Somebody called it the "typical" Washington party. And maybe it was. Where else, for instance, would you:
Hear a Hollywood producer (Allen Carr) tell a U.S. senator (Alan Cranston) that he'd be absolutely perfect in a Henry Fonda role?
Find Carol Channing slipping a diamond ring off her pinkie, handing it over and insisting that it was your best friend now?
Hear the First Lady of the United States (Rosalynn Carter) tell the First Man of the Metropolitan Opera (Luciano Pavarotti) that "I admire you so much"? just across the street from the White House, where 400-plus well-heeled guests forked over $125 apiece to buy a little friendly membership in The White House Preservation Fund.
Before it was over, it not only added up to a neat $50,000 (Bloomingdale's Chairman Marvin S. Traub picked up the entire party tab) but to pledges of another $360,000 from donors in absentia with goldplated names like Englehard (of the gold mines), Ford (of the automobiles) and Annenberg (as in TV Guide and other publishing successes.)
With White House curator Clement E. Conger in the role of principal pitchman, urging everybody to "lend me your ears and also your money," the $25 million fund drive officially got under way. Income from that amount, Conger said, would provide $2 million annually to refurbish or replenish furnishings, paintings and decorative objects in the Executive Mansion's public rooms.
"It's nonpartisan, you know," said Carol Channing in her most fetching Dolly Levi voice.
Nonpartisan though it may be, the turnout of Carter supporters, from contributors to cabinet officers, left little doubt that there's something irresistible about White House incumbency. Walter H. Shorenstin, fund chairman, came from San Francisco, where he is Jimmy Carter's chief Bay Area moneybags.
Not even he, however, could muster up nerve enough to ask how Carter was doing in the Pennsylvania primary when Mrs. Carter arrived.
"I didn't want to ask," Shorenstein said in an aside, his hand on her elbow as he guided her through the throng where rumors abounded that Carter and Kennedy were neck-and-neck.
Among the evening's few political innocents were Pavarotti, flashing the magnetic smile and insisting that he just adores antiques like those at the White House. Asked whether he also supports Carter, he grinned even more broadly.
"Well," he explained patiently. "I'm Italian -- I vote in Italy. I can't make any vote here. And anyway, it's a secret.
LaborSecretary Ray Marshall predicted that if Sen. Edward Kennedy didn't win Pennsylvania, "it will be an upset." Lamenting his inability to spend more time there with blue-collar voters, Marshall said he should have done more, but right in the middle of it all had to attend a meeting in Paris.
Rosalynn Carter avoided Pennsylvania and talked about White House acquisitions. Her big push, she said, will be for American paintings. Conger said that at last count, there were 140 such paintings on loan in the mansion, with four scheduled to go home to their owner this week, and 15 more next week.
The party was held under the tent in the courtyard behind the fund's headquarters opposite Lafayette Park. Bloomingdale's set up and furnished the whole thing.