Peter Malatesta, one of Washington's more centrally casted characters from those halcyon days of the mid-1970s when it was hard to keep track of the scandals without a scorecard, tried out the comeback trail to fame and glory last night by starring at his own book publication party.
Not everybody who was anybody showed up, if you count Frank Sinatra, Spiro Agnew, Richard Nixon, Ardeshir Zahedi and Tongsun Park among the missing. But in Malatesta's vernacular of describing Washington society, the "biggies" who did come were his real friends anyway.
Many were characters in his book, "Party Politics--The Confessions of a Washington Party-Giver." That included Louise Gore, his "astute Maryland political friend," who not only discovered Spiro Agnew for Richard Nixon and the history books but introduced Malatesta to him and to her own circle of Washington socialites. He later became an aide to then-vice-president Agnew.
Others jamming the small Hyatt Regency conference room from that rarefied world of power parties included:
* Socialite Virginia Page, owner of Malatesta's favorite Washington pad (now the residence of the Cypriot ambassador), where he and Frank Sinatra set up shop as salon-keepers extraordinaire for a few short months in 1973.
* Stockbroker Bill Cook and Mississippi Rep. Dave Bowen, who joined forces with Malatesta to round up the "bored" singles crowd for one party that eventually led to the liaison between Korean businessman Tongsun Park and Malatesta in the nightclub called Pisces.
* Fellow Agnew staffers Vic Gold, speechwriter, and John Damgard, a scheduler, who sat at Sans Souci with Malatesta trying to figure out whether Agnew would resign.
* Bess Abell, Malatesta's Georgetown neighbor to whom he turned for moral support that same afternoon after Frank Sinatra's lawyer, Mickey Rudin, told him by telephone from Los Angeles that Agnew was going to resign.
* Fred Malek, then deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, who helped keep Malatesta off the unemployment roles by finding him a job as deputy assistant secretary of commerce for tourism--a euphemism for handling the department's Bicentennial role.
For Dave Bowen, those first three or four years as a freshman congressman also were the "high tide" of Malatesta's party-giving. "Now everybody's so supercautious, so apprehensive, and looking over their shoulders. Koreagate put a slight damper on the Washington party scene."
Bess Abell remembered only too well how she had answered Malatesta's call that fateful afternoon. "He sounded so urgent. I remember that I played Frank Sinatra records and we sat and talked . . . Peter's not a shallow person and he was portrayed as shallow then."
Malek remembered that "if Peter was your friend, he was your friend for life. He transcended political loyalties. I'd had this personnel job and I still had clout."
"It was a roller-coaster ride here for me," said Malatesta, who really hadn't changed much from that short man with the anxious smile and the knack for the quick study of Washington's society: "My first big party was an eye-opener," he wrote in his book. "It amazed me how easily accessible the city's upper crust actually was, once a 'trump card' like Sinatra was played."
Malatesta said he never was sure whether his relationship with Sinatra was "personal or professional." It ended shortly after Agnew resigned, but he invited him to his party last night anyway. Not Wyatt Dickerson, however, the real-estate investor with whom Malatesta and Park were involved in Pisces.
"I never had anything in common with Dickerson. He came into our deal and took advantage of it. Finally, I said, 'You want Pisces, you got it,' " said Malatesta.
Which was kind of ironic considering what Malatesta's comeback reminded some people of last night.
Said Jane Coyne, shortly after she arrived: "This looks like the opening week of Pisces."