If there could be a cross between, say, the Kentucky Derby and the Maryland Lottery, then last night's "Surprize Party," a benefit for the Corcoran School of Art, was it.
They gave away 107 prizes -- everything from dinner for four at Lion D'Or to a Russian silver samovar to a painting by Gene Davis to a Toyota Celica Supra -- all neatly printed up in glossy little booklets. In the atrium, some stood studying their booklets like racing forms. Others just ate from the massive buffet in the middle of the room.
And at the hub of the action, master of ceremonies Roger Mudd stood on a platform enthusiastically announcing prize winners.
Elegantly dressed women held up placards displaying the number of the prize being drawn for as if to announce the number of the next round in a prizefight.
"CBS is letting Dan Rather replace Walter Cronkite so I would have lots of time to prepare for the Corcoran Suprize Party," quipped Mudd at the beginning of his portion of the emceeing duties.
Most of the guests just kept on eating and talking during the proceedings. But when you have 1,200 people -- the Corcoran has a penchant for throwing massive parties -- in one place, that's what they usually do.
The tickets were $100 per couple, and 900 were sold, which meant that one of every nine couples won something.
Those who took their chances ranged from trustees and the regular supporters of the gallery to lawyers and government staffers who don't usually pop up at these functions.
Those who emceed the drawing were Mudd; Peggy Cooper, chair of the D.C. Commission on the Arts; Lee Kimche, director of museum services for the Department of Education; Sander Vanocur, ABC News; and Peter Marzio, director of the Corcoran.
A few artists came, including Leon Berkowitz, who had donated a painting and sauntered in wearing white pants with suspenders, looking amused. Mark Clark, who works mainly in New York, also donated a painting. a
"It's more a mental hardship than a financial hardship," he said of his donation. "My paintings are like my children. I like to see them get good homes."
"I think this brought out the gambler in people," said Corcoran School Dean Peter Thomas, who is leaving the school to become arts director for the Federal Reserve Board. "It's a new crowd. Some of these people probably had to look up the Corcoran in the phone book. But between prizes, they can look at the paintings."
Some of the gamblers fared quite well -- including several of the 59 trustees.
"Rich trustees won," sniffed one observer. "Frank Saul (a trustee who won the coveted Gene Davis painting) doesn't need a Gene Davis."
"Frankly," said one trustee, "the trustees just bought an awful lot of tickets."
But nobody's ticket investment paid off like that of Sally Finney, who bought 15 tickets and won four prizes, including a Chrysler LeBaron.
"She's got something going here," said Fred Dutton, a lawyer who represents Saudi Arabia here and whose wife, Nancy, another lawyer, was a chairman of the committee that put together the event. "I think we should elect her president."
The Corcoran School hopes to make $50,000 from the benefit. The money will go toward matching a $100,000 grant given by the Cafritz Foundation.