What a madhouse. Ali MacGraw! Ted Kennedy! Robert Mitchum! Lip-biting ABC executives, a gaga White House crowd, maybe a carload of cheese, 600 people, one leather miniskirt, a $25,000 tab! Hollywood once again came to Washington, where last night at the Kennedy Center there was a screening of the first part of "The Winds of War," the 18-hour, $40 million ABC mini-series. Intimate it wasn't.

John Houseman, who plays Aaron Jastrow, explained how he endures such a thing: "I get a drink, I look for the food, I see if I have any friends, and then I just walk about, trying to look intelligent. Then somebody comes up to me and says, 'You were wonderful as the pope.' But I never played the pope. I don't know who said that. Must have been a congressman."

"I really enjoy making movies, but the thing I don't enjoy is this publicity," said MacGraw, coating her lips with a sweet-smelling gloss. She wore tight black pants and an elaborate shawl. "It's sort of, 'Exhibit A.' "

"That's you," said a guest.

"Uh-uh," said MacGraw. "He's over there."

Mitchum, at the bar. How does he handle these things?

"I suffer them," he said. For the rest of the evening he appeared to be monosyllabic, although Gary Nardino, the president of Paramount Television, insisted: "I've had dinner with him, and he talks a lot. I mean, this kind of party is a flesh-pressing hassle."

MacGraw, meanwhile, was aware of a Time magazine review that said: "The only really bad performance is MacGraw's." "I haven't read it, of course," she said. "I'm not so stupid as to wallow in disapproval."

The party was paid for and given by Paramount, the company that made the mini-series. ABC, the co-host, begins showing it Sunday night. This party was just a smidgen of the promotion offensive, which pales World War II. Last night, everybody saw Part I, which is three hours long. So 600 stomachs wouldn't start rumbling at 11 p.m., the party was held before the screening in the Kennedy Center's Atrium. People swarmed the buffet tables. "I'm just trying to get something to eat before I have to run down there," Ted Kennedy said.

The ABC people didn't look too hungry. Maybe they were thinking of all the money they've spent.

"Yeah, sure I'm nervous," said Brandon Stoddard, the president of ABC Motion Pictures. "I've been dreaming about it for 2 1/2 weeks. It's a semi-nightmare. It's like all the ads that are going on--all those planes and flags and boats and people and seven countries. I'm floating in the middle of it, and loving it, but I'm also kind of bewildered and confused and confounded. It's scary. When you work on something for 4 1/2 years, that's a long pregnancy."

The mini-series is an adaptation of Herman Wouk's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about the years before World War II. The author, who lives in Georgetown, was on hand last night. But unlike everybody else who was yakking away, Wouk wouldn't speak to reporters. "I'm a very private person," was as far as he went. "It's just the way I am."

Not Dan Curtis, the director. "For me, if I couldn't get onto the screen what I really wanted, I'd kill myself," he said. "But what is up on that screen is fantastic. I've put four years of my life in it."

And what now?

"Well, that's a big problem," he said. "If somebody hands me a movie script, that's 120 pages. This thing was 1,000 pages. It weighed 80 pounds. I had to carry it around in a special pack on my back."

Also on hand were Peter Graves, the former "Mission Impossible" actor who plays Palmer Kirby in the mini-series, and Polly Bergen, the actress and former cosmetics executive, who plays Rhoda Henry. "I love my part," Bergen said. "She's very different from me. She's frivolous, shallow, not interested in world affairs, not politically involved."

Meanwhile, it looked like a good chunk of Washington's political and journalistic establishment had said the hell with Congress and the budget, let's get out of the office early and check this thing out. Here, in no particular order, are some of those who showed up:

Daniel Boorstin, the librarian of Congress; Robert McNamara, the former World Bank president; Muffie Brandon, Nancy Reagan's social secretary; Sheila Tate, Nancy Reagan's press secretary; Larry Speakes, the White House deputy press secretary; Pat Caddell, the pollster; Joan Braden, the public relations executive and hostess; Fred Fielding, the president's counsel; Sol Linowitz, the former Mideast negotiator; Peter McCoy, an undersecretary of commerce; Sen. Lowell Weicker (R-Conn.); Sen. Larry Pressler (R-S.D.); Nancy Reynolds and Anne Wexler, the legislative consultants; Art Buchwald, the columnist; Rich Williamson, a White House aide; Charles Z. Wick, the United States Information Agency chief; Lesley Stahl, the CBS correspondent, and her husband Aaron Latham, the writer.

The official host of the evening was Charles Bludhorn, the chairman of the board of Gulf & Western Industries Inc. It's the $5.9 billion conglomerate that owns, among many, many other things, Paramount Pictures. Last night, right before the screening started, he told the audience: "I came here today because this is a historic occasion." Bludhorn, an Austrian immigrant, then delivered a pro-America speech. "We are the leaders of the free world. But there isn't one of you who would go to Russia and not want to come back a week later."

Curtis, the director, had a final comment. "I would love to do 'War and Remembrance,' " he said, speaking of Wouk's sequel. "But it's twice as long. It would take six years. I don't think my marriage would survive it."

And one more thing. Jack Valenti, the president of the Motion Picture Association of America, had the job of introducing all the stars. He went through an extensive drum roll for each one, mentioning this and that attribute. Then he got to Mitchum.

"And fresh from . . ." Valenti began.

Suddenly, there was Mitchum. Sauntering onto stage and ignoring his intro. A little hostile, perhaps. Not knowing precisely what to do, everyone laughed.

Finally, it started.