When Winston Churchill was in the United States in 1949 to address the 100th convocation of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Walter Annenberg attended a stag party given for him by Bernard Baruch.
"The guests were seated alphabetically, and I was right next to the great man," reminisced Annenberg last night. "About 1:30 in the morning, after endless wine and brandy, I said, 'Sir, I hope you will not think me bold but I am greatly displeased at the British vote against you.' And he said, 'Look not for rewards from others but hope you have done your best.' That was one of the finest evenings of my life."
After the premiere of "Churchill," a one-man drama about Winston Churchill, at Ford's Theatre last night, the British Embassy, quite expectedly, was aswarm with 150 people and nearly as many Churchill legends. "The play evoked all kinds of marvelous memories," said Chief Justice Warren Burger. "I met Churchill once on the run at a White House reception during the Eisenhower administration. We didn't get to talk; I was just a lowly assistant attorney general. But after a while tonight I thought Roy Dotrice was Churchill."
For two years during World War II, Livingston Biddle, the former chairman for the National Endowment for the Arts, was an ambulance driver in the British Army. "I never met Churchill but I was close to him," said Biddle, laughing. "One time in Italy he drove past me in a big white touring car and gave me a victory sign."
Dotrice, who had removed the Churchill nose and jowls that take two hours to apply, stole most of the attention from other guests such as Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger and White House Social Secretary Muffie Brandon. "Do you remember me from Abraham Lincoln?" asked one woman, referring to another of Dotrice's one-man shows.
Dotrice laughed as he told a small circle of admirers how he had dropped a glass of whiskey after last night's show when he discovered his daughter, Michelle, had flown in from Bermuda. "Now, I never do things like that," he said.
But the conversation never veered far from Churchill. Said Dotrice, "In my next play with Julie Harris I play Lytton Strachey the late literary critic , who was a flaming homosexual. In a conversation with Churchill about his being a conscientious objector, Churchill asked him, 'Do you object to all wars? What would you do if a German soldier was raping your sister?' And Strachey replied, 'I would do everything humanly possible to get between them.' "
There was talk of another anticipated production at the reception. Samuel Gallu, the author of "Churchill," has just finished a script based on Judge John Sirica's book, "To Set the Record Straight." "Martin Balsam is set to do me," said Sirica. Gallu commented, "I'm still trying to sell it. It depends on how kindly the networks are looking at good guys." Sirica didn't have a firsthand story about Churchill but he did remember what he was doing when Pearl Harbor was bombed. "I was out touring the town with a couple of dancers from the old Paul Young on 13th street. I was a bachelor then," he said, smiling.