sex life? I don't mean just talk show stuff. How is it really?"
No, she doesn't really see herself as a standard-bearer for women, even though she's up there alone against Merv and Johnny and all the others. "Maybe we're not as direct or probing as some of the talk show hosts. Interviewers always ask if I think I'm a voice. The fact that I'm there at all for my sex speaks for itself. I think, without my having to be militant."
Yet: "I am number one, a woman. And way after that, an entertainer."
She lives alone, in a big house in Beverly Hills. She has another place in Malibu. Sometimes, on Wednesday nights, when the week's taping is done, she gets "this terrible urge to wake up at the beach. No matter how late it is I just have to drive down there."
It is the only suggestion that life may be lonely for Dinah Shore, no matter the energizing work and the narcotic of applause.
At the beach she paints, collects shells, plays tennis. (In 1971, she was bopped on the head with a wild serve from Spiro Agnew. She still had him on the show.) She says she likes to go to movies, at real theaters, where you wait in line just like anybody else. "I love to cry my eyebrows off at a sad movie."
Coming from anybody else, this might be like shooting up saccharin. She says it with her hand stuck in the pocket of her woolen skirt. One foot is at a jaunty 45-degree angle to the other. She is outside Jody Powell's office, waiting to begin her interview. Julius the hairdresser is again working, this time with his Monsieur Charles hot curler.
"I'm going to the state dinner tonight," she says in this sexy, expectant little voice. "People are just dying to know who'll be my escort. I came in on the plane with Jerry Brown. He might not be bad. And then there's Ham."
Perfect pause. "Maybe I'll fool everybody and go alone."