Invitations to official White House dinners are among the most coveted in the country. Guest lists are meticulously compiled to mix politics, power and paybacks. And a sprinkle of this president's movie star friends adds extra glitter for an automatically glossy night.
Putting together a White House dinner is no small undertaking. Besides the president and first lady, nearly a dozen White House and State Department aides help decide just who's coming to dinner.
The preparation usually starts at least two months in advance, and three weeks before the event the invitations go out to between 96 and 120 favored people throughout the country. Or sometimes the world.
Audrey Hepburn, for instance, flew in from Switzerland last spring to dine with Prince Charles. On Thursday night, at the dinner for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Mr. and Mrs. Paul DeDomenico flew in from Honokaa, Hawaii.
Who are Mr. and Mrs. Paul DeDomenico? They are friends of President Mubarak's whom the National Security Council asked the White House to invite. Like most of the names on a White House guest list the DeDomenicos' connection was not apparent.
The Mubarak dinner was an interesting case study in the juggling of political and social demands from at least nine different sources: Nancy Reagan, deputy chief of staff Michael K. Deaver, chief of staff James A. Baker III, presidential counselor Edwin Meese III, press secretaries Larry Speakes and Sheila Tate, presidential assistant for legislative affairs Kenneth M. Duberstein, presidential assistant for political affairs Edward Rollins, the National Security Council and the State Department.
Tate says that, unlike with previous administrations, there is no quota system. "It isn't that cut and dried anymore. People make suggestions and every effort is made to accommodate them, but in the end Mrs. Reagan makes the final decision."
Here's a breakdown of the Mubarak guest list:
* Regulars -- The vice president, secretary of state, national security adviser, a Supreme Court justice, the chief of protocol, a Cabinet member, a military representative and the Reagan Big Three of Meese, Baker and Deaver.
At the Mubarak dinner, Associate Justice William Brennan represented the Supreme Court. It was Interior Secretary James Watt's turn from the Cabinet. And Gen. David C. Jones, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, came from the military.
* Media -- There are usually two reporters invited as guests, one who covers the president and one who covers the first lady. "My decision is usually based on who regularly covers social events and would benefit from being a guest at a state dinner," says Tate. "Larry's interest is broader. He invites White House press corps regulars. We cooperatively horsetrade."
CBS correspondent Bill Plante, who regularly covers the White House, was the only reporter on Thursday night's guest list. However, there were three newspaper executives: Arthur O. Sulzberger of The New York Times, Gerald Warren of the San Diego Union and Arthur Wiese of the Houston Post. Sulzberger and Wiese brought their wives, Warren was invited to bring a date. "If people aren't married, we try to be flexible," said Tate.
* Congress -- Recommendations on who is invited from the House or the Senate come from the White House congressional liaison office andare loosely based on a variety of factors: what committees they serve on, their ethnic origins, what political help they can give the president. There are usually two to six members invited, the leadership more frequently.
For the Mubarak dinner: Sen. Mark Hatfield (R-Ore.), Sen. Donald Nickles (R-Okla.), Rep. William Nichols (D-Ala.), Rep. Edward Madigan (R-Ill.), Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and Sen. Robert Dole (R-Kan.), who, in fact, was a guest of his wife, presidential assistant Elizabeth Dole.
Congressional liaison Ken Duberstein's office says that in the course of four years he hopes everyone in Congress will be invited to at least one White House dinner.
* Political Payback and Persuasion -- On every list are a handful of longtime Republican or Reagan supporters. The names come from the office of Ed Rollins, the president's assistant for political affairs, who says he always tries to include somebody from labor. In this case it was Robert Georgine of the AFL-CIO.
"What we basically do," said Rollins, "is we have people from each state who have been active in the campaign, or key Eagles who contribute."
He said he gets the names of Eagles, those $10,000-a-year Republican contributors, from the Republican National Committee. Sheila Tate said presidential assistant for personnel Helene von Damm, who has been with Reagan since he was in the California governor's mansion, also makes recommendations on longtime supporters.
Wednesday night Rollins recommended Tommy Thomas, a GOP National Committee man and Reagan state chairman from Panama City, Fla., and Donald Koll, a California developer who has been active in Republican party politics. Another guest was his predecessor, Lyn Nofziger, whom Rollins said Deaver also suggested.
The Big Three: Mike Deaver recommended James Lynn, OMB director under Ford, and Marion Smoak, a Nixon administration chief of protocol and an early Reagan supporter; Jim Baker recommended longtime Republican and Texas friend Joanne Herring and Houston businessman Harrison Masterson. Ed Meese did not suggest anyone for the Mubarak dinner.
* Reagan Friends -- According to Tate, Nancy Reagan keeps an ongoing list of those she would like to invite to future dinners. The Mubarak dinner included Frederick T. de Cordova, who produced "Bedtime for Bonzo"; David J. Mahoney, chairman of the conglomerate Norton-Simon Inc.; Japanese designer Hanae Mori and her husband, Ken; and Ronald and Jo Carole Lauder of the cosmetic company Estee Lauder.
* The Arts Crowd -- In the Reagans' case, it's hard to differentiate between friends and arts. Representatives from the arts are generally visible party supporters who also happen to be friends of the president and first lady. However, established artists like Rise Stevens also pop up on the list, sometimes recommended by Nancy Reagan, sometimes by Deaver, sometimes by social secretary Muffie Brandon, who used to head Washington Corporative Arts Inc., an arts consulting firm.
* The Visitors -- The guest of honor's official party was left to the Egyptian Embassy. Recommendations for Americans with Egyptian ties or expertise could come from anywhere in the administration. For the Mubarak dinner, the State Department suggested David Abshire, chairman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies of Georgetown University, and Frank W. Considine, head of National Can Corp., of Chicago, because he is a past chairman of the U.S. Egyptian Business Council.
Tate says the White House often is contacted by people seeking invitations to dinners and that those requests are politely noted. But it's safe to conclude that the White House diner-invitation policy is reminiscent of the old show-biz line: Don't call us, we'll call you.