Some of Washington's veteran journalists surprised former New York Herald Tribune and Los Angeles Times reporter Robert J. Donovan Saturday night with a 75th birthday celebration at the Occidental Restaurant. As more than 50 guests gathered upstairs, Donovan arrived with his wife Gerry and spotted latecomer Charles Bailey in the lobby, prompting Donovan to declare, "I smell a mouse!"

The group included close friends and colleagues, but none of the politicians Donovan had covered tenaciously for his two newspapers and in numerous books, the most famous of which was "PT 109: John F. Kennedy in World War II." Along with Bailey, former White House correspondent for the Minneapolis Star and Tribune, guests included former Herald Tribune staffers Earl Mazo, David Wise and Carl Levin; Jules Witcover of the Baltimore Evening Sun; Rudy Abramson and Jack Nelson of the L.A. Times; and Fred Farris, Washington editor for the International Herald Tribune.

The old friends shared many stories, but the L.A. Times' Don Irwin said Donovan himself told some of the best. Donovan recalled when he and Mazo, both combat veterans, wrote for Stars and Stripes in Europe. In August 1945, the war over, the army announced a point plan to send the boys home. Donovan learned that the various discharge papers often took weeks to get from one in-box to another across the street. To research what became a scathing story attacking the process, Donovan got down on hands and knees to measure the exact distance between the two boxes.

Strange Bookfellows

In one of the strangest pairings since Felix and Oscar made up "The Odd Couple," New York Mayor Edward Koch and John Cardinal O'Connor are collaborating on a book. The mayor has announced that the book will be called "His Eminence and Hizzoner" and will include separate but parallel chapters on such controversial issues as abortion, foster care and gay rights. Koch vowed it won't be a "kissy-huggy book."

The pair have clashed publicly on a number of social issues. O'Connor, who suggested the joint project, has described the private friendship as "peculiar" and "maybe unique in the United States." They say they will write the book themselves and expect to have it finished in about a year, although they have yet to find a publisher. "I expect every Jew and every Catholic in America to buy this book," said Koch, who is Jewish. Proceeds, he added, will be divided evenly between Catholic Charities and the city.

Dali Paintings to Return Home

A chunk of work by surrealist painter Salvador Dali is being returned to Spain by a private Irish collector. Peter Moore, the artist's secretary from 1967 to 1972, said he will give 300 Dali paintings to the Spanish nation. "It's an obvious thing to do," said Moore, 70, who operated a museum devoted to Dali in the northeastern Spanish coastal town of Cadaques. "The Dali paintings belong to Spain."

The works represent about one-fifth of Dali's work and include "Apotheosis of the Dollar," completed in 1966 and insured for $1.5 million. Moore said he plans to keep only a few of his Dali paintings, including one the artist gave him. Dali, 83, has been secluded in Figueras, near Cadaques, since his wife died in 1982.

Penn's New Prison

Cynics said it couldn't happen. Actor Sean Penn has entered Los Angeles County Jail to serve the remaining 55 days of a 60-day sentence for punching a film extra, a jail spokesman said.

Penn, the 26-year-old husband of rock singer Madonna, had been allowed to serve five days of the sentence in a $40-a-day "rent-a-cell" in a quiet northeastern California town, then fly to West Germany to work on his latest film, "Judgment in Berlin."

Critics charged that Penn received special treatment and were surprised when Penn appeared with his lawyer at the Los Angeles jail Saturday to continue the sentence. If he behaves, Penn could serve as few as 27 days behind bars.

Chuck Conconi is on vacation.