Margie Saunders Howell, the wife of U.S. Ambassador to Kuwait W. Nathaniel Howell, addressed the opening reception last night of "Islamic Art and Patronage Selections From Kuwait" at the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore, reading a letter from her husband, who had hoped to be able to open the exhibit himself. While the invasion has forced him to stay on, trapped in the U.S. Embassy, even though his tour as ambassador was nearly over, he remains hopeful about the future of the small Persian Gulf state. The letter read in part, "We all hope that {the Iraqi army} will leave from this peaceful land. ... Their cause is not just; withdraw they will. And, in the fullness of time, the Kuwait museum and other institutions of the Kuwaiti people will once again resume their rightful place among the nations of this earth." The works in the exhibition, which opens to the public tomorrow, were touring the Soviet Union at the time of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and so were among the few objects in the national museum not plundered by the invaders. Now She's Lady Thatcher

Queen Elizabeth II appointed former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher a member of the Order of Merit yesterday and her husband, Denis Thatcher, received a baronetcy, entitling them to be addressed as Lady Thatcher and Sir Denis, respectively. The Order of Merit is the highest royal honor and is a personal gift of the queen. Only the reigning monarch and 24 others can be members of the order at one time, and Thatcher fills the vacancy left after the death of Laurence Olivier last year. Disney's Dirty Doll

Kay-Bee Toy and Hobby stores across the country have removed a doll called Steve the Tramp from their shelves after protests by homeless people and their advocates in a Stamford, Conn., shopping mall brought the doll to the attention of store officials. Steve the Tramp is a "Dick Tracy action figure" whose package describes him as an "ignorant bum ... dirty and scarred from a life on the streets. You'll smell him before you see him." It is being marketed by Disney, who produced last summer's "Dick Tracy" movie.

"I think the copy on the package goes too far," said Ken Cunniff, vice president of advertising for California-based Kay-Bee. "This was the first time I read it, and I was offended. ... We do have a social conscience here." The folks at Disney, however, are not going to pull the doll from circulation. In a statement, Disney said: "We can appreciate the desire to publicize the plight of the homeless. However, it is stretching the point to focus energy on fictional Dick Tracy villain 'Steve the Tramp.' " Chuck Champlin, communications director for Disney, said he would not question Kay-Bee's decision. "I hope it helps the homeless," he said. King & Malcolm X Daughters Costar

The daughters of slain civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X will honor a commitment to perform a musical play at the University of Arizona tomorrow. Yolanda King and Attallah Shabbazz will perform their musical "Stepping Into Tomorrow," despite the fact that the voters of Arizona recently defeated a referendum that would have created a paid state holiday honoring King. Many performances, conventions and sporting events have been canceled in Arizona as a result of that vote, and Yolanda King asked the Rev. Warren Stewart of Phoenix for advice on whether to follow those leads. "Some people were telling her to come and some were telling her to stay away. She wants to be a pro-active force rather than a reactive force, and I told her that coming at this time could contribute to the healing of the state," said Stewart after conferring with King. Brando's Daughter Called Incompetent

Lawyers in the murder case against Marlon Brando's son told a judge in Santa Monica, Calif., yesterday that the prosecutors' star witness -- the actor's daughter -- was ruled mentally incompetent by a court in Tahiti. Prosecutors pressed on with efforts to get her testimony.

Superior Court Judge Joel Rudof tentatively ruled that he would issue an international document requesting French assistance in returning Cheyenne Brando to the United States to testify in her brother's trial. But Rudof didn't make that ruling final and gave lawyers until Dec. 19 to file documents on the issue. Christian Brando, 32, is charged with first-degree murder in the shooting of his sister's Tahitian lover, 26-year-old Dag Drollet, at Marlon Brando's mansion May 16.