Art Buchwald called him "Pops" Stevens, the grand old man of the American Film Institute. Charleston Heston described him as "our founding father" and Jack Valenti saw it all as "genetic."

Or, Valenti continued "as my friend LBJ would have said, there's something in the stud."

The object of everybody's affection last night was AFI's departing director, known as "Georgetown George" in some quarters and George Stevens Jr. in others.

"I fear it might be a little disappointing when people find out I am not going anyplace." Stevens told 150 friends and colleagues at a black-tie testimonial dinner for him.

But Washington being the kind of town where "you may be forgotten but you're not gone," as Buchwald put it, they saluted Stevens anyway.

"Welcome to my house," said Assistant Secretary of State Richard C. Holbrooke, one of the evening's hosts. His "house" was the State Department Benjamin Franklin Room overlooking the Potomac which, he said, anybody could reserve for a nonofficial function "if there is some appropriateness to it."

In Stevens' case, the appropriate part was all the work he's done in the diplomatic community according to Holbrooke. One of Stevens' more spectacular efforts in cementing international ties was the gala he masterminded last year at the Kennedy Center during the visit by China's Vice Premier Deng Xiaping.

So the diplomatic community was well-represented -- including China's Ambassador Chai Jemin, Morocco's Ali Bengelloun, Great Britain's Nicholas Henderson and Malaysia's Azraai Zain.

Stevens resigned earlier this year as AFI's director after 13 years in the post. He will continue as co-chairman of the trustees (with Heston) and and will produce the Kennedy Center honors and AFI Life Achievement Awards. He is also going into private producing for both TV and movies.

"He need all the talent we can get," said Hollywood producer Mace Neufield, a trustee whose own credits inclue "The Omen," "OMEN II" and the about-to-be-filmed "OMEN III,"

Cicely Tyson, a former AFI trustee, was there with producer Ashley ("Yeah, my mother read 'Gone With the Wind' just before I was born") Feinstein. And Elizabeth Taylor was there with her husband, Virginia Sen. John Warner.

At the entrance to the dining room guests were met with an oversized photograph of Stevens sporting a handlebar mustache. "They painted it on." Stevens was quick to point out just in case nobody had realized.

Buchwald was master of ceremonies, sketching the early life of the honoree who was "born in a small goldmining town in the Beverly Hills, of California, whose father was an itinerant movie director who barely eked out a living with such films as 'Shame,' 'Place in the Sun,' 'Gunga din' and 'giant.'"

According to Buchwald's research the Stevens family "always managed to keep the swimming pool heated in winter and the billiard room cool in summer." Despite such hardships, young George grew up with a love for the film industry. "The seeds of AFI," Buchwald said, were "born in the backrooms of Hollywood Boulevard penny arcades."

Others fleshing out the Stevens portrait included Sen. Claiborne Pell (D-R.I.), National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Livingston Biddle, Rep. John Brademas (D-Ind.), AFI film club director Ina Ginsburg, Librarian of Congress Daniel Boorstin, MPA's Jack Valenti, Jean Firstenberg, AFI's new director and the Kennedy Center's Roger Stevens.

It fell to Roger Stevens to present George Stevens a moments of the evening. "He's just about gotten everything out of us he ever wanted," said Stevens, "now, if we give him a gold key [to the Kennedy Center] that just about wraps it up."

But it was Jack Schneider, an AFI trustee, who fleshed Stevens out in perpetuity by announcing a "Pops" Stevens scholarship for three students in advanced film editing at the Center for Film studies in Beverly Hills.

Tom "Today Show" Brokaw called Stevens his "closet friend" and a guy with an uncanny knack of being in the right political spot at the right time "Whenever the wind blows," said Brokaw, "we know we'll find George there."

Stevens took bows for himself and his wife, the former Elizabeth Guest Condon, whom he married in 1965. "Liz Taylor said get married in the morning," he recalled. In case it doesn't work out, you don't waste a whole day."

Taylor, who was sitting all the way across the room with husband John Warner, feigned surprise that she might have ever said such a thing.

Now, as yet another turning point in his life, Stevens summed up the evening for the crowd: "I guess you'd call it a kind of institutional bar mitzvah, wouldn't you"