"C'mon, for five bucks you can beat Bob Schieffer and Jody Powell."
Columnist Art Buchwald's voice drowned out the beeping and humming of the rows of video games that stood in the marble halls of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, daring the 400 or so party guests.
The invitations billed it as a video ARTcade. And folks in formal dress hunched over their control sticks and buttons, not to be interrupted by talk of the town. They were there to play games.
They were also there to raise money for the Corcoran School of Art scholarship fund. And it didn't matter one bit whether it was art or not. It was fun.
"It's better than doing a boring dinner," Buchwald said when he finally stepped off one of four celebrity platforms that showcased the game and the players. "I have a feeling that if they covered up the coin slots on the machines, people would call it art. Video games are art."
Boisterous Buchwald, a crowd favorite, wore one of the many multicolored flashing visors for sale at the event. He took on a stream of challengers at an Atari game called "Pole Position" (a race car zips around a fast track).
On the next stage, Canadian Ambassador to the United States Allan Gotlieb stood in front of a game called "Joust." He didn't feel quite at home.
"I don't have a modern mind," Gotlieb said. He seemed relieved to step down when his stint was over. He admitted, though, that he thought the fund-raising gimmick was a good idea. "Once a year. At the most. And for a very good cause." He turned his machine over to writer and political analyst Jody Powell, another novice to the video world.
"I assume they give you a big stick and a horse," Powell said, when a publicity person told him he'd be playing "Joust." He was standing in the press room, which served as a kind of "green room" for the celebs before their time came to face their video opponents. Powell was talking to Jim Lehrer, cohost of PBS' "MacNeil-Lehrer Report." "I called around to find out about this game so I wouldn't make a fool of myself," Powell said. "Then I decided: why stop now?"
D.C. City Council member Betty Ann Kane chatted nearby with a prevideo drink in hand. "I've never even played before. But my children assured me it was okay."
Kane admitted she was fielding political questions as well as Pac Men. "People have been asking me about taxing video games and about the law for closing video arcades during certain times for school kids," Kane said. "I tell them it's very antikid to do it. I grew up playing pinball and I turned out okay."
Throughout the two floors, kids with Corcoran T-shirts, men in tuxes and women with gowns were mesmerized by the video games, the drinks, the make-it-yourself salads and sundaes and the celebrity players, who also included Washington Redskins lineman Mark May, pollster Peter Hart, D.C. City Council member Polly Shackleton and CBS' Schieffer.
"Look at the people coming in the door," Michael Botwinick, the new director of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, said from the center of the crowd. He wore a tuxedo, a bright red vest, a flashing visor and a big smile. "This building is full of art. The machines are here to raise money."