It was a once-in-a lifetime invitation--greeting the new century at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Muhammad Ali, Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren, Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese, Jack Nicholson, Will Smith, Sid Caesar, Neil Simon all chose to be in Washington for this unique moment in history. So did Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Julie Harris, Bono, Itzhak Perlman, Maya Lin, Arthur Mitchell, Robert Rauschenberg, Kathleen Battle, Edward Villella, Jessye Norman, Carl Lewis, Bill Russell and Sen. John Glenn.
"I think it's a wonderful evening," said Loren, who was clearly moved to be invited to what President Clinton called an "unforgettable celebration." Americans liberated her village during World War II, she recalled, and it meant so much to be here on this night. "I come here this evening--which is a very important evening--with great, great emotion."
"This is America here!" said Nicholson with his wicked grin. "Yeeahh!"
This was a dusk-to-dawn affair: The guests began arriving just after 5:30 p.m. and were scheduled to dance and eat breakfast until sunrise. The festivities began with a black-tie dinner for 360 guests in the White House, who were then bused to the Lincoln Memorial for the nationally televised New Year's Eve extravaganza produced by Quincy Jones and George Stevens Jr. After the midnight fireworks display, approximately 600 more people were invited back to the executive mansion for breakfast and dancing until dawn.
The much-hyped "American Creators" celebration was a private, exclusive evening, however. Reporters were allowed to speak briefly to dinner guests as they arrived, but barred from covering the rest of the events at the White House. No explanation was given, although the decision was made in the first lady's office.
"We're not opening the after-party," said Marsha Berry, press secretary for Hillary Clinton. "It's closed because it's closed."
Perhaps it had something to do with money. What started as a millennium celebration headed by Hillary Rodham Clinton evolved into an off-the-record fund-raiser, with corporate sponsors shelling out millions to mingle with the Clintons' celebrity guests.
"We raised over $16 million," said Democratic fund-raiser Terry McAuliffe, who lead the private sector drive to pay for the millennium production on the Mall and two days of public family activities at the Smithsonian Institution.
But the primary perk was dinner and dancing with the president and first lady in what could arguably be considered the most historic venue in the country. Will Smith strode in looking dapper and adorable, all at the same time. Elizabeth Taylor arrived last--almost two hours after the other guests--wearing velvet and (what else?) diamonds. Loren was her usual spectacular vision. Mary Tyler Moore flacked her new TV movie. John Williams gave Jessye Norman an enormous bear hug. Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee made the cutest couple. Even World Bank President James Wolfensohn, who originally planned to spend the night at his home in Jackson Hole, Wyo., couldn't stay away. "There was this feeling you were going to miss something," said his wife, Elaine.
Everybody got into the act, with many guests bringing their children. In order to keep families together on this night, the White House invited 100 children of dinner guests to dine in a tent in the Rose Garden before joining their parents for the show at the Lincoln Memorial.
But the real show was the East Room and State Dining Room, which were transformed into a fantasy of white and silver, with white orchids and roses set atop silver velvet tablecloths. The president went into each room to toast his guests: "I cannot help but think how different America is, how different history is, and how much better because of those of you in this room and those you represent were able to imagine, to invent, to aspire."
Then an extravagant New Year's Eve dinner was served: Beluga caviar, lobster, foie gras, rack of lamb and polenta, and a special dessert of chocolate and champagne.
After dinner, it was time to bundle up and head outside for the Lincoln Memorial show. Guests were advised to bring their warmest coats, hats, sweaters and other cold-weather outerwear, and the White House designated the party black tie instead of white tie, which allowed female guests to wear evening pants with long underwear.
But girls will be girls: The women were adorned in the most elaborate gowns, many strapless and bare. There were many minks flung over jewel-clad wrists, although the unseasonably warm temperatures averted what could have been millennium freezing toes.
The guests were transported by bus and trolley to the Mall, where they were seated in open-air chairs in front of the memorial. Every guest received a goody bag with mufflers, hand-warmers and seat cushions bearing the official Millennium logo.
The real party--the dance fest after the gala--featured former Supreme Mary Wilson, who was expected to sing all the old songs to ring in the new century. "I'm very excited," she said, giggling. Given Clinton's love of music, it was undoubtedly a grand night of boogieing in presidential history.
Speaking of history . . . who better to sum up the Millennium than historian Arthur Schlesinger?
"I'm glad it's over," he said, stepping once again on the marble floors of the White House. No word on how he greeted the new year, but one suspects he was not dancing on the East Room tables.
But then, we may never know.
The guest list for last night's dinner:
President Clinton, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chelsea Clinton
Daniel Abraham, SlimFast Foods Co., and Ewa Abraham
David Al-Ameel, Atlan Group, and Martha Al-Ameel, Jefferson Dental Clinic
Edward Albee, playwright, and Jonathan Thomas, sculptor
Madeleine Albright, secretary of state, and Ricardo Dell'Orto, Barter Technologies Corp.
Muhammad Ali, boxer, and Yolanda Ali
Robert Altman, Zenimax Media Inc., and Lynda Carter, actress
Bruce Babbitt, secretary of the interior, and Harriet Babbitt, United States Agency for International Development
Elizabeth Frawley Bagley, senior adviser to the secretary of state, and Smith Bagley, Arca Foundation
Robert Barnett, Williams and Connolly, and Rita Braver, CBS News
Leonard and Lynne Barrack
Kathleen Battle, opera singer, and Dean Mitchell
Samuel Berger, assistant to the president for national security affairs, and Susan Berger
Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) and Lois Breaux
John Brophy, Lockheed Martin IMS, and Louise Brophy
Dave Brubeck, musician and composer, and Iola Brubeck
Sid Caesar, entertainer, and Florence Caesar
Benny Carter, composer and musician, and Hilma Carter, retired language educator
Vinton Cerf, MCI WorldCom, and Sigrid Cerf
Rashid Chaudary, Raani Corp., and Samia Chaudary
Vance Coffman, Lockheed Martin, and Arlene Coffman
Lodwrick Cook, Global Crossing, and Carole Cook
Andrew Cuomo, secretary of housing and urban development, and Kerry Kennedy Cuomo
William Daley, secretary of commerce
Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and Linda Daschle, Baker, Donelson, Bearman and Caldwell
Robert De Niro, actor
Ruby Dee, actor and author, and Ossie Davis, actor and author
Thomas Demetrio, Corboy & Demetrio, and Eve Marie Reilly, Cook County state's attorney
Murli S. Deora, president, Bombay Congress, and Hema Deora, artist
Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Deborah Dingell, General Motors Foundation
E. J. Dionne, The Washington Post, and Mary Boyle
Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) and Jackie Clegg, Export-Import Bank
Rita Dove, University of Virginia, and Fred Viebahn
Ronald Dozoretz, ValueOptions, and Beth Dozoretz
Todd Eberle, Todd Eberle Photography, and Richard Pandiscio
Maria Echaveste, assistant to the president and deputy chief of staff, and Christopher Edley, Harvard Law School
Mark Ein, Venturehouse Group, and Marion Ein-Lewin, Institute of Medicine, National Academies of Science
Sahir Erozan, Overseas Partners
A. Huda Farouki, Financial Instrument and Investment Corp., and Samia Farouki
Renee Fleming, opera singer, and Rachelle Fleming
John Fogerty, musician, and Julie Fogerty
John Hope Franklin, Duke University
Mary Mel French, chief of protocol
Rep. Martin Frost (D-Tex.) and Kathryn Frost
John Gardner, AT&T, and Nancy J. Rawlings, International Monetary Fund
Murray Gell-Mann, physicist, and Talia Shire
Neil Gershenfeld, MIT Media Lab, and Laura Brewer
John Glenn, former senator (D-Ohio), and Annie Glenn
Daniel Glickman, secretary of agriculture, and Rhoda Glickman, deputy chief of staff of housing and urban development
Michael Graves, architect, and Lynn Min, Shibao International
Alan Greenspan, chairman, Federal Reserve Board, and Andrea Mitchell, NBC
Brian Greenspun, theGreenspun Co., and Myra Greenspun, travel consultant
Janice Griffin, Griffin and Associates .
Vinod Gupta, infoUSA Inc., and Laurel Gottesman, infoUSA Inc.
Carl T.C. Gutierrez, governor of Guam, and Geraldine Gutierrez
Julie Harris, actress, and Jennifer Crier Johnston, actress
Laurence Harris, Teligent Inc., and Susan B. Harris
John S. Hendricks, Discovery Communications, and Maureen Hendricks
Alexis Herman, secretary of labor, and Charles Franklin
Bono, singer, and Ali Hewson
Robert Isabell, Robert Isabell Inc., and James Reginato, W magazine
Jesse Jackson Sr., Rainbow PUSH Coalition, and Jacqueline Lavinia
Quincy Jones, Quincy Jones Media Group, and Lisette Derouaux
Vernon Jordan, Lazard Freres, and Ann Jordan
Robert Kahn, Corporation for National Research Initiatives, and Patrice Lyons
Said Karmi, George Washington University, and Mary Jane Karmi, actress
Walter Kaye, former civilian aide to the secretary of the army, and Selma Kaye
Ellsworth Kelly, artist, and Jack Shear, artist
Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Victoria Reggie Kennedy
Kamran Khan, Raani Corp., and Hamida Khan, physician
Peter Kovler, Marjorie Kovler Fund, and Judy Kovler, psychotherapist
Raymond Kurzweil, Kurzweil Technologies, and Sonya Kurzweil, Playspace for Young Children and Parents
Robert Langlois, Motorola, and Julia Langlois, librarian
Patricia Lazak, financial assistant to Agnes Gund, and James Lazak, Pilgrim Psychiatric Center
Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Alicia Leahy
Jonathan Ledecky, Washington Capitals, and Marina McClelland, Marriott International
James Levin, JHL Enterprises, and Kristy Swanson
Carl Lewis, Olympian and actor, and Carol Lewis, television broadcaster
Ann Lewis, counselor to the president
Mike Sponder, special assistant to the director, Office ofNaval Research
Maya Lin, artist and architect, and Daniel Wolf, Warm Spirit Inc.
Mark Lindsay, director of WhiteHouse Management and Administration, and Carla Lindsay
Bruce Lindsey, deputy counsel to thepresident, and Cheryl Mills
Joseph Lockhart, White House presssecretary, and Mary Lockhart
Sophia Loren, actress, and Carlo Ponti, film producer
William Maloni, Fannie Mae,and Heidi Maloni
Robert and Barbara Maurer
Terence McAuliffe, American Heritage Homes, and Dorothy McAuliffe
Paul McCarthy, "America's Millennium," and Marsha Berry, deputy assistant to the president and director of communications for the first lady
Ellen McCulloch-Lovell, deputy assistant to the president and adviser to the first lady, and Christopher Lovell
Bobby and Debra McFerrin
Judith A. McHale, Discovery Communications, andMichael P. O'Halloran
Don and Patricia McLean
Arthur Mitchell, Dance Theatre of Harlem, and Virginia Johnson, Dance Theatre of Harlem
Leslie Moonves, CBS Television, and Nancy Moonves
Mary Tyler Moore, international chairman, Juvenile Diabetes Foundation,and S. Robert Levine, ProgressivePolicy Institute
Jack Nicholson, actor, and Lara Flynn Boyle, actress
Beth Nolan, counselor to the president, and Dimitri Nionakis
Jessye Norman, soprano, and George Norman, Bell South
Dennis O'Connor, Smithsonian Institution, and Anne O'Connor
Edward James Olmos, actor, and Bodie James Olmos, filmmaker
Michael Oreskes, New York Times, and Jill Abramson, New York Times
Dean Ornish, Preventive Medicine Research Institute, and Molly Ornish
Rep. Donald Payne (D-N.J.), and Denise Banks, deputy director for civil rights, Department of Agriculture
Itzhak Perlman, violinist, Toby Perlman, Perlman Music Program,and Ariella Perlman
Robert Pinsky, United States poet laureate, and Ellen Pinsky
John Podesta, chief of staff to the president, and Mary Podesta
Sunil Puri, First Rockford Group, and Jenine Cannell-Puri
Robert M. Rauschenberg, artist, Darryl Pottorf, artist
Bruce Reed, assistant to the president for domestic policy, and Bonnie Lepard
Janet Reno, attorney general of the United States
Steven Ricchetti, assistant to the president and deputy chief of staff, andAmy Blanchard
William Richardson, secretary of energy, and Barbara Richardson
Richard Riley, secretary of education, and Anne Riley
Dennis Rivera, 1199/SEIU Health and Human Service Employees Union, andMaria Alvarez, consultant
Maxwell Roach, percussionist and composer, and Connie Crothers, pianist
Sen. Charles Robb (D-Va.), and Lynda Robb, Reading Is Fundamental
Liz Robbins, Liz Robbins Associates
Wayne Rogers, Synergics Energy Development, and Valerie Rogers
Allen and Nicole Salmasi, NextWave TelecomMichael Saylor, MicroStrategy, and Phyllis Saylor
Arthur Schlesinger, historian, and Alexandra Schlesinger
Bernard Schwartz, Loral Space and Communications, and Irene Schwartz
Martin Scorsese, film director, and Helen Scorsese
Niranjan and Pratima Shah, Globetrotters Engineering
Walter Shorenstein, Shorenstein Cos., and Clotilde Alvarez
Robert Shrum, Shrum, Devine, Donilon, and Marylouise Oates, writer
Arnold Simon, Aris Industries, and Debra Simon
Neil Simon, playwright, and Elaine Simon
Rodney Slater, secretary of transportation, and Cassandra Slater
Will Smith, actor, and Jada Smith, actress
Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) and Sharon Smith
Jean Kennedy Smith, former ambassador to Ireland
Harold Snyder and Tamar Hirschl
Gene Sperling, assistant to the president for economic policy, and Susanne Weinrauch
Robert Stanton, National Park Service director, and Janet Stanton
David Steiner, Steiner Equities Group, and Sylvia Steiner
George Stevens Jr., "America's Millennium" producer, and Elizabeth Stevens
Michael Stevens, "America's Millennium" producer
Maria Tallchief, dancer
Elizabeth Taylor, actress, and Firooz Zahedi, photographer
Julie Taymor, theater and film director, and Elliot Goldenthal, composer
Howard Tullman, Tunes.com, and Judith Tullman
Melanne Verveer, assistant to the president and chief of staff to thefirst lady, and Philip Verveer, Willkie Farr & Gallagher
Edward and Linda Villella, Miami City Ballet
James Watson, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, and Elizabeth Watson
Mark Weiner, Financial Innovations, and Susan Weiner
Togo D. West Jr., secretary of veterans affairs, and Gail West, Armstrong Worldwide
John Williams, composer and conductor, and Michael Gorfaine
Mayor Anthony Williams and Diane Simmons Williams
August Wilson, playwright, and Constanza Romero
Mary Wilson, author and singer, and Linda Green, event planner
Joseph T. Wilson, National Council for theTraditional Arts, and Kathryn James, Oasis Program
James Wolfensohn, World Bank, and Elaine Wolfensohn
Avis Young, TommyHilfiger USA, and Leroy Young Jr., Garden State Lumber Products
Pinchas Zukerman, violinist and conductor, and Amanda Forsyth, cellist
CAPTION: George Stevens Jr. and Quincy Jones, producers of the "America's Millennium" extravaganza.
CAPTION: Sophia Loren at the White House.
CAPTION: "This is America here!" dinner guest Jack Nicholson said with a wicked grin. "Yeeahh!"
CAPTION: Muhammad Ali, above, still jabbing and gabbing; and Elizabeth Taylor bedecked in velvet and diamonds at the Millennium Dinner.