Palm Springs, which gives Washington a run for its celebrityhood about this time every year, is in for a megadose of glitz over the New Year's weekend with the $2,000-to-$10,000-a-ticket opening of the McCallum Theater at the Bob Hope Cultural Center on Jan. 2.
Despite reports that three presidents would be attending, however, there will only be two -- President Reagan, with Nancy Reagan, and former president Gerald Ford, with Betty Ford. Former president Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn Carter were also invited but sent regrets because of scheduling conflicts.
Rosalynn Carter leaves for the Netherlands on Jan. 2 as a member of an informal U.S. delegation attending an international human rights conference. She also is scheduled to address the conference.
At least one member of the predominantly Republican crowd at the Palm Springs gala had been looking forward to seeing Rosalynn. He is Philadelphia publishing tycoon Walter Annenberg, who says he owes her "a debt of thanks in perpetuity" for seeing to it that David Martin's 1767 portrait of Benjamin Franklin hangs over the mantel in the Green Room at the White House.
The story that goes with it began some years back when Annenberg purchased the portrait, the only one Franklin ever sat for, from the Cadwallader estate of Philadelphia for $250,000. Just when Annenberg thought he would be looking at the portrait for the rest of his life in his own Philadelphia home, Jacqueline Kennedy called from hers, then the White House. Through Harry du Pont of Winterthur, a mutual friend, she had learned that Annenberg had bought the Franklin portrait.
"She said, 'President Kennedy and I thought it would be wonderful if you, as a great Philadelphia editor, would give the White House the portrait of Philadelphia's greatest editor,' " Annenberg recalls. "It was the most astute arm twisting I've ever been up against in my life. I said, 'Let me think about it,' hung up and in an hour called her back to say that the Franklin portrait belonged in the White House."
So off it went to the Kennedy White House, where Annenberg thought it would hang happily ever after over the mantel in the Green Room. And it did hang there -- for a while.
Then one day when Annenberg was at the White House as a guest, he noticed that a mirror was hanging over the mantel and that the Franklin portrait (known to experts as the "thumb portrait" because Franklin's thumb is so prominent in it) had been moved across the room, where it was hanging near the ceiling.
Annenberg says that wasn't at all what John Kennedy had in mind when they had talked about the painting over dinner in the Family Dining Room after the portrait first was hung in the Green Room. Bothered greatly by the switch, Annenberg sought out then-White House curator Clement E. Conger, who told him the picture had been moved at the request of one of the occupants.
Annenberg won't say which one, but he will say that he was so dismayed that some time later at a party that Walter and Joan Mondale gave at the vice president's house, Annenberg told Joan Mondale about the switch. She urged him to tell Rosalynn Carter. He did and says that within a week the portrait was back over the mantel.
To this day Walter Annenberg never goes into the White House without slipping into the Green Room, where he sits and gazes to his heart's content at the scholarly Franklin.
The really big-ticket item in California's Coachella Valley isn't the Jan. 2 gala but Walter and Lee Annenberg's New Year's weekend house party, with the Reagans as honored guests. Friends, acquaintances and their intermediaries annually jam the telephone lines to the Annenbergs' palatial desert spread at Rancho Mirage to beg for invitations.
The guest list varies only slightly from year to year, with the returnees among the 90 or so invitees always those from within the ranks of the old Reagan "kitchen cabinet." There is good reason to believe that this year CIA Director William Webster, author Sidney Sheldon and actress Mary Martin, one of the stars in the Jan. 2 gala, have been invited, too.
The ultimate in office parties may have been the one yesterday on the third floor of the White House, where Nancy Reagan played hostess to her East Wing staff, the White House calligraphers and the volunteers who take up some of the clerical overload throughout the year. The first lady had gifts for all, and all had a gift for her: a nightstand picture frame for her growing collection of favorite photos.
It fell to Jack Courtemanche, Mrs. Reagan's chief of staff, to put the year into perspective. If it wasn't the best of years, there were a few highlights worth remembering. Among those Courtemanche listed: the Reagans' three meetings with Pope John Paul II, at the Vatican and in Miami and Los Angeles; Salvadoran President Jose Napoleon Duarte's arrival at the White House, when he kissed the American flag; and the Reagan-Gorbachev summit dinner.
Maxwell Johnson Parvin "was blue, had red hair and looked just like a Smurf," according to his father, Landon Parvin, a favorite Reagan speech writer who does have a way with imagery. The world hadn't turned very much, though, before Max's hair changed to blond and he and his mother were receiving presidential posies. So began the wee life of Landon and Alice Parvin's firstborn, a 4-pound 9-ounce infant so anxious to be part of the worldly scene that he arrived a month early, on Dec. 17, at Sibley Memorial Hospital.