The Gridiron Club held its 96th annual singeing of official Washington on Saturday night with its traditional menu of satirical skits and lambasting lyrics. The guest list was long and eclectic, including everyone from Ginger Rogers to President Ronald Reagan to Henry Kissinger to Betty Friedan. Among the sights:
Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) declaring that Reagan and budget director David Stockman were his "moles" working from within to destroy the Republican Party.
Soviet Ambassador Anatoliy Dobrynin, who eschewed the traditional white tie for military uniform, seated at the head table, nodding his head in time to the music as a "Caspar Weinberger" character sang "Oh, thank heaven for neutron bombs."
("I told you the Polish situation was serious," said one Washington journalist seated in the audience.)
A petuland "Henry Kissinger" character beseeching Ronald Reagan (to the tune of "Cold Cold Heart"); I tried so hard, my president, just to get inside your dream. Yet you're afraid each thing I do is just some evil scheme. The memories of my famous past keep us so far apart. How can I free your doubtful mind and melt your cold, cold heart?
Ginger Rogers, doing an elegant dance on stage with Washington Post comunist Philip Gevelin -- which reminded President Ronald Reagan of his silver-screen days starring with her in the movie "Storm Warning." Reagan later said he didn't truly understand the title "until I met Tip O'Neill."
President Reagan admitting to occasional breakdowns in communications in his administration, saying "sometimes our right hand doesn't know whar our far-right hand is doing."
"Definitely one of his best lines," said a guest afterward.
The exclusive Gridiron Club's 60 members cook up a lampoon every year, during which journalists and politicians put aside their mutual distrust for a cozy evening of high-powered, off-the-record high jinks. Saturday night the theme was Hollywood, in honor of the president.
A well-heeled audience of 600, that included journalists, editors and publishers of the nation's top newspapers, most of the Reagan Cabinet and four of the returned American hostages, watched as the Democrats and Republicans took twitting where twitting was due. According to participants, the night went like this:
"Welcome to Republican austerity," said club president Edward O'Brien as the lights in the huge ballroom at the Capital Hilton went out. O'Brien informed the audience that light would be restored only if David Stockman allowed, and under Stockman's direction steak and champagne would be served only to the "truly needy."
If Secretary of State Alexander Haig didn't like the handling of the lighting crisis, said O'Brien, he could certainly take the matter up with Vice President George Bush.
In the demiglow of the podium light, both Haig and Bush could be seen smiling, though it was Bush who was the more animated. "He was giggling, actually," said one guest who had a clear view of the head table.
O'Brien lamented the kitchen cabinet's recent departure from the Executive Office Building, saying they'd toned up the neighborhood. The kitchen cabinet were the only people, he said, who think of caviar as "soul food."
Columnist Robert Novak took the stage and introduced members of the audience. The first lady's press secretary, Sheila Patton, and social secretary Muffie Brandon, he said, he had been "busy rewriting history to suit Mrs. Reagan."
Novak introduced FBI Director William Webster and CIA Director William Casey, warning guests "not to speak into the roses" that adorned the long, long tables, because "snooping is back in style."
(Novak, a.k.a. "The Prince of Darkness," graced the stage in various disguises throughout the night, including a leopard-skin Tarzan outfit and a Count Dracula suit.)
He asked top officials of General Morots, Ford and Chrysler in the audience to stand up, then turned to the Japanese ambassador and said, Mr. Ambassador, you have just met the men who made the Japanese auto industry what it is today."
The Democrats' portion of the show began with a search for a new party star. "The Democrats are down but they're also out," went the introduction.
"Good evening. I am the famous director, Charles Manatt, chairman of The Democratic National Committee," said a club member portraying the new DNC chief. "I have been hired by the Democratic Studios to make a great picture. The last one was a bomb. Look what the Republican stuido did. An elderly gentleman, a 30-year-old script, and it was a smash.
"Wait a minute," said "Manatt." "Who's that lady there?"
"That's no lady," came the response, "that's Tip O'Neill."
"O'Neill" sang about political honeymoon, but the director was not impressed.
"That's my star?" said the director. "I may go into prono movies."
"Ted Kennedy," Jimmy Carter" and "Rosalynn" auditioned with "Gimme That Old Time Religion. "With no star in sight, the Democrats were left with "Moynihan," a character who made his debut to the tune of "New York, New York," and asked that the party "Pick that big leprechaun.
"Pick Moynihan and Old New York."
As the luck of the Irish would have it, it was the real Sen. Moynihan who stole the show, with what guests said was a wickedly witty response to the skit spoofing the Democrats. (David Stockman, once a student of Moynihan's at Harvard, later gave the Republican response, in which Moynihan figured prominently.)
Stockman and Reagan, said Moynihan, were his "moles" within the Republican party. "David Stockman," said Moynihan, "was everything you could dream of in a mole. Corn-fed and cow-locked, the best boob material you could come by."
Moynihan mentioned Haig, saying it was good to give United Technologies their piece of foreign policy, but that it was time for them to give it back, as they'd only paid for eight weeks' worth.
The "directors" of the Republican skit were "cecil B. DeMillionaire and Samuel Goldfinger" and it was they who introduced "George Bush" singing "George boy": Dig me, Georgy Boy! Ivy League effete that's not for me. Even the elite could never see The laid-back Bush in me. Mister President! How could you have almost passed me by? Was it just the old school tie, Or was it the clothes I wore?
"Nancy Reagan" sang "Blue Room" ("We'll give Abe Lincoln new bedspreads with mink on, and ermine bath mats all around . . .") and a "Haig" character, dressed up as Gen. George Patton, sang "There's Something About a Soldier" ("Oh, a military chest, suits the State Department best").
The real Nancy Reagan, dressed in a low-rising strapless black dress, sat at the head table and smiled.
"Henry Kissinger" was next, a performance that had the audience roaring: "You really need and want my help but you're afraid to try,
"I need the work, you need my brain, to shun me just ain't smart.
"How can I free your doubtful mind and melt your cold, cold heart."
"William French Smith" sang "How Are Things With Frank Sinatra?" the last line of which was "I-i-i-i Doooooon't Knooooow."
The Cabinet follies continued with "Casper Weinberger" singing "Thank Heaven for Neutron Bombs":
"Those little bombs, so subtle and appealing;
"Their gentle blast won't crack the plaster on your ceiling," crooned the "Cap the Knife" character.
"Now for Secretary of the Interior James Watt," said "Cecil B. DeMillionaire."
"Of Coors, of Coors," said "Goldfinger." He was referring to Colorado millionaire brewery king Joseph Coors, a big contributor to political campaigns. He was in the audience last night, seated at the same table as Barbara "I Dream of Jeannie" Eden, the wife of Chicago Sun-Times executive vice president, Charles Fegert.
"Home, home on the range," warbled the journalist who played "Watt."
"Where no deer and no antelope play.
"Where Smokey the bear breathes in toxic air,
"And the cattle chew nuclear hay."
Then "David Stockman," cast as "The Wrong Way Robin Hood," sang: "Nothing eases tensions quite like cutting widows' pensions, in the morning.
"Nothing could be sweeter than to beat a welfare cheater as a warning.
For the hungry children knocking on my door, I'll have a balanced diet ready by '84."
Then David Stockman, in the flesh, rebutted Moynihan's testimony of moments before, identifying Moynihan as his guiding star during the ideological meanderings of his youth.
Moynihan, said Stockman, is "a man for all presidents."
Stockman mentioned a brand new program called "workfare," for the "politically disabled, the intellectually disadvantaged and those temporarily blinded" to the supply-side vision.
Stockman was succeeded by Reagan, who greeted his "fellow communicators" and "I might say after tonight, fellow thespians.
"I like the job," he said of his new role, "but if you're not careful it can make you prematurely middle-aged."
Reagan charmed the crowd with one-liners. "He said he felt he'd been getting along with Hill Democrats," said a guest later, "until Chairman Clarence Long (D-Md.) discovered that El Salvador wasn't a cigar."
By that time it was near midnight. The president and most of the Cabinet soon departed, descending through the hotel lobby past a large vocal throng of admirers.
"We've got to work tomorrow" said Haig, who walked out arm-in-arm with Agriculture Secretary John Block.
"Good show, good show," said National Security Adviser Richard Allen, who was following close behind. Why weren't they staying for the parties afterward? "Crisis in Upper Volta," he said.
But most of the crowd stayed, and wandered in and out of parties hosted in hotel suits by newspapers. The revelry began at midnight and at 2 a.m. it was still going strong.
"I thought the show was a hoot," said advice columnist Ann Landers, whose sister Abigail Van Buren was also in attendance. "And if the president was listening with a third ear, he got a message all right. I loved the song about 'Hud is dead.'
"But, gee," said Landers, "you can't help but like the guy [Reagan]. He really knows how to laugh at himself."
Not the least interesting moment of the evening came at the end of the program, when the head table linked arms and joined the audience singing "Auld Lang Syne." There was Soviet Ambassador Dobrynim, arm-in-arm with the Canadian ambassador and Chief Justice Warren Burger, swaying from side to side with the best of them throughout the entire song.
"That's Washington, surreal Washington," signed one guest. "It would take a Tolstoy to figure it out."