The president, who is wont to drop in at parties for 15 minutes, stayed all evening. He took his wine glass with him to the podium, and after praising Washington Post Co. Chairman Katharine Graham as a "sensitive, thoughtful and very kindly person," tipped his glass and toasted in his best Bogart imitation: "Here's looking at you, kid."

It was that kind of party.

In a Departmental Auditorium festooned with enormous bouquets and 60-foot-high curtains draped from the columns, 600 guests representing the three branches of government plus the media, industry, the arts and the diplomatic corps came last night to celebrate Katharine Graham's 70th birthday.

"There's one word that brings us all together here tonight," columnist Art Buchwald told the black-tie crowd. "And that word is 'fear.' "

Among the frightened were Secretary of State George P. Shultz, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, Treasury Secretary James A. Baker III, Speaker of the House Jim Wright, Sens. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.), William Cohen (R-Maine) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), former presidential adviser Michael K. Deaver and former National Urban League president Vernon Jordan. And frightened no more, retiring Supreme Court Associate Justice Lewis Powell.

Former secretary of state Henry Kissinger set the tone for most of the toasts with an emotional tribute to Graham's friendship. He took note of "the mark The Washington Post has left on this town, on our nation ... and perhaps on some of us." He admitted that he "felt some trepidation when my former chief, President Nixon, called Kay in my presence with the suggestion that I instruct The Washington Post editorial board on the error of its ways. It was one of my least successful missions but as it turned out one of the most important events of my life. For out of the meeting over time grew a friendship which is one of the central facts of Nancy's and my life."

The president, in a raspy voice, spoke also of friendship. One night before he was in office, he said, he attended the all-male Alfalfa Club dinner and had to leave Mrs. Reagan alone in a hotel where she planned to dine alone in front of the TV. Graham called her, he went on, and insisted that she come over to dinner. She wound up being the guest of honor.

Washington Post Editorial Page Editor Meg Greenfield, however, disclosed to the crowd another side of Graham -- her "outlaw" nature and "criminal mind." In her early days at the paper, she said, Graham used to call her in midafternoon to sneak out to the movies. On their trips abroad to interview this or that head of state, she continued, someone always suggested that Graham confront the leader with something like, "Now we know you just murdered your brother-in-law after he embezzled $60 billion from the government." Graham would recoil at this suggestion, but, said Greenfield, whenever the interview started to drag, she would unfailingly interject, "Now about your brother-in-law ... "

Graham's daughter Lally Weymouth, the prime organizer of the party, described overcoming her mother's objections to having any party at all. With that accomplished, she then went to her mother with a guest list suggested by Kissinger that included dozens of world leaders. "Heads started rolling on my mother's bedroom floor" when she heard the list, Weymouth said; Graham only wanted people who were her friends.

Attorney Leonard Garment said the reception preceding the dinner looked like "the grand ballroom of the Titanic on its maiden voyage." He ended the evening by playing his saxophone with the band. "I played a song dedicated to the mood in Washington. It's called 'Mood Indigo,' " said Garment, who is representing former national security adviser Robert McFarlane, also at the dinner, during the Iran-contra hearings. "What I really wanted to play was a tune to {Washington Post writers Bob} Woodward and {Walter} Pincus called 'Little White Lies,' but they wouldn't let me."

Publisher Malcolm Forbes came bearing a gift. "I've got a bottle of wine here," he said as he arrived, pulling the dusty Chateau Lafite Rothschild out of a green canvas tote bag reading "Capitalist Toolbag." "It was laid down the same year Mrs. Graham was born," he said.

Graham had arrived 15 minutes earlier, dressed in a white and black polka dot Oscar de la Renta evening gown and accompanied by son William Graham and Weymouth. Asked how she was feeling after turning 70, Graham replied with a chuckle, "Ambivalent. Nobody likes to be that age."

But in replying to the toasts, she said that while the birthday was something she would just as soon forget, the evening had made it unforgettable.

A more direct assessment was offered by syndicated columnist George Will, who was one of eight toasters. "They served the food quickly and the air conditioning worked," he said, "and that's the most important fact in Washington."

On the subject of the guest of honor, CBS' Mike Wallace was at a temporary loss for words. He hesitated, thought out his response, and said, "She is a woman who in effect, I suppose, came to the job unprepared and turned out to be one of the giants of journalism in the last quarter century."

Inside, the giant of journalism was seated between the president and her tennis partner Secretary Shultz. To the president's left was Brooke Astor. Also seated at Graham's table were Hannelore Kohl, wife of the West German chancellor; Sony Corp. chairman Akio Morita; IBM chairman John Akers; Berkshire, Hathaway chairman Warren Buffett; media mogul Rupert Murdoch and Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Dole. At a nearby table, Mrs. Reagan was seated between Post Publisher Donald E. Graham and Wallace. After the fish course (salmon), the president danced with Mrs. Graham to the music of Peter Duchin and his orchestra.

Other guests attending were Frank Batten of the Associated Press, Otis Chandler of Times-Mirror, CBS Chairman William Paley, Washington Monthly Editor in Chief Charles Peters and New York Times Publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger. From the world of industry: John Welch of General Electric, Roger Smith of General Motors and Donald Petersen of Ford.

Also: Swedish Ambassador Count Wilhelm Wachtmeister, South Korean Ambassador Kyong Won Kim, former British Prime Minister James Callaghan and his daughter Margaret Jay, British Ambassador Antony Acland; novelist Sondra Gotlieb, wife of Canadian Ambassador Allan Gotlieb; former Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin; Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Byron R. White; National Gallery Director J. Carter Brown, Laughlin Phillips of the Phillips Collection, film director George Stevens, architect I.M. Pei, Jack Valenti of the Motion Picture Association of America and long-time friends Joseph Alsop and Polly and Clayton Fritchey.

And: New York Times Executive Editor Max Frankel, CBS' Leslie Stahl, ABC's Barbara Walters, Ted Koppel and Peter Jennings; and John Chancellor, James Lehrer and Robert MacNeil of PBS; H. Ross Perot, Clare Boothe Luce, Kitty Carlisle Hart, Oscar de la Renta, Ethel Kennedy, Nick Pileggi, Nora Ephron and Gordon and Ann Getty.

From the political world: Cabinet members Malcolm Baldrige (Commerce) and Elizabeth Dole (Transportation), Sens. Bill Bradley (D-N.J.), Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), John Heinz (R-Pa.), John Danforth (R-Mo.), Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.), Robert Graham (D-Fla.), John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) and Claiborne Pell (D-R.I.); and former secretary of defense Robert McNamara.

From The Post: Executive Editor Benjamin C. Bradlee, Editorial Page Editor Meg Greenfield, Managing Editor Leonard Downie Jr., Deputy Editorial Page Editor Stephen Rosenfeld, Assistant Managing Editor Bob Woodward, Associate Editor and Chief Foreign Correspondent Jim Hoagland, national reporter Walter Pincus, cartoonist Herblock and President Richard D. Simmons.

"Mr. President, I don't want you to get the impression this evening that the people you have met from The Washington Post are the only ones who work there," Buchwald told the guests. "Actually, the Post people here this evening in their black ties and beautiful gowns all sell classified advertising. The people who do the real work on the paper can be found back on 15th Street, in the basement, locked in cages. They have hair all over their bodies, and every time they come up with a story knocking the administration, Mrs. Graham gives them a banana."

The party was organized and hosted by Graham's four children -- Weymouth, William W. Graham, Stephen M. Graham, who also spoke, and Post Publisher and master of ceremonies Donald E. Graham and his wife Mary. (Graham marked her real birthday, June 16, with a trip to Yosemite.)

New York caterer Glorious Food and florist Bobby Isabell provided the decor and victuals (including beef fillet with cucumber sauce, summer vegetables, and chocolate birthday cake decorated with the Washington Post masthead and "Happy Birthday Kay").

Copies of a four-page mock edition of The Washington Post were circulated among the guests. "Katharine Graham Says 'No' to Birthday: Rejects Any Hoopla, Opts for A Quiet Evening at Home," read the banner headline. Guest reporters included Arthur Schlesinger Jr., George "Secretary" Shultz, Buffett, Post TV critic Tom Shales and former Democratic Party national chairman Bob Strauss and Buchwald.

"Yes, ladies and gentlemen, tonight we honor a woman who was willing to go to jail rather than reveal the identity of Deep Throat. Not that she knew who Deep Throat was, but her lawyers advised her to go to jail anyway," wrote Buchwald in the lead story.

From the Corrections column: "Due to a typographical error in yesterday's editions, Katharine Graham's age was reported as 'seventy-ish.' Mrs. Graham is thirty-two."

For the editorial page, Herblock drew a cartoon featuring a toddler Graham spelling "WASH POST" with building blocks at the feet of her father Eugene Meyer. "Agnes, I think Katharine here is trying to tell us something," the caption read.

A Style section headline announced that "Graham Wins Best-Dressed Award," showing photos of her in a ball mask, in a 1960s miniskirt and with her helmeted head protruding from a tank.

Pictures of Graham with the last five presidents were gathered in a photo essay titled "I Never Met a President I Didn't Like -- Or Liked Me."

At the end of the evening, Kitty Carlisle Hart paused near her limousine. "I must say," she mused, "one feels that life is worth living to have friends like her."

Sarah Booth Conroy and Martha Sherrill Dailey contributed to this story.