It was a weekend of memorable moments:

Katharine Hepburn wearing sneakers to the State Department.

Katharine Hepburn wearing sneakers to the White House.

Lauren Bacall recalling a Billy Wilder line from "Midnight": "That hat does something for you. It gives you a chin."

Billy Wilder fleeing the packed Ritz-Carlton Sunday brunch party. "I got too popular," he said. "I got to get the {expletive} out of here."

Dizzy Gillespie sporting a dove gray leather suit with zippered trouser legs, black wool turtleneck and beret as his brunch ensemble.

Garson Kanin, toasting Hepburn, calling her "a dish."

Willem Dafoe saying at the White House reception, "The president shook my hand and said 'Hi, thanks for coming again. ... But I've never been here, poor guy."

Every year for 13 years the Kennedy Center Honors has filled a Washington weekend with celebrity-packed lunches, dinners, brunches, receptions honoring five certifiable arts legends. They are people whose credentials are so stellar, whose status is so exalted and whose talents are so established that everyone else enjoys celebrating them, and -- for one long weekend -- sitting adoringly at their feet (no matter what kind of shoes they are wearing).

It was a weekend with celebrities gawking at other celebrities (Glenn Close was dying to meet Hepburn). And politicians schmoozing with performers (Sen. Alan Simpson cheerfully introduced himself to everyone). And movie stars being impressed with the White House, and Washington in general.

"I've come to town," said Walter Matthau, "to say a few words tonight about Billy Wilder. And I've never eaten so many crab cakes in the meantime."

And yet, despite the influx of Famous Faces gathered to pay tribute to Hepburn, Wilder, Gillespie, opera star Rise Stevens and Broadway composer Jule Styne, there was a remarkable absence of glitz. This may be Show Business coming to the Potomac, but there were no starlets with plunging necklines, no screaming paparazzi, no backbiting, no hidden agendas. Instead everyone is on their best, most dignified behavior, in their gussiest clothes, and enduring with apparent graciousness a round of social events that would send normal people to bed for a week to recuperate.

"I think it's a real thrill for the artists to come here, to come down from New York and go to the White House," said actor Ron Silver, who for three years has been on the committee that nominates the honorees. "I always notice a kind of sentimentality and patriotism that I never feel at home. You get them in the Red Room at the White House and they get to talk to the president. It's pretty exciting."

Saturday there was a lunch at the Kennedy Center hosted by ASCAP and a black-tie dinner at the State Department hosted by Secretary of State James Baker and his wife, Susan; yesterday there was a brunch at the Ritz-Carlton followed by a White House reception before the taped-for-television show in the Opera House and a dinner afterward. In between there were other get-togethers, formal and informal, old friends yakking, movie stars visiting the museums and Walter Matthau endlessly telling jokes.

The State Department

Tiny Alexandra Danilova, one of last year's honorees, sat on a red silk couch in the State Department reception room, chatting with Edward Villella. Wolf Trap's Kay Shouse got out of her wheelchair to greet Angela Lansbury, who looked tall and elegant in black. Tyne Daly, svelter and blonder than when she was here last year in "Gypsy," was with a good-looking guy named John Fahey. "Not the musician," he explained. "The struggling young actor."

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy arrived with his sister Jean Smith, whom he referred to as an "unidentified blonde." Kennedy promptly ordered water for his sister and a scotch and soda for himself.

But the person everyone was looking for was Miss Hepburn, known not just for her acting, independence and wit, but for her loathing of honors (she never showed up to claim any of her Oscars), big parties and getting dressed up. She had told a number of people that she had only one dress, and that if they guessed she was coming to dinner, they were wrong.

"She's not coming, she's definitely not coming," said Jack Lemmon's wife, Felicia. She'd heard it from producer Robert Whitehead and his wife, Zoe Caldwell, who were supposed to be at Hepburn's table and responsible for delivering her.

"Have you seen Kate?" asked Claudette Colbert, another of last year's honorees, who gave the toast to Wilder. She is a friend of Hepburn's, "not buddies, but a great admirer," and she too was hoping to see her.

Glenn Close, blond and beautiful in a long black wool ensemble vaguely reminiscent of a priest's robe, was also on the lookout. She had never met her, and was dying to. "I've got to meet her now," she told Marion Seldes. "If I don't, I feel I might never."

Seldes, who is married to Garson Kanin, knew something that others did not: that Hepburn would indeed be there, that Kanin had persuaded her to come -- provided she did not have to have her picture taken arriving, did not have to go through the receiving line or mingle at the pre-dinner reception, and did not have to meet anyone. So there she was, seated at Table 16 with old friends including the Kanins and the Whiteheads, wearing a dark plaid blousy top, a turtleneck and what appeared to be long black culottes that mostly covered her famous footwear. She wore no jewelry -- except later, her new medal. She ate braised duck and apple brown betty along with everyone else, and when it was over slipped out the back way.

Kanin, in his toast, said that he has been so enamored of Hepburn over the years that he has asked her to marry him 15 times. "And I was turned down 17," he said. He got a particularly big response when he said that "the shelf life of a modern American film star is about 10 years, give or take a few. And here's a girl who has been doing it with increasing success for 50 years."

"Sixty years, Garson!" yelled Hepburn.

"Hell, I was just being a gentleman," Kanin said, recouping.

Betty Comden and Adolph Green, paying tribute to fellow songwriter Styne, said their old friend always made them laugh. "And he's short," said Green. "We call him Jule Pan." (The three collaborated on the scores of "Peter Pan" and "Bells Are Ringing.") They then proceeded to sing the rest of their toast, a cappella, a rousing rendition of "Never-Never Land."

Jazz great Benny Carter, the performer, composer and arranger, recalled how he hired Gillespie for a sextet that played at the Famous Door on New York's 52nd Street in the mid-1940s. "He speaks the universal language of music fluently, eloquently, and with tonality. And you know tonality means soul."

Before the dinner, as the crowd of 250 guests gathered, gawkers were in danger of getting whiplash. Bacall, looking fabulous in a soft gray pantsuit, professed to be nervous about her impending role as mistress of ceremonies.

Susan Baker and Kennedy Center Chairman James Wolfensohn's wife, Elaine, greeted guests in the receiving line discreetly oblivious to the fact that they were wearing the same velvet and gilt evening dress, albeit in different colors.

Secretary of State Baker, who noted that last year he had been unable to attend the dinner because he was on a bucking ship near Malta, linked the achievements and skills of the artists to his own profession. "Jule Styne once said that without the rendition there is no song," Baker said. "The same is true in foreign affairs. It's really not enough that the policy is right, you've got to have the right delivery to put it across... .

"And now as we seek to build a new post-Cold War order, America's dynamism and values remain essential to international well-being. Success also requires friendship with other nations based on openness and understanding, qualities that are fostered through the language of the arts. The artists we honor tonight have given us their best, and by so doing they really have shown us the best within ourselves a nation."

Sunday Brunch

Fans and more fans! Camped out in front of the Ritz-Carlton on the corner of 21st Street and Massachusetts Avenue, there were several autograph seekers and amateur photographers. Bulbs blew off for any hairdo, any face, anyone.

"Yes, there do seem to be more fans than before," said Liz Stevens, who has been co-hosting the Sunday brunch for the Kennedy Center honorees and guests for many years.

"It's Hepburn," said Stevens. "I think that changes things a little bit."

The star, meanwhile, continued her Garbo-ish behavior. Hepburn briefly appeared in the lobby of the Ritz-Carlton, where she was staying. She spied the hundreds of guests inching their way into the crowded dining rooms, and punched an elevator button and disappeared.

Wilder took a more aggressive approach to the crowd. He has a reputation for this sort of thing. Wearing a blue double-breasted blazer and khaki pants, the legendary director checked out one brunch room, shook hands, said hellos. He located his wife, Audrey -- dressed in a black suit, dark sunglasses and white beret -- and then began hunting for a free table.

This was a problem.

"Hey, we can't get a table," he said.

"It's even more crowded in the other room," said Audrey.

"Ja," said Wilder, perhaps slipping into German out of frustration, "the next table we see will be on the plane going home."

Styne arrived alone and smiling. This man is always smiling. "I've just been sitting back and reliving my whole life," he said of the weekend. "You start thinking about all you've done. You find yourself looking back and saying, 'How did I do all that?' "

Receiving the Kennedy Center Honor, he said, was much better than an Oscar. "It's more like being knighted." He walked into the brunch -- examined the jam-up of bodies and said: "I'm just going to walk in, bow, then leave."

He stayed all morning.

Gillespie did too. He sat with Maxine Gordon, jazzman Dexter Gordon's widow. She was just one of many in the Gillespie contingent of friends and relatives. "My wife, Lorraine, isn't coming," Gillespie said. "So I'm going to be sitting in the box tonight with my oldest friend, Norman Powe. We started out together. He plays the trombone. And we were roommates in high school."

Bacall and Close came late, but not without fanfare. Lemmon arrived in a black leather jacket. Geoffrey Holder wore a red-striped bow tie. Daly showed up in a big black hat and chatted up Dafoe. Georgette Mosbacher -- her red hair moussed straight up -- smooched Buffy Cafritz. John Candy smoked cigarettes and sat his Bloody Mary down on the piano. Sen. John Heinz talked with old friend Arie Koppelman, who's the president of Chanel and the godfather of Heinz's son Christopher. Evangeline Bruce sat with pal Kitty Carlisle Hart. Michele Lee, wearing tiny sunglasses, gabbed with fellow CBS employee Dan Rather. Cicely Tyson wore a knitted cap and cleverly found a cubbyhole where she could eat quietly with friends.

James Wolfensohn gushed about Kanin's toast to Hepburn the night before.

Kanin was found sitting in the next room, wearing a crested blazer, red-striped shirt, red plastic watch. "The truth is," he said, "I don't remember a word of it."

"He didn't prepare at all," explained his wife. "In fact, I asked him during the dinner if he wanted a pen and paper to write some thoughts down, and he just looked at me. You know. I think it was there already, in his head."

The White House

There were 320 guests seated in small chairs jammed into the White House East Room for the evening reception, hosted by President and Barbara Bush, that preceded the Kennedy Center show. The honorees were announced one by one. When the name Katharine Hepburn was spoken, there was booming applause and whoops of delight. She entered. She looked elegant. She wore a turtleneck! Black pants! Black silk trenchcoat! White scarf! Black sneakers! This was the first glimpse most had gotten of her. She sat down next to Dizzy Gillespie -- who wore no tie with his tux, just a black collarless sweater. On his other side was the regal Rise Stevens in sequins and satin to match the traditional evening suits of Billy Wilder and Jule Styne.

"Dizzy Gillespie is the king of bop," said George Bush. "His astounding creativity and improvisational daring changed the course of musicmaking. ... By breaking all the rules he let something exciting burst free. He captivated the whole country with his contagious expression of energy and emotion. Dizzy Gillespie, we salute you."

Of Hepburn, the president said: "Katharine Hepburn captured on film a vigorously determined spirit. This extraordinary woman once said something which moved me deeply: 'I think there's a magic in man, a thrilling thing.' As has been her lifetime of work for us."

Bush reminded the guests that Rise Stevens had made her professional debut singing "I Dreamed I Dwelt in Marble Halls" at age 14 and added, "For Rise Stevens that song became more than just a dream. For decades her pure voice soared through the most famous marble halls of the world."

After his tribute from the president (" 'Let me entertain you,' he wrote, and for nearly 70 years that's what Jule Styne has done") Styne stood up and blew kisses to the crowd. Bush mentioned Billy Wilder's many titles -- writer director, producer, Academy Award winner -- "but his real achievement is something even more exciting. He plunged into the depths of the American heart and captured on film the laughter, the love and the tears he found there."

After Bush's remarks, a 45-minute receiving line fed into the dining room where a reception was underway. Hepburn stayed while a few brave souls stood by hoping to meet her. John Candy turned up in the largest double-breasted tuxedo jacket you've ever seen and walked very slowly. White House Counsel Boyden Gray seemed nearly as tall as Tommy Tune. Actor Ron Silver headed to the buffet table to hunt for some shrimp, of which he had said earlier: "They have the best shrimp at the White House. Gulf shrimp! Our Gulf.

"It's not exhausting, this is wonderful, said Rise Stevens, who'd come with her son Nicolas Surovy from California and her husband, Walter Surovy. "This is a very special award, really a culmination of awards. If we were in England I'd be called a dame."

Danilova and fellow 1989 honoree Claudette Colbert also attended. "I was sitting in the back row," said Danilova, the legendary ballerina. "But I heard all the speeches and I cried. I even had a chance to say hello to the president and Mrs. Bush. I was so surprised that she remembered me."

The party became as it has in years before -- jammed, loud, almost raucous. Said one reveler, "For the White House, this is what you call a loose group."