Nancy Reagan's elaborately beaded 1981 inaugural ball gown is "growing" about a half-inch a year and that, coupled with a federal budget that is not, is adding up to a not-so-pretty fix for the Smithsonian's Museum of American History.
Experts in the museum's division of political history estimate it will cost about $10,000 to "stabilize" the stretching. But they're caught in the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings squeeze, they say, and so have been making discreet inquiries in the business community about footing that bill, among others.
Mrs. Reagan's dress, as it turns out, isn't the only one in need of help. The gowns of five other first ladies (Mrs. Andrew Jackson, Mrs. John Tyler, Mrs. Franklin Pierce, Mrs. Grover Cleveland and Mrs. William McKinley) need restoration. In some cases the fabric is split; in others netting has torn from its own weight. Those repairs are expected to cost another $50,000, most of that for labor.
Nancy Reagan was reportedly so alarmed when she heard in March her dress was growing that she called Smithsonian officials to ask what was being done about it.
"Mrs. Reagan hasn't seen the dress, so she doesn't know how bad it might look, but she would like to be reassured that it is properly displayed for history's sake, the gown's sake and the sake of the people who see it," explained Elaine Crispen, her press secretary.
Crispen said Mrs. Reagan suggested that James Galanos, designer of her gown, a white satin sheath with hand-beaded lace overlay featuring a bared right shoulder, scalloped hem and short train, might have some ideas on methods to preserve it.
"A dress like this is made to be worn two or three times a year, then stored in a drawer," said Edith Mayo, curator and supervisor of the political history division. "But the first ladies' gowns here are historical costumes, and once they go onto a mannequin they sit there hour after hour, day after day, week after week. No dress, no matter how well made, is meant to be 'worn' every day for six years."
Mayo said her division has "a number of feelers" out in the private sector for financial assistance in hopes of building a special fund that might go as high as $500,000 and also pay for refurbishing the First Ladies Hall and provide money for new acquisitions.
Meanwhile, the gown has been temporarily tucked up in back and at the sides, Mayo said.
President Reagan admitted yesterday that he worries when Nancy Reagan "goes around the block."
But he told reporters that her solo trip to Malaysia and Thailand next week is going ahead as scheduled, despite the worldwide worry about terrorist attacks. Mrs. Reagan will accompany Reagan to Indonesia, then make a side trip to carry her crusade against drug abuse to the two Southeast Asian countries, and then rejoin him in Japan. Reagan said he was confident that security agents would tell him if her trip was too dangerous.
With First Lady Nancy Reagan for a namesake and Fairfax County Supervisors Jack Herrity, Nancy Falck and Martha Pennino for godparents, what more could an elephant ask?
Well, not much, other than a blessing and a big turnout for its christening, plus elephant-sized donations for Straight Inc., the drug rehabilitation program.
It's all scheduled to happen at Pet Farm Park in Vienna on Saturday at 1 p.m., when a new baby African elephant will be named for Nancy Reagan and sprinkled with holy water by the Rev. Gilbert Hermley, a Catholic priest. From then on, says a Pet Farm Park spokesman, Nancy the elephant will add her considerable weight to opposing drug abuse by urging park visitors to contribute to Straight.
Mrs. Reagan won't be there because by then she'll be in Hawaii, where her anti-drug-abuse fan club there -- 500 to 1,000 Just Say No club members aged 7 to 14 -- will be welcoming her and the president en route to Southeast Asia.
But plenty of other local celebrities will be on hand in Vienna, several of them namesakes for other newcomers to the park's population. Among those new pets are a blue and gold baby macaw named for WJLA news anchor Renee Poussaint, a rare spotted ass named for Washington Post columnist Bob Levey, a floppy-eared baby Nubian goat named for WRC news anchor Dave Marash and a baby llama named for WDVM anchor J.C. Hayward.
Just to prove that "Nancy" and her crowd are ecumenical, there will be Protestant ceremonies on Sunday at 2 p.m.
There was a brief pause during the ceremony as Ronald S. Lauder, the former deputy secretary of defense for NATO, was sworn in as ambassador to Austria yesterday. The reason for the pause, Secretary of State George Shultz explained, was so that Lauder could sign some State Department forms. "He knows that until you sign you don't get paid," Shultz said.
Lauder's mother Estee, reigning priestess of the cosmetic industry, was there along with his brother Leonard. If everybody smelled like Estee (the scent, not the mother), they looked like Chanel. Real estate executive Sallie Ann Hart's dangling Chanel chain belt set off the magnetometer.
Among the guests were a white-gloved Evangeline Bruce, Buffy Cafritz, French Ambassador Emmanuel de Margerie, Swedish Ambassador Wilhelm Wachtmeister, Ulla Wachtmeister, Canadian Ambassador Allan Gotlieb, Sondra Gotlieb, Susan Brinkley, Deeda Blair, Ina Ginsberg and, from New York, Jerry Zipkin and Roy Cohn.
The Ronnie and Nancy Show, taped by the White House, played the Smithsonian the other night, and like the new exhibit it praised, it left little doubt to guests at the opening party that "Hollywood Legend & Reality" is alive and well and living at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. To wit:
Nancy: You Know, Mr. President, the Hollywood of our day was certainly very different from the Hollywood of George Lucas.
Ronnie: Oh, I don't know. We had some great special effects in "Hellcats of the Navy."
Nancy: Special effects?
Ronnie: That's right. When we kissed, I saw stars.
The two then exchanged a few more memories about Hollywood and about how Ronnie spent part of World War II assigned to the Army Air Corps' first motion picture unit, and then wrapped things up.
Ronnie: By the way, honey, that line I used -- the one about seeing stars.
Ronnie: I want you to know that I meant it. And something else.
Nancy: What's that?
Ronnie: I'm still seeing stars. You free for a movie tonight?
Nancy: Sure am. But isn't there something you're forgetting?
Ronnie: What's that?
Nancy pointed to the camera, a reminder that he had the exit line.