The Folger Shakespeare Library couldn't have chosen a more appropriate play than "All's Well That Ends Well" for its 10th annual benefit yesterday. In the end, Charlton Heston showed up, Roger Mudd did more than deliver the news and the Folger reaped more than $60,000.
On the bill were afternoon and evening performances of Shakepeare's three-act comedy by the Folger company in the Elizabethan Theatre, a reception in the Folger Garden and an Elizabethan dinner in the Great Hall. As an extra lure (conjured up by Jane Weinberger, wife of the secretary of defense), a scene was added to the play in which a celebrity-studded cast of performers, including Charlton Heston, Celeste Holm, British Ambassador Sir Oliver Wright and Lady Marjory Wright and Sen. John Tower (R-Tex.), had cameo roles.
NBC's Mudd led the entourage of special guests who delivered lines from various Shakespeare plays. A fair maiden clad in Elizabethan garb introduced the newscaster, who was dressed in a suit and polka-dot tie. He received hearty laughter from the audience in response to lines like, "I am no orator as Brutus is . . . for I have neither wit, nor words, nor worth" ("Julius Caesar"). Before going onstage, he admitted to being a little "frightened. This is much different than what I do. We don't see all the audience when we're doing television."
He and Rep. Jim Jones (D-Okla.) nervously joked about their upcoming performances, and Jones quipped to fellow performer and public relations executive Robert K. Gray, "We're trying to look at the audience to see if they've brought any objects to throw at us." Had the congressman ever acted before? "I act every day," joked Jones, holding on tightly to his Congressional Record, on the back of which he had written his lines.
The Wrights were also waiting anxiously to make their debuts. "The things you do when you come to Washington," said Lady Wright, laughing.
"My wife is a splendid actress," said the ambassador. "If she hadn't been so stupid as to marry me, she could have made a career out of it."
"Oh, shut up," she kidded.
After the matinee performance, which Heston missed because he couldn't get a flight out of Los Angeles in time, the audience of more than 150 adjourned with the cast to the Folger garden, where "Renaissance meat pies" and "chicken morsels" were served and young and older women craned their necks, hoping to see the man they've known on the screen as Moses, Ben-Hur, Antony . . .
"There he is," said one woman, almost choking on a chicken morsel.
He stood casually chatting, sun-tanned and towering majestically above a few reporters. "I'm not a reporter," said one woman, introducing herself shyly, "but I wanted to meet you." Heston graciously held out his hand. In reply to a reporter's question, he said, "Yes, I've been in other Shakespearean plays. 'Antony and Cleopatra,' 'Macbeth'--I've done five productions of 'Macbeth.' " Was Macbeth his favorite Shakespeare role? "In Shakespeare it's important to concentrate on roles you are physically equipped for," he paused, smiling, "I did Macbeth first when I was 22."
"I'm a fervent admirer of the Folger," Heston added. "This is an example of what the task force recommended," he said, referring to the special arts task force to which President Reagan had appointed him in 1981. "I'm rather pleased it's working, that the private sector's involvement in the arts funding has increased significantly. I would have felt silly if it hadn't."
As a trumpet sounded, the crowd quieted down and O.B. Hardison Jr., director of the Folger Library, began to speak: "I do want to stress my very deep gratitude . . . every year at the benefit we like to award the Order of the Folger Library to a few people." And that he did. Gold medallions (Caspar Weinberger leaned over and joked to presidential counselor Edwin Meese, "It's not real gold") went to all those with cameo roles, including Daniel Terra, ambassador-at-large for cultural affairs.
James H. Rand, president of Marine Transport Lines Inc. and the benefit's major underwriter, also received an award. He accepted the medallion quietly, and then joined his wife for the Elizabethan dinner ($150 to $175 a plate), organized by Ursula Meese. "They do good work," said Rand of the Folger Library. "It's important that one considers Shakespeare a part of living theater."