• U.S.

Party Time in Washington

9 minute read
William R.Doerner

Presidential Inaugurals are rather like a wave at an athletic event: nobody knows exactly who stands up and gets one started, but it is not over until, row by row, everyone in attendance is on his feet. By the end of last week, Washington was in a delirious state of mid-wave, part way through the parabola of celebrations and ceremonies marking Ronald Reagan’s second presidential investiture and preparing for the high points still to come. Packed with visiting entertainers, corporate chieftains and other celebrities, as well as thousands of “We the People” to whom the Inaugural was dedicated, the Capitol exuded a comfortable contentment with its returning Administration. Maybe, just maybe, love is not the only thing that is better the second time around.

The President and First Lady Nancy Reagan glided happily through the Inaugural’s opening events, welcoming a crowd of 6,000 to Friday night’s Prelude Pageant, held in a light snowfall on the Ellipse. The program was a musical tribute to U.S. history, with a narration by Actor Fess Parker that included excerpts from presidential swearing-in addresses beginning with George Washington’s in 1789. The 1 1/4-hour pageant ended with a gigantic fireworks display set off from both sides of the Ellipse and the White House South Lawn to ignite directly over the Washington Monument.

That was only the first telegenic touch. The ceremonies were scripted down to the last detail with Reagan’s favorite electronic medium in mind. He booked himself into televised appearances at no fewer than six events, including a presidential coin toss before the start of Sunday’s Super Bowl game. He even gave permission last week for a TV camera to be installed in the presidential limousine, so that his ride to the swearing-in at the West Front of the Capitol could be seen by viewers at home.

One event was not only made for TV but marketed over ABC for the tidy sum of $2.2 million, about a fifth of the Inaugural bash’s entire cost. Saturday evening’s gala for the President, featuring longtime Reagan Pal Frank Sinatra as master of ceremonies, was broadcast in edited form an hour after the live presentation at Washington’s Convention Center.

Reagan was his own first act on Saturday, entering the hall to sustained applause and standing at attention in the presidential box as the national anthem was played by the 45-member Nelson Riddle orchestra. The gala’s tone of red-blooded glitz was set by Country Singer Mac Davis’ show opener, God Bless the U.S.A., complete with marching band and back-up vocals. At the request of ! Nancy Reagan, organizers added a touch of highbrow to the program by scheduling Mezzo Soprano Frederica Von Stade, who sang an aria from Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots.

Sinatra arrived for rehearsals unprepared for the capital’s chill weather. The next morning he was the first customer at the local branch of Brooks Brothers, whose accommodating staff sent Ol’ Blue Eyes back outside wearing a new blue coat. It evidently kept the singer more than comfortably warm, especially under his collar. Two days later the Washington Post published a long story noting that not only Sinatra but also Entertainers Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. were in town for the Inauguration, and speculating about a rebirth of the infamous, Sinatra-led Rat Pack of the ’60s. Approached for an interview by Barbara Howar of TV’s Entertainment Tonight, Sinatra snarled: “You read the Post this afternoon? You’re all dead, every one of you. You’re all dead.”

The Inaugural’s most noted glitch, also involving entertainers, was finally resolved to general satisfaction. Inauguration committee officials agreed to pay three times the minimum union scale of $125 to each of 200 youthful performers who had answered an ad to appear in Inaugural programs in return for expenses only. The use of freebie talent was loudly decried by three performers’ unions, including the Screen Actors Guild, whose president at one time was a Hollywood star named Ronald Reagan. Worse yet, the ad specified “clean-cut, all-American types,” which some took to mean whites only. In the end, the marchers were indeed largely white, but they served as a spirited, high-stepping troupe. They were scheduled to appear en masse at several events and in groups of 20 at each of the eight Inaugural balls.

The only other precelebration flap involved Nancy Reagan’s wardrobe. In an interview two weeks ago the First Lady had dismissed as “ridiculous” a rumor that her new Inaugural dresses and accessories would cost as much as $25,000. Checking out that flat disclaimer, Washington Post Fashion Writer Nina Hyde discovered it was true in an unexpected sense: if purchased at retail, the Inaugural wardrobe would cost about $46,000. Hyde carefully pointed out that the First Lady’s favorite designers are often just too happy for Nancy to showcase their creations and thus sell to her at a discount. The costumes Nancy was scheduled to wear included a hand-beaded, art deco ball gown by James Galanos worth $22,500 and an electric blue dress-and-coat set by Adolfo priced at $2,800.

The party invitation most fervently fished for, and least frequently hooked, was to a dinner dance last Thursday given by Italy’s Ambassador to Washington, Rinaldo Petrignani. Though the Reagans could not attend, it was held in honor of their “friends from California,” and virtually everyone on the guest list was required to meet both qualifications. Among those who did: Betsy Bloomingdale, the First Lady’s best chum; Publisher Walter Annenberg and his wife Leonore; Attorney General William French Smith and Wife Jean.

Another highly coveted invitation was a Saturday luncheon given by the Annenbergs. The Reagans not only showed up but also provided the venue: Blair House, the official Government guest quarters. Elsewhere, the capital’s reigning power couple, Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole and Wife Liddy, the Secretary of Transportation, presided over a $500-a-head cocktail bash for the new Dole Foundation, which benefits the handicapped. Colorado Brewer Joseph Coors threw a wingding on behalf of a conservative political-action committee; for $1,000 guests got to gamble away complimentary chips aboard the docked riverboat First Lady.

Because of the Sabbath, Reagan’s schedule on the first day of his second term was kept deliberately low key: a 45-minute prayer service at the National Cathedral, to be followed by the swearing-in ceremony at the White House. In the late afternoon, the President was due at the Jefferson Memorial to attend the National Pageant of Young Americans, one of several Inaugural events designed to increase the participation of incipient Republicans.

The idea for a presidential Supertoss, as Reagan’s football coin flip was called, originated with Michael Deaver, the soon-to-depart White House deputy chief of staff. It was obviously designed to tie the President to the event around which millions of Americans planned their weekend, Super Bowl XIX in Palo Alto, Calif. For a very few, those plans called for the near impossible: live attendance at both the game and the Flipper’s swearing-in ceremony in Washington Monday morning. Congressman and former Buffalo Bills Quarterback Jack Kemp, for one, swore he could make it back to Washington aboard a “red- eye” airline flight. ABC News and Sports Chief Roone Arledge, overseeing his network’s first Super Bowl telecast, lined up a corporate jet for an overnight trip to Washington, where he planned to direct the network’s Inauguration coverage.

Reagan’s plans for Monday started with another prayer service, this time at St. John’s Episcopal Church. He and the First Lady were to be escorted by motorcade to the Capitol Building by 10:30 a.m. by Senators Charles McC. Mathias and Wendell Ford, the chairman and a minority member respectively of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies. The split-second Inaugural script, worked out in rehearsals staged with military personnel standing in for the Reagans, called for the swearing-in to begin just before noon. The oath of office was to be administered by Chief Justice Warren Burger before an invited assembly encompassing both houses of Congress, the rest of the Supreme Court, the President’s Cabinet, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the 300-member Washington diplomatic corps and 93 other guests. The President planned to swear his oath on his mother Nelle’s Bible, as he did in 1981, opened to Chronicles 7: 14 (“If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land”).

Arrangements for the congressional luncheon following the Inaugural Address featured two innovations. One was the inclusion of the dean of the diplomatic corps, the Soviet Union’s longtime Ambassador to Washington, Anatoli Dobrynin. The other was an invitation to six “real people,” as Mathias called them, from around the nation. Selected through professional associations, the group includes a truck driver from Alabama, a union official from Maryland, a farmer from Kansas, a fire fighter from Texas and a businesswoman from California. For the sixth, Buffalo Narcotics Agent Joe Petronella, the invitation presented a problem: he specializes in undercover work requiring disguises and refuses to be photographed. Even so, he vowed, “I’m going as myself.”

Populist touches were also added in planning the Monday-afternoon parade. Governors unable to serve as grand marshals were urged to designate “citizen representatives” in their places, and more than a dozen did so. Some of the designees were already celebrities, including Astronaut Sally Ride (California), Marathoner Alberto Salazar (Oregon) and Chef Paul Prudhomme (Louisiana). Others were honored for little-noted achievements, including Arkansas Teacher of the Year Alfreeda Marshall. Altogether, final plans for the parade called for 57 floats, 43 marching bands, 37 equestrian units and one dogsled from Alaska pulled by 21 Huskies.

The logistics in preparing for the Inaugural balls on Monday evening were no less daunting than those for the parade. More than 100 florists were imported from outside Washington to help local talent produce 150,000 arrangements, and 28 orchestras were hired to provide dance music from 8 p.m. to midnight. The President and First Lady were scheduled to put in an appearance, and even dance briefly, at each affair. Counting on high spirits among the 50,000 guests, organizers packed in strong spirits accordingly: more than 400 bars were stocked to dispense liquid refreshment at $3.50 per mixed drink and $2.50 for wine or beer.

Second-term Inaugurals may or may not be more fun than first termers, but one thing is certain: the next one will be of the first-term variety. It will have a different texture, a new feel, even if the Republicans are hosts again. Whoever wins the 1988 election will be hard-pressed to match Ronald Reagan when it comes to putting on a show.

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