It could have been a PTA meeting in any school auditorium, except that most of the people sitting in the folding chairs were dressed in black tie or evening gowns and they were going to a dinner at the Moroccan Embassy afterward.
The entertainment at Saturday night's gala fund-raiser for the Capital Children's Museum was also a bit out of the ordinary. Alex Haley told an inspirational story of a child's aspirations and a mother who encouraged them that turned out to be a thumbnail biography of Leontyne Price. Margaret O'Brien read Andersen's story of "The Little Match Girl," her voice throbbing with emotion, and Judith Viorst talked about how "true love can survive marriage," although "it's hard to keep romance alive when the sink overflows."
Coming onstage after all this talent, Dan Rather said he felt insecure, but he managed to come through with a story about his first job in the media -- a 40-cents-per-hour slot as an announcer on a 250-watt radio station in Texas.
He nearly lost the job, he said, after he put on a half-hour recording of an evangelist, ducked out for lunch, and discovered later that the stylus had become stuck in a groove and kept repeating one phrase for 20 minutes. The phrase it kept repeating was: "Go to hell."
But the star of the evening was Jeane Dixon, who scattered predictions like buckshot. She said that Rather would soon "be tempted to give it all up and go after adventures abroad," that Haley will struggle "longer than he can imagine" with a new book, but it will be his best, and that he is headed for an operation that will "prevent stomach trouble later." A major political crisis in May or June "will make or break the career of Jimmy Carter," and 1983 will mark "the beginning of the end of the power crisis."
Rather, Dixon et al. volunteered their services, along with guitarist Charlie Byrd and a variety of other musicians, because they are "friends of the museum, or friends of our friends," a museum volunteer explained. But both the stars and the formally clad guests (who paid $50 to $100 for tickets) were also there because they are kids at heart.
They crowded around the computers, playing music and games, engaging them in conversation, charting their biorhythms and drawing electronic pictures. They wandered through an exhibit that duplicates a Mexican village, complete with a rural home and a small store.
"This museum began on a shoestring, and sometimes the string was frayed and knotted," said executive director Ann White Lewin. But Saturday night, the shoestring seemed t be growing into a steel chain as Washington society discovered that it was a fun place for a party.
About 500 persons were entertained at the museum and those with $100 tickets went on to the dinner at the Moroccan Embassy.