A glittering crowd of Hollywood celebrities toasted "Dutch" Reagan as one of their own tonight, celebrating his movie career as the high point of his public life and -- for an evening -- relegating his presidency to a footnote.
But Washington wasn't far from Reagan's mind as he thanked his Hollywood friends. "For those of you who said such nice things about me tonight, I just wish you were all under oath," he said. "I wish you were all members of Congress."
Reagan then wistfully recited his dream Cabinet: "John Wayne as secretary of state, Clint Eastwood as secretary of defense, Jack Benny as secretary of treasury and Groucho Marx as secretary of education."
"An All-Star Party for 'Dutch' Reagan," a black-tie charity event that was filmed for a TV special, was "an old actor coming back to his friends," said Joe Kay, the show's associate producer. Dutch was the name Reagan used when he began his career as a radio announcer.
Frank Sinatra, a longtime Reagan friend, was host for the show, which was taped at NBC studios in Burbank and will be televised by CBS on Sunday.
A nostalgic evening was capped by the announcement of a Ronald Reagan wing for sick, crippled and disabled children at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. Monty Hall, past president of Variety Clubs International, the show's sponsor, said the gift in Reagan's name was a Variety Club tradition that began when John Wayne was honored in 1976.
With his wife Nancy at his side, Reagan watched some favorite entertainers perform, including Dean Martin, Burt Reynolds and Charlton Heston.
Reagan seemed to thoroughly enjoy the belated acclaim for his contribution to Hollywood. The common assumption that he was "a grade-B actor" is something of a sore point with Reagan.
During one of his summit strolls with Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev, Reagan asked that he "tell Arbatov they weren't all B-movies." Georgi Arbatov, the Kremlin's leading commentator on U.S. culture, had irritated Reagan with his less-than-flattering assessment.
After tonight's taping, the Reagans enjoyed dinner with the cast. They fly back to Washington Monday after a fund-raising event in Seattle.