"And what do you want for Christmas, little fella?" roared NBC weatherman Willard Scott to a small patient at Children's Hospital yesterday. Scott was cleverly disguised as Santa Claus.
"I want a phone number for that pretty girl over there," shot back 10-year-old Richard Hovey. An 11-year-old named Tina blushed on the sidelines.
First Lady Nancy Reagan offered the boy a small red stuffed elephant. "Here's a little gift you can give her to pave the way," said Mrs. Reagan. "A gift can't hurt. I hope you do well with her."
"I always get As," said the pudgy-faced boy, wispy bangs falling in his eyes. "I'll get an A this time, too."
"Well, how do you feel about older women?" asked the first lady.
"No woman is too old for me," he retorted, proudly grinning. Everyone laughed, very loudly.
"Well then, I guess I'll be back," said Mrs. Reagan.
"Make sure you get my good side," yelled Richard to the cavalry of photographers clicking away.
The Nancy and Willard Show went on the road yesterday morning at Children's Hospital National Medical Center. Santa Claus cracked jokes and won hearts; Mrs. Reagan hugged and kissed with abandon; and everyone got a little stuffed toy.
Wearing her Reagan-red, Adolfo swearing-in outfit from last year, the first lady seemed comfortable and relaxed. She held every last little hand, told one deaf little boy she loved him in sign language, and got on her knees a couple of times to sign plaster casts.
Although there were plenty of "photo opportunities," it was not a cameo appearance. Nancy, Willard and the traveling troops spent three hours traipsing through every room on every floor of the hospital, first depositing a large gingerbread house in the main lobby. Willard took a noisy bite for the kids and the cameras.
"Was that stale?" Mrs. Reagan inquired.
"No, that was my beard you heard crunching," answered Scott.
Children's Hospital, considered one of the top pediatric-care institutions in the country, is currently involved in one of its largest fund-raising drives.
"If the Reagan administration budget cuts go through, we will probably need to raise about $12 million," said Harold Kranz, public relations director for the hospital.
Yesterday there were 204 children registered at Children's with everything from allergies to cancer. They were all different sizes and shapes in their crisp pajamas and blue jeans, perfectly curled hair with little ribbons and barrettes.
"Hi Nancy," squeaked 3-year-old Julie Joseph, throwing her tiny arms around the first lady.
"It's Mrs. Reagan," corrected her mother, rather embarrassed. But by then Julie had gotten distracted. "I just love pigtails, do you like beards?" Santa said to Julie. In response, she giggled and handed Santa a drawing of a Christmas tree. "Oh, it's just wonderful," said Santa.
"My mommy draw it cause I can't," said Julie. "For you."
The adults seemed to enjoy the show too. Seven residents loitered in the hallway waiting for Mrs. Reagan to come out from behind closed doors. They discussed former presidents while they waited. Several of the mothers told Mrs. Reagan they were rooting for her and thanked her for coming.
At the last stop, 5-year-old Damon Williams grabbed hold of her neck and kissed her five times.
"Tell your husband I said hello when you go home," instructed the freckled redhead.
"I will," said the first lady, "but I won't tell him we kissed."