David Brinkley, prestigious pillar of television news and one of inside Washington's own, was like a little kid at his own birthday party last night.

No gifts -- only celebrities to drink to his first year with ABC: Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, Commerce Secretary Malcolm Baldridge, Labor Secretary Raymond Donovan, Attorney General William French Smith, White House communications director Dave Gergen, Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) and House Minority Leader Bob Michel (R-Ill.).

"Good crowd," beamed Dorrance Smith, executive producer of Brinkley's weekly news and interview show. "We invited everyone who had ever appeared on the show this year . . . But Qaddafi, Francois Mitterrand and King Hussein couldn't make it . . . "

"Everyone likes to be on television," explained Howard Phillips, executive director of the Conservative Caucus.

The party, celebrating "This Week With David Brinkley," was appropriately laden with the lions of the capital, most of whom grew up on a familiar diet of Brinkley's years of memorable anchoring with Chet Huntley at a rival network, NBC.

"It was a crushing adjustment . . . very, very hard," said Brinkley last night of his switch to ABC last year after 37 years at NBC, blamed on personality differences with then-NBC president William Small. "I spent most of my life there . . . I learned everything there. It was like getting a divorce."

But the cocktail party, in the mirrored elegance of the Watergate's Riverview Room, was no place for nostalgia. It was too crowded. The eclectic group of the right, left and Fourth Estate is not often observed near the same wheel of warm brie.

"I think I'm going to go up and introduce myself to Bob Strauss," said conservative direct-mail king Richard Viguerie. "You know, I've never met him."

"It's my pleasure and honor to be here," Donovan told the guest of honor. "I've enjoyed you for years . . . until you turned the cameras on me."

They both chuckled knowingly.


Weinberger slipped in at the head of the receiving line. Defense secretaries with Secret Service entourages are allowed to do that. Soon Brinkley, ABC president Roone Arledge, who threw the party, and Weinberger were off to the side whispering about "Shultz" and "Bush" and "trip to the Soviet Union" -- at a proper distance from the encircling crowd. Flashbulbs popped.

Later, when asked how the trip to Leonid Brezhnev's funeral went for Secretary of State George Shultz and Vice President George Bush, Weinberger said he hadn't conferred with them yet.

"We missed each other so I don't know yet," said Weinberger. "We're hoping for improvement . . . We're optimistic [about Soviet-U.S. relations].

Meanwhile, everyone sung Brinkley's praises.

Strauss on Brinkley: "He's one of the most credible men in America. I don't trust him. But other people do."

William French Smith on Brinkley: "I always liked his sort of quiet way of saying things . . . very direct, very convincing . . . It's hard not to believe everything he says."

Brinkley on Brinkley: "I would like to think I'm not dull. I have a pretty good sense of what's real news and what's not. I think I'm a pretty good ad libber and a pretty good writer . . . And that's as far as I'll go."

The 6 to 8 p.m. crowd dwindled as the last butterfly shrimp was devoured. Even the chocolate mousse had a pretty good dent in it. About a dozen of the 200 who passed through went on to join Brinkley and his wife, Susan, at a private dinner at the Jockey Club.

But first.

"I'll always remember David Brinkley as 'Good Night, Chet,' " said USIA director Charles Z. Wick. "He's part of everyone's America."