The secretary of defense and the top White House adviser were enjoying the usual fuss at a Washington party last night when suddenly, from out of the elevator, there came:
The place went nuts. Two women actually squealed. One said her knees were weak. The photographers dive-bombed. Meanwhile, presidential counselor Edwin Meese and Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger found themselves deserted with their cocktail oysters.
"You're like all the rest," Weinberger said to one Eastwood fan. "A movie star arrives and you run and leave us standing alone and cold in the receiving line." He looked over toward the Eastwood commotion. "I only have a husky voice," he said, "when I've made too many speeches."
Eastwood seemed to be enjoying the attention. "I like ladies the same as everyone else," he smiled.
The considerable ruckus was for the premiere of "Firefox," a movie in which Eastwood plays an American jet pilot who steals an ultra-warplane from the Soviets. (Code-named Firefox, it flies at six times the speed of sound and is operated by the pilot's thought waves--although you have to think in Russian which, naturally, Eastwood does.) The film also has a good share of Russian torture and political oppression, a characterization that didn't appear unwelcome in this crowd.
"A fair, balanced portrait," said Weinberger.
"Pro-American," said Adm. Thomas Hayward, the retiring chief of naval operations.
The premiere was something of a Washington ultra-event, thrown together by three separate forces that converged to create a $100,000, seven-hour evening that made all of them happy. Warner Communications, the entertainment conglomerate, paid for the evening as a promotion for the film, distributed by Warner Bros., one of its companies. The United Service Organization, meanwhile, benefited from the premiere, thus giving the evening a cause and a conscience. Third, political wives Jane Weinberger and Ursula Meese lent their support, both serving as crucial drawing cards.
Things began at 4 p.m. at the State Department, where a VIP reception was held. The Meeses, the Weinbergers, Eastwood and Steve Ross, chairman of Warner Communications, shook hands between portraits of Henry Clay and Robert Livingston. Eastwood caused the most stir.
"I'm Max Baucus," said the Democratic senator from Montana to the movie star. "Is there a chance to get a photo . . . ?"
There was. Baucus and his wife, Rita, stood beaming as the flashbulbs popped.
"I saw you skiing in Sun Valley," said Georgetown hostess Ina Ginsburg. "Do you go there often?"
"It's a beautiful mountain," said Eastwood.
"You were completely alone," said Ginsburg, eyes shining.
Soon Eastwood moved into the main reception room, filled with 500 people and the aroma of deep-frying broccoli tempura. A man sidled up.
"How's the orangutan?" he asked, referring to Eastwood's costar in "Every Which but Loose" and "Any Which Way You Can."
"Good," said Eastwood. "I haven't seen him in a while. He works in Vegas."
Eastwood generally got high marks as friendliest movie star. He worked the room in a manner that put many of the attending politicians to shame, stopping pleasantly for each picture and allowing women to hug and kiss him. "I like this, to tell you the truth," he said. "It doesn't feel too movieish. It's very, very nice." His good friend, actress Sondra Locke, followed. "I guess we're all kids at heart," she said, watching as another woman fell to pieces. Many decided his eyes squinted the same as in the movies.
"He's pretty cool," said David Pera, 17, who was watching. "I wouldn't mind looking at him."
"A very low-key guy," said Meese.
Second stop in the evening was the Kennedy Center, where 1,100 more people were drinking champagne at a 6:30 reception. Suddenly, Eastwood drove up in a limousine. More flashbulbs. More sighs. A few reached out to touch his jacket.
"All this for an actor who made his mark going around in the desert shooting bandits," said John Potter, a Georgetown University senior with a minor in sociology.
The final event of the evening, after the movie, was dinner in the Atrium. (Those who paid $1,000 got the whole deal.) Cardboard Firefoxes were on each table.
Among the guests were Secretary of Transportation Drew Lewis, Attorney General William French Smith, public relations man Robert Keith Gray and White House aide Craig Fuller, one of the few who weren't salivating over Eastwood.
"Personally," he said, "I'm more interested in the plane."