The Gridiron Club's annual dinner is a white tie event, not black tie, as reported in yesterday's Style section.
Chaos for a worthy cause -- that's how it might have seemed at a casual glance. Torn streamers, handwritten signs, game booths, popcorn and home-baked goods gave the impression of a school fair. But a closer inspection of the National Women's Education Fund birthday party revealed well-known faces and a savvy Washington manner about the game players.
With Lady Bird Johnson selling flowers and plants, attorney Marvin Mitchelson giving palimony advice and actress and cosmetics mogul Polly Bergen painting faces, newsmakers and breakers ran booths inside the Mount Vernon College gym Saturday night to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the NWEF ("It's a Man's World Unless Women Vote") and to raise money for it, too.
The informal evening, according to many participants, was reminiscent of the counter-Gridiron parties of the '70s--when some Washington journalists protested the stag standard of the prestigious press club by holding their own casual carnivals at Mount Vernon College (an all-women's institution) on the same night of the Gridiron's annual black-tie dinner. Said one counter-Gridiron veteran, "It was great. No one had dared having a party on the same night of the Gridiron dinner." The counter-parties became something of a chic-rebellious tradition, drawing a Washington in-crowd of politicians, pollsters and pressies, with each year's profits benefiting a different cause.
Saturday night, Rosalie Whelan, the NWEF's executive director, estimated that $15,000 was raised from the sale of entry tickets ($25 each), food, drink and booth entertainment. Briefly put, the tax-exempt NWEF "trains women to run for public office and to manage political campaigns," according to Tanya Melich, its president.
But serious business wasn't on people's minds the other evening. Among the booths, the barkers and the players:
* "Bridge the Gender Gap." Player gets five balls to knock over signs with sexist expressions, such as "She's only a housewife" and "My girl will get in touch with your girl." The flip sides of the signs reveal the parts of a bridge. The gender gap is a recently popularized term for the difference in political attitudes and voting behavior of men and women.
Mrs. Johnson, escorted by Secret Service agents and dressed in a bright red suede suit, played the gender-gap game before taking her position at the "Go Wild-Flowering" booth to sell flowers and house plants. The former first lady delighted an excited crowd by successfully knocking over all five signs (in about nine tries). "Better sign her up for the Yankees," said one onlooker.
Later, as she posed for photos with old friends and daffodils, Mrs. Johnson said she had come at the request of publicist Bess Abell, who organized the event and who had served as social secretary in the Johnson White House. "I enjoy being useful to people I love, like Miss Abell," Johnson said. "And I'm for women participating in the world around them." Liz Carpenter, Lady Bird Johnson's former press secretary, also hovered near the flower booth.
* "Douse the Hot Spot." Hodding Carter III, former State Department spokesman (he wore a badge that said "I'm in charge"), appropriately ran this booth, which sported a world map ominously dotted with red stars. Players, assuming the role of crisis managers, tried to douse lighted candles with squirt guns representing different methods of extinguishing hot spots--labeled as Dense Pack, MX missile, etc.
* "Social Security Sweepstakes." "Hurry, hurry, hurry," said a hawker. "Before the money runs out!" Each player picked a number from 1 to 10, representing financial status for the retired, and won if the spinning wheel landed on the chosen numeral. For example, No. 1 read, "Congratulations! You're a woman over 65. Welcome to the World of Poverty." No. 5: "Uncle Fred Dies. Aunt Minnie stuffs him and continues to collect benefits." No. 10: "Saudi Arabia donates $7 trillion and one oil well to Social Security."
* The Kissing Booth. Sen. William Cohen (R-Maine) and his wife, Diane, seemed to draw the most business. "In these recessionary times," Cohen said, "people are scrimping too much on nonessentials" like kissing.
* "Pin the PAC" with Joan Mondale, who, when asked, firmly said she'd never seek public office herself. Players threw darts at PAC-Men labeled as political action committees arranged on a board resembling the video game. Birch Bayh, former Democratic senator from Indiana, seemed to have an affinity for the NICK-PAC (National Conservative PAC), which he kept hitting dead center when he wasn't running the "Super Moms and Pops" booth with his wife, Kitty.
* "Marvin's Garden of Eden." This is where, for $5, romantic souls could get a personally signed certificate that read: "Inasmuch as marriages and menages are made in heaven and celebrated in Marvin's Garden of Eden, be it known that is hereby entitled to one extended relationship with whomever or whatever without the inconvenience of litigation." The document was signed, "Marvin Mitchelson, World's Greatest and Humblest Domestic Counselor." Among the customers: Joan Mondale, the Cohens and the Bayhs.
Asked why he was participating in the NWEF's birthday party, the famed palimony lawyer said that originally he was asked only for his signature on the certificates, but decided it would be fun to come in person. "I consider myself dedicated to women's causes and I'm committed to them," he said.
"My father died when I was 17," Mitchelson said, speculating about why he's found a calling defending women. "My mother was a hard-working woman and I had two older sisters. I guess I felt the need to protect them. The psychology of it goes back to that."
Also seen were author Kitty Kelly, who said she's currently working on a book about Frank Sinatra; Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who was collecting green leis for his Irish staffers; and former Republican National Committee cochair Mary Crisp.
The most lucrative booth seemed to have been Mitchelson's, which took in about $1,500. Said one observer: "That's what Marvin gets in one minute."