7:20 p.m. Ten minutes before deadline. Some 1,100 editors and various guests are milling about in the lobby of the Eisenhower Theater, making a tumultuous noise. Close up, intelligible little fragments detach themselves from the general babble: ". . . come out of J-school and think they know everything" . . . "as complete a sports section as we can" . . . "lots of little stories" . . . "don't complain; try to enjoy it". . .
The editors clot thickly around the bar, sipping drinks out of plastic glasses. An alert observer can formulate a rough inverse-square law: The loudness of conversation is (more or less) inversely proportional to the square of the distance from the bar. "Tonight," the bartender reports, "the most popular drink is Scotch." A hard-drinking bunch, editors. Across the lobby, a few teetotalers are buying candy bars at a dollar apiece. A shot of Scotch for $2.50 is probably a better bargain.
Gradually, the members of the American Society of Newspaper Editors begin moving toward the ticket-takers who will let them in to see Elizabeth Taylor in "The Little Foxes" -- the house was bought out specially for this audience. Actually, they begin moving toward one ticket-taker. There are two, but the one at stage left is getting all the business. A red-uniformed attendant is shouting at the editors, "There is another ticket-taker; please go to the ticket-taker on your left." But editors are linear thinkers and used to ignoringpeople who yell at them. A long, crowded line, hundreds deep, inches slowly toward one ticket-taker, while the other one stands unoccupied, taking an occasional ticket from a perceptive patron who casually strolls in.
7:30 p.m. Deadline. Hundreds of editors are still milling, but most have found their way in via the overworked ticket-taker. The stragglers seem to be in no particular hurry, perhaps because they know there is still a lot more milling about going on inside. The show misses the first edition; the curtain goes up more than 10 minutes late. The editors don't mind. As the curtain rises, they applaud the scenery -- which is, in fact, pretty good scenery: "the living room of the Giddens house, in a small town in the South." A nice place to visit, but would you want to live there? Since the editors come from all parts of the United States, presumably some of them live there -- or at least nearby.
They are an easy audience. Once past their enthusiasm for the scenery, they applaud the actors as each makes his or her first entrance. A good hand for Maureen Stapleton, who wil earn it as the night wears on, and a uproarious hand for Elizabeth Taylor, before she has spoken her first line.
10:30 p.m. The editors are up in the Atrium at a reception sponsored by the Washington Press Club with a cash bar and nothing but crepes for solid nourishment. The tab for show, crepes, two drink tickets and a chance to say hello to Elizabeth Taylor is $37.50 and the Atrium is packed. "I didn't know there were this many newspapers left," says an editor from Trenton.
"My biggest crisis tonight" says incoming ASNE President Michael O'Neill of the New York Daily News, "is that we're supposed to be greeting Elizabeth Taylor and she isn't here. How will I ever be able to face my daughters when I go home?"
The situation is even worse for Thomas Winship of the Boston Globe, the outgoing president. "He has his daughters here," O'Neill says sympathetically. "We're being stood up by Liz," says Winship, looking not totally unhappy; at least he is being stood up by a superstar.
Suddenly,Taylor makes a grand entrance, and the editors flock around. "Editors are just like other people," says Tom Kendrick, a reformed editor who now works for the Kennedy Center.
Taylor proceeds slowly the full length of the Atrium, impeded by editors waving programs to be autographed, pumping her hand, exchanging pleasantries. "Speaking of remarkable performances," asks one editor, "what do you think of the Reagan budget?" "I'll answer that," responds Taylor's husband, Sen. John Warner (R-Va.). "I wonder where she stands on the MX missile?" asks another editor.
At least one editor is found who is willing to speak for attribution: Harvey C. Jacobs of Indianapolis. "For someone from Indiana, the most important part of a convention like this is learning how other people do it, sharing problems and a few solutions. It's also nice to be rubbing shoulders with a few celebrities we don't get in Indianapolis every week."
Editors can be remarkably like tourists -- except that tourists don't get tickets for "The Little Foxes."