For a few minutes Friday, it was the Fabulous White House Boys with a Fabulous Baker Boy in the audience. Actor Beau Bridges, who will portray former presidential spokesman James Brady in a forthcoming television movie about his life, turned up at the White House in time to catch Brady and Marlin Fitzwater in an obviously unrehearsed comedy gig.
Brady, waiting out of sight in an office, claimed a "red light" first alerted him to microphone problems plaguing Fitzwater, the White House spokesman, at the regular morning press briefing. "That means there's trouble and to get him out of there," Brady later joked as he met Bridges for the first time.
Bridges, wearing a temporary White House pass like any other visitor hoping to see news in the making, watched from the pressroom sidelines with the film's producer and director as well as author Mollie Dickinson, whose 1987 book about Brady, "Thumbs Up," is the basis for the movie.
"It's a real show, isn't it?" Bridges remarked to Brady.
"Certainly is," agreed Brady, eyes bright with mischief. "Sometimes more pony than dog show -- or certain parts of the pony."
Fitzwater had played it straight until he tried to deliver the official White House response about Iraqi troops storming the French ambassador's residence in Kuwait, which had happened overnight. To his chagrin, he couldn't find the prepared statement anywhere among his papers.
"This is very embarrassing. I had this fabulous piece of writing," groaned Fitzwater, reduced to voicing U.S. "concern" over the matter and letting it go at that.
Then, toward the end of the briefing, there was a loss of sound. When Fitzwater turned from the podium to a White House communications aide manning the controls, the aide said he had been told by the White House press office to shut down the microphone.
"I am the press office!" thundered Fitzwater to the delight of reporters and a fascinated Bridges. "Where's Brady?" Fitzwater lamented in feigned desperation. "I heard he was here."
A moment later Brady was there, entering to reporters' applause and Fitzwater's welcoming "We need help, man!"
Later, Fitzwater said the pressroom microphone is turned off when the president speaks publicly at some other White House location. Even though President Bush hadn't started speaking yet, Fitzwater found himself silenced -- "The system is impenetrable," he said -- by the press secretary's own gag rule.
Bridges and Co. went on to a behind-the-scenes look at the West Wing and lunch in the White House mess with Brady, ending up on the South Lawn -- just in time for the Friday afternoon ritual of watching President and Barbara Bush depart by helicopter for Camp David.
By then the Bushes had spotted Bridges, who reporters already had guessed would be playing Brady in the film.
"Hey," said the president, who knows his movie stars, "the Fabulous Baker Boy!"
With Bridges confirmed as Brady, speculation now begins on who will portray Sarah Brady, who met Bridges for the first time later at dinner.
Still unconfirmed is whether Reagan will be Reagan. After being shot in the head during an assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan in 1981, Brady, on a directive from Reagan, held the title of White House press secretary throughout the remainder of Reagan's term. There are some in Hollywood who think Reagan might try to help out by appearing in the film, since Brady reportedly has a financial interest in it.
The Republicans are sending their really big guns -- the First and Second Ladies -- into the Texas and California gubernatorial races to help defeat the two women candidates whom Democrats have fielded in those states. In the coming weeks both Barbara Bush and Marilyn Quayle are scheduled to give California's Sen. Pete Wilson and Texas's Clayton Williams a hand in their respective campaigns against former San Francisco mayor Dianne Feinstein and Texas Treasurer Ann Richards.
The problem was transportation, and for Mary Margaret "Honey" Skinner, wife of Transportation Secretary Samuel K. Skinner, the solution seemed easy enough. She would drop by the White House to pick up First Daughter Dorothy Bush LeBlond, who claimed to be without wheels, then proceed on to Capitol Hill for a lunch in the Members' Dining Room with some Hill wives.
Things didn't quite work out that way, but Honey Skinner, who turned 33 this month, still ate lunch on Friday -- in the Family Dining Room at the White House, with Barbara Bush presiding. The surprise birthday party was orchestrated by LeBlond, whom Honey Skinner helped house-hunt earlier this summer. Among the guests were Nancy Sununu, Joanne Kemp, Georgette Mosbacher, Marilyn Quayle, Deborah Dingell and the guest of honor's sisters and their mother, Mary Haskins Jacobs of Chicago.
LeBlond's ruse in luring Skinner into the White House was that the First Lady wanted to see her. Yesterday LeBlond, who started work in August as coordinator of special audiences in the communications and development office at the National Rehabilitation Hospital, tagged along when Edward A. Eckenhoff, the hospital's president, gave her mother a tour of the facility.
It wasn't just Neil Bush's place in the White House "fishbowl" that CNN White House correspondent Charles Bierbauer was asking Barbara Bush about in an interview that aired Friday. He also wanted to know about her little dog Millie's.
"Oh, dear," said Mrs. Bush when Bierbauer brought up the pictures of Millie in her new work, "Millie's Book," which show the dog sitting on the Lincoln bed, the Red Room settee, a Blue Room chair and other White House furniture.
"What kind of habits does this dog have?" Bierbauer persisted, mentioning a photo of Millie with her paws on the State Dining Room table, "and what kind of message does that send?"
"Well, it's probably because, like all children, she copies her parents," Mrs. Bush began. "You see, I sit at the dining room table. I even put my hands on the table occasionally."
The truth is, she continued, that the White House is a museum. "And Millie asked me one day what that meant. And I told her that meant dogs do not sit on the furniture."
"Except to have their pictures taken?" Bierbauer asked.
Mrs. Bush answered with a confession.
"You know where Millie's sitting at the dining room table? Guess where I am? That's right, underneath the dining room table. But that was just for picture purposes. Millie knows she's not supposed to sit on the furniture. Downstairs."
Barbara Bush heard voices yesterday at a lemonade and petits fours party she gave celebrating the start of her new weekly "Mrs. Bush's Story Time" series on ABC Radio. But besides meeting Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Roger Rabbit and about 100 others from the entertainment world, she also talked to Jim Davis, confidant (read creator) of the curmudgeonly little feline Garfield. Mrs. Bush didn't ask -- but reporters there did -- why Garfield rated Millie's book an 8 (out of possible 10) in his review for the New York Times.
"The dog factor," explained Davis with a shrug. Translated, that means Millie lost two points right off the bat because of her species.
"Garfield would have liked to see a little more texture," Davis continued. "He advised that next time, if Millie does another book, she should bite a Middle Eastern diplomat so there's a little dirt. Millie has to have access to an awful lot of information that people would find interesting. I mean, in addition to digging up roses."
Mrs. Bush, for one, wasn't complaining, since she told Davis it's the only review "Millie's Book" has had so far. And it's a good thing she wasn't, in the opinion of Davis, who has about 18 books (even his wife, Carolyn, had lost exact count) to his credit.
As Davis explained, "She's had one more in the New York Times than I've had."