Bruce Weitz and Michael Warren of "Hill Street Blues" are stars. So are Hal Linden, Phyllis Diller, Shirley Horn and Sen. Edward Kennedy. But as star after star walked onto the stage of the Kennedy Center Concert Hall last night, none could lay claim to being the hero of the evening. Even James Brady, who received a standing ovation, could not steal the show.
The stars were in the audience--the police officers attending the benefit to raise money for bulletproof vests.
"Last September I was watching TV and I saw that another police officer had been killed," said the evening's organizer and fund drive chairman, William L. Devries. "I'm a small businessman, just a citizen, but I decided to step forward and work to get vests for those men. I found the city wouldn't help, didn't have the money. So we hit the street running with our amateur enthusiasm."
The Vest Fund was, as of last night, $150,000 short of its $650,000 goal, and its supporters hoped the gala, billed as "A Knight of Stars and Stripes," would put the fund over the top. The night was also an opportunity to remember the 31 District police officers who have died in the line of duty over the last 20 years.
A night of glamorous entertainment had been promised, but in the end it was something more than that. The evening's message suggested city and federal governments were, whether intentionally or not, shortchanging what Kennedy called "our first line of defense--our community police."
When Mayor Marion Barry asked the members of the Metropolitan Police Department to stand, they received the most heartfelt ovation of the evening.
During the show, some of the officers doing duty as singers looked painfully nervous, and the lighting was not always on cue.
Diller offered a few racy jokes. Linden talked about playing a TV cop on "Barney Miller" for eight years and played some Dixieland on his clarinet.
In one of the show's most somber moments, Warren and Weitz read the names of the officers who had been killed while on duty.
From the time J.O. Burden sang his song, "Washington, D.C.," to the Hawaiian-born Mike Vitug's lesson on how to twirl a flaming wooden baton, there was rarely a moment when an officer was not on stage.
More than 1,500 people paid $5 to $1,000 for seats. "By pricing the tickets as we did, we were able to get classes, not masses," said Calvin W. Rolark, vice chairman of the vest fund drive. "The entire community could get involved in this evening."
"And, no matter how much we make out of this evening," Devries added, "we've brought a lot of very valuable publicity to the police, and that's something you can't fix a price on."