Big, big, big night for public-affairs consultant Roy O. Harris Jr. $1
As far as he could see were rings the size of cherry tomatoes, black silk that rustled, fat furs to protect shoulders from a late summer's eve. He darted around as co-founder of the second annual Ambassadors Ball at the Washington Hilton last night, but also, as fate would have it, co-chair of a simultaneous salute to drama critic Richard Coe. And at the Kennedy Center, egads.
What to do?
"I may have to helicopter back and forth," he'd said earlier in the day.
He didn't. But he ran into the pre-ball reception at the Hilton, then ran out lickety-split for the Kennedy Center. "It's a huge day," he grinned.
Two women, attired in immobile bouffants and one-shoulder gowns clasped by jewels, were having cocktails at the Ambassador's Ball reception under a palm tree.
"I go to almost all of the balls," said one of them, who turned out to be Lucy Michnic, the wife of a real-estate developer. "Five or six or seven a year. My husband knows more about them than I do. I don't even know the names of them. But I go." She held a tiny potato chip between two red fingernails, then placed it in her mouth and chewed without making a single crunching noise.
This particular ball benefited multiple sclerosis and offered former hostage Richard Queen (who suffers from the disease), Burt Reynolds, singer-actor Ben Vereen, Secretary of State Edmund Muskie and about 60 ambassadors as the main attractions. Reynolds was clearly the most popular.
"Get his attention, I'm too short," a 16-year-old named Debbie Goldman told her father as she jumped up and down in front of the dais where Reynolds was sitting. Somebody suggested that Reynolds was too old for her, and in fact, was old enough to be her father. She looked back at her dad, sized up Reynold's healthy frame, and replied:
"I doubt it."
The Gene Donati orchestra played on.
Roy Harris missed Debbie Goldman, and missed Reynolds, too. That's because he was a few miles away, at the Kennedy Center.
"Well, what happened," he explained, "was that the Ambassadors Ball was supposed to be on Sept. 5, and the salute to Richard Coe on Sept. 16. But I went out of town, and when came back, Audrey [Ullman, wife of the representative and the other founder of the ball] had changed the date to Sept. 16. And I said, 'Oh, Audrey,' and she said, 'But I already signed the contract with the Washington Hilton.'
"So I said, 'Okay,'" said Harris. 'I'll just shuttle back and forth.'"
The receiving line at the Washington Hilton was going full blast. "Hello, nice to see you," everybody said to the line of finely dressed pooh-bahs. Richard Queen was at the end of the line. "Hello, nice to see you," everybody said to him, too.
"Last time I wore a tuxedo was at the high school prom," said Queen.
On the Iranian parliament's decision to turn the hostage situation over to a special commission, he said: "It's impossible for me to predict what that might mean. I hope it will be able to open something up, but I can't say whether it will or not."
Edmund Muskie offered this: "I think that's just another step in the construction of the political institutions they need to come to a decision . . . it's a fragile situation."
Burt Reynolds kept signing autographs. He claimed to have no plans to sing, dance or make jokes. In fact, he was just going to sit there.
"I'm good at that," he explained.
Roy Harris was born in Bokchito, Okla., a town he describes as "a crossroads with a gas station." He grew up in Oklahoma City, went to the University of Oklahoma and finally, after always aiming for Washington, wound up working in the office of the secretary of agriculture during the Johnson Administration.
He said he's done public relations for Hill and Knowlton, the American Gas Association and the postmaster general. He's had his own consulting firm for the last 2 1/2 years.
He's 35, short, half-Mexican, immaculately dressed and is on half a dozen boards. "I think I add a lot to other people's lives," he said.
Other political celebrities at the Ambassadors Ball included presidential adviser Sarah Weddington and Rep. Norman Dicks (D-Wash.).
"There's a primary in my state tonight, so we decided that the best place to be was here," Dicks said. "I'm going to have one big martini, my beef tenderloin and then I'm going to go home and see what happens." His competition, he said, was Bob Satiacum, chief of the Puyallup Indian tribe. c
Here's what Weddington said: "No comment. It was emphasized today to us that we have no comment." In this case, what she wasn't commenting on was Tim Kraft, on leave from the Carter campaign. A special prosecutor has been named to investigate allegations that he used cocaine while a member of the president's staff.
And here are some other things those among the 1,000 people said during the course of the evening.
"I'm ready to hang myself." This from an ambassador who said he hated charity balls.
"The campaign will actuallly begin with the first debate."
"It was a sari-type dress that I'd worn when I went out before, and I'd forgotten I had it."
"We'd have a massage every day, and in the evening, we'd listen to music."
"To me," said Roy Harris earlier in the day, "social climbing is going to parties to try to finagle invitations for the mere purpose of being there and rubbing shoulders with prominent people. That's what I consider social climbing."