Robert S. Strauss, Jimmy Carter's campaign manager, was the hit of the Gridiron Club's Winter Dinner on Saturday night, which may or may not have something to do with his candidate's chances in 1980.
The club, a venerable organization that limits its membership to a small, elite corps of journalists, holds a famous black tie dinner every year at which the president of the country usually appears and makes jokes. This was not that event. This was a members-only affiar, with representatives of seven presidential aspirants invited to give the guests some relief from their own efforts at humor.
Since these journalists traditionally refuse to be covered by lesser, non-Gridiron members of their profession, reports of Saturday's dinner were obtained from usually reliable sources who nonetheless admitted to having imbibed one or two alcoholic beverages.
Strauss, a veteran of these performances, was the last speaker and announced that he was going to save the evening. He said he'd been told by his colleagues at the Carter-Mondale re-election committee that he had to "destroy" Dudley Dudley, the New Hampshire woman who started a draft Teddy Kennedy movement and was at the dinner representing him.
But, Struass said, he simply couldn't face destroying the lovely Dudley Dudley, so instead he left the podium, walked over and gave her a big kiss. "Don't blush, Dudley," he reportedly said, "your candidate would understand." "
It was not the only reference to Kennedy and womanizing. One song in the skits preceding the speakers, to the tune of "Anything Goes," included the verse And if you are a great romancer You, don't even have at answer On TV shows; anything goes.
Dudley scored a few points herself. Talking about her unusual name, she said her father, a journalism professor for 43 years in New Hampshire, named her Dudley so that she'd be eligible for Gridiron Club membership when she grew up, acrack well-received by the members, who refused toadmit women until 1975.
She also twitted Gov. Edmund G. "Pat" Brown, who was there as the only person who had a "favorite son" candidate. (Get it? He's Jerry Brown's father.) Dudley said Brown Jr. was the only candidate who had started a speech in New Hampshire in Latin. "We don't have a very large Latin-speaking constituency in New Hampshire," she said.
Brown followed her to the podium. "De gustibus non disputandum est," Brown began. ("There's no arguing with taste.")
The biggest flop, reliable sources agreed, was Jim Brady, John Connally's press secretary, who was a last-minute replacement. He delivered a series of unfunny one-liners -- which none of the reliable sources could remember.
John P. Sears represented Ronald Reagan, James A. Baker spoke for George Bush, and Howard Blaker was represented by campaign manager Wyatt Stewart III, who said his friends had told him that getting involved with the Baker campaign was like getting on the Titanic right before it crashed into the iceberg.
"I told them that actually I'd joined the iceberg," Stewart is remembered to have said. "There's more to Howard Baker than meets the eye. There'd have to be."
The skits were based on the overall theme of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, with Snow White representing New Hampshire and the seven dwarfs representing, you guessed it, the candidates.
The performers took shots at their own profession in a song to the tune of "Good News," which was rechristened "Bad News."
" . . . serve up scandals and scrapes, indiscretions on tapes, just give us bad news," went one chorus.
Former Rep. Jim Symington sang a medley of old Gridiron creations about Teddy Kennedy, including one to the tune of "Jesus Christ Superstar."
Reliable sources said that even though the jokes weren't the greatest, they had a good time.