Poor Uruguay. More than 30 years since its last state visit and then, when its president finally gets here, official Washington is distracted by the surprise announcement that the chief justice will soon step down.
The official pleasantries went on as usual at last night's state dinner, with President Reagan greeting President Julio Sanguinetti on the north portico. Even then, though, reporters took the opportunity to ask Reagan if he had been "shocked" when Justice Warren Burger told him in May that he would be leaving.
"It was a surprise, yes," Reagan said.
Earlier in the day at Secretary of State George Shultz's luncheon for him, Sanguinetti did not know why State Department spokesman Bernard Kalb was wandering from table to table whispering in people's ears. On Sanguinetti's right was Millicent Fenwick, U.S. representative to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture, who didn't know, either: She said at the dinner that she had only heard about Burger on the radio shortly before arriving at the White House.
"I don't think there'll be any great change," Fenwick told reporters.
"This is my unofficial -- I shouldn't be talking like this. I saw Justice O'Connor at the lunch. I was of course longing to have a little chat with her. I've been meaning to write her a letter -- I haven't always agreed with everything she's done but I didn't think it quite proper for people to lean on the Supreme Court."
O'Connor herself was clearly surprised at the Shultz luncheon when Kalb informed her of Burger's announcement and also that Associate Justice William Rehnquist would succeed him.
* "Yes, totally," she said when asked. "Well, yes, I was."
*She was also "thrilled," she said, about the nomination of Rehnquist and of U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Antonin Scalia to succeed him.
" 'Fabulous!' -- that's the word she used" when she heard Rehnquist's name, Kalb said.
And of Scalia's name: "She knew it immediately," Kalb said. "I said, 'Madame, I don't have it exact' and she gave me his first name."
Attorney John O'Connor, the associate justice's husband, explained the instant name recognition after the lunch broke up and people were crowding around to hear what his wife might be saying.
"We know him very well," John O'Connor said. "Socially. And he and Sandra were on the Anglo-American Legal Exchange together. We're friends."
The O'Connors are also friends -- longtime friends -- of Rehnquist's. "I've known him since I was 17 years old at Stanford University ," John O'Connor said. "Sandra and he were in the same law school class 1952 at Stanford."
Asked how she thought the Rehnquist and Scalia nominations will affect the balance on the Supreme Court, Justice O'Connor said, "I think they're two wonderful selections, couldn't be better."
Her husband's answer to the same question: "Well, Scalia is certainly regarded as a conservative."
At last night's dinner, the exchange of toasts by Reagan and his guest focused on historical ties between the United States and Uruguay and completely avoided any current issues, domestic, international or bilateral.
Sanguinetti's toast, given in Spanish and translated, was notable for its length and historical detail. He spoke mainly about 19th-century Uruguayan history and explained to a guest during after-dinner coffee that his wife is a professional historian.
Actor Stacy Keach was seated between Nancy Reagan and Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia, the mother of actress Catherine Oxenberg.
"We discussed all kinds of things," said Keach, who spent time in a British jail on drug charges and is now active in anti-drug abuse campaigns. "Everything from raising children to raising animals. We discussed big dogs, little dogs, soccer, American history and drug abuse, which is a favorite topic of the first lady."
Soccer was a topical subject due to Uruguay's loss in the World Cup competition to Argentina on Monday; raising children, because Keach will be married this Sunday to Malgosia Tomassi. What he learned about soccer must remain forever unknown, but Keach did reveal that Princess Elizabeth advised him to consider having triplets "and get it all over with."
Other guests included Sarah Caldwell, artistic director of the Opera Company of Boston, developer Oliver T. Carr, Reagan's surgeon Steven Rosenberg, chief of surgery at the National Cancer Institute, actor Tim Reid, actress Karen Valentine, NBC News President Lawrence Grossman and Rep. Claude Pepper (D-Fla.).
Guests dined on crab, lobster and cucumber mousse with "bow tie" cheese twists; medallions and quenelles of veal vol-au-vent, and an exotic mousse with praline sauce.
As usual, what women were wearing was part of the evening's color. Nancy Reagan drew all eyes with her gown, a beaded bodice in white, yellow and black with deeply slit white skirt. Catherine D'Alessio, president of Chanel Inc., assured everyone she was indeed wearing Chanel. "Always Chanel. All my life. My first grown-up suit from my mother was a Chanel suit fitted by Mademoiselle."
Princess Elizabeth, in Washington researching a book on the prewar history of her homeland, wore an extremely low-cut Giorgio Sant'Angelo.
And Lili Zanuck, wife of producer Richard Zanuck, was surrounded by monumental white ruffles. "I think I'm the ultimate fashion victim, don't you think? It's British. Is that treason?"
The evening's icing was the jazz artistry of the Dave Brubeck Quartet, which included Brubeck's son Chris. After an encore of "Take the A Train" that had even the crystal chandeliers twirling, President Reagan told Brubeck, making his sixth White House appearance: "I don't know how much easier you could shed 50 years in so short a time."
*Maureen Reagan told Uruguayan Sen. Jorge Batlle, who specialized in American jazz during a radio career before entering politics, that Brubeck had been brought in just for his benefit. Batlle said he didn't believe it for a minute, but it was a nice thought -- especially since the last time there was a Uruguayan president in the White House on a state visit, it was his father Luis Batlle.
The guest list for last night's White House dinner for the president of Uruguay:
Uruguayan President Julio Mari'a Sanguinetti and Marta Canessa de Sanguinetti
Armando Tommasino, president of the Supreme Court
Enrique Iglesias, minister of foreign affairs
Ricardo Zerbino, minister of economy and finance
Jorge Sanguinetti, minister of transportation and public works
Hector Luisi, ambassador of Uruguay, and Blanca G. de Luisi
Jorge Batlle, member of the Uruguayan Senate
Pedro W. Cersosimo, member of the Uruguayan Senate
Luis Ituno, president of the Chamber of Deputies
Prof. Humberto Ciganda, president of the Council of the Civic Union Party
Ricardo Pascale, president of the Central Bank of Uruguay
Gen. Guillermo de Nava, chief of the military household
Elliot Abrams, assistant secretary of state for Inter-American affairs, and Rachel Abrams
J. Patrick Barrett, chairman, Avis Inc., and Christine Barrett
Sen. Lloyd M. Bentsen (D-Tex.) and B.A. Bentsen
James H. Billington, director, Wilson Center, and Marjorie Billington
Richard Nelson Bolles, author, "What Color Is Your Parachute?," and project director, National Career Development Project, and Carol Bolles
Bradford R. Boss, CEO, A.T. Cross Co., and Alice Boss
Edward A. Brennan, chairman, Sears, Roebuck and Co., and Lois Brennan
Dave Brubeck, jazz pianist, and Iola Brubeck
Vice President George Bush and Barbara Bush
Sarah Caldwell, artistic director and conductor, The Opera Company of Boston
Oliver T. Carr, Oliver T. Carr Co./Developer, Willard Hotel
William J. Corbett, vice president, American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, and Ann Corbett
Catherine D'Alessio, president, Chanel Inc.
Jack L. Davies, Schramsberg Vineyards and Cellars, and Jamie Davies
Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia
Robert F. Erburu, president, Times Mirror Co., and Lois Erburu
Millicent Fenwick, U.S. representative to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture, Rome
JoAnn Isaacson Fray
Gen. Charles A. Gabriel, chief of staff of the Air Force
Michael R. Gardner, chairman, U.S. Telecommunications Training Institute, and Theresa Gardner
Rep. William F. Goodling (R-Pa.), and Hilda Goodling
Maurice R. Greenberg, president, American International Group Inc., and Corinne Greenberg
Lewis P. Grinnan Jr.
Lawrence K. Grossman, president, NBC News, and Alberta Grossman
Albert Hadley, interior designer
James Hoge, executive editor, New York Daily News, and Sharon Hoge
Sen. Robert W. Kasten Jr. (R-Wis.) and Eva Kasten
Stacy Keach, actor, and Malgosia Tomassi
Robert D. Kroger and Johanna Kroger
Sidney Kent Legare
Gerald Levy, chairman, U.S. League of Savings Institutions, and Ellin Levy
Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Cal.), and Bobbi Lungren
Donald MacGillivray and Mary MacGillivray
William J. McDonough, executive vice president, First National Bank of Chicago, and Suzanne McDonough
Rep. Claude Pepper (D-Fla.) and Frances Campbell
Adm. John M. Poindexter, assistant to the president for national security affairs, and the Rev. Linda A. Poindexter
Maureen E. Reagan
Donald T. Regan, chief of staff to the president, and Ann Regan
Tim Reid, actor, "Simon and Simon," and Daphne Reid
Selwa Roosevelt, chief of protocol, and Archibald B. Roosevelt Jr.
Dr. Steven A. Rosenberg, chief of surgery, National Cancer Institute, and Alice Rosenberg
Russell A. Rourke, former secretary of the Air Force, and Judith Rourke
Barrett Seaman, White House correspondent, Time magazine, and Laura Seaman
Arthur A. Seeligson Jr. and Linda Seeligson
Ruth Collins Sharp
George P. Shultz, secretary of state, and Obie Shultz
Robert A.M. Stern, architect
Vance Stickell, executive vice president, Los Angeles Times, and Betty Stickell
Antonio Valencia, president, Mexican and American Foundation, and Gloria Valencia
Karen Valentine, actress, and Gary Verna
Sen. Malcolm Wallop (R-Wyo.), and French Wallop
Margaret Warner, White House correspondent, Newsweek magazine
Caspar Weinberger, secretary of defense
Malcolm R. Wilkey, U.S. ambassador to Uruguay, and Emma Wilkey
Walter Williams, economist, George Mason University, and Conchetta Williams
Richard B. Wirthlin, pollster, and Geralie Wirthlin
R. Frederick Woolworth and Priscilla Woolworth, Coe-Kerr Art Gallery
Richard D. Zanuck, producer, and Lili Zanuck