WASHINGTON — It was slow going at first. In comparison to the breathless enthusiasm ignited when Ronald Reagan's Hollywood merged with the power and glory of a presidential inaugural for the first time in 1981, this year's inaugural parties seemed sluggish and spiritless, not to mention troublesome to attend, with temperatures dipping Sunday to 35 degrees below 0 with wind chill.
Parties seemed less exclusive and more crowded. Conversation was dominated largely by talk of the traffic (insufferable), the weather (can you feel your toes?) or the ongoing battle between the media (incorrigible) and inaugural superstar Frank Sinatra (incensed, to put it mildly).
Love may be lovelier the second time around, but presidential inaugurations generally are not. "After you've done it once, you're not quite so wide-eyed," said Ursula Meese, wife of the presidential counselor.
An Assortment of Guests
Still, this second Ronald Reagan inaugural attracted an assortment of big-name guests that ranged from the likes of portly Teamsters chief Jackie Presser, squiring his fiancee, Cynthia Sarabek, to counts and countesses, astronaut Sally Ride, a slew of Olympic medalists and the by-now-mandatory array of Hollywood stars.
One such star--Francis Albert Sinatra, never noted for his love of the media--earned a flurry of attention when he lashed out at television reporter Barbara Howar because of a story he found unflattering in the Washington Post. When not snarling at the press, hosting Sunday's most exclusive Super Bowl party or producing presidential and vice presidential galas, Sinatra was seen darting about in a limo whose inaugural license plates read "MY WAY."
The inaugural weekend kicked off with a flood of parties Friday night. Saturday night the celebration began to sparkle, plenty, when industralist/philanthropist/ad hoc diplomat Armand Hammer hosted a lavish reception to unveil his "inaugural collection" of American paintings at the National Gallery of Art. "Splendid," pronounced Michael Quick, curator of American art at the Los Angeles County Museum, where this particular group of Hammer artworks will head, as Quick put it, "when the Lord takes the Doctor to him."
Very much alive and kicking--"I eat a lot of vitamins," Hammer said when asked to account for his seeming indefatigability--Hammer and National Gallery of Art director J. Carter Brown stood before Edward Savage's famous 1796 rendition of "The Washington Family," the only portrait of that particular first family to have been executed from life, as they greeted an array of guests that included artists, ambassadors, Cabinet members, members of Congress and prominent socialites. Injured in an automobile accident in England last summer, Brown leaned on a crutch as guests swarmed in, while Hammer, Legion d'Honneur rosette fixed firmly in the lapel of his favorite midnight blue evening suit, received hugs and kisses from the likes of New York City Opera general director Beverly Sills and Soviet Ambassador Anatoly F. Dobrynin.
A Gallery aide watched in awe as the pair received the stream of admirers. Commenting on their apparently endless enthusiasm, she remarked, astonished, "We have one who has a hurt leg, and one who is 86."
Hammer, the one who is 86, said he was holding out great hopes in the second Reagan Administration for the continued success of his diplomatic efforts, both through direct communication with world leaders and through exchanges of art.
"Art speaks the same language, whether French, German, Russian or Chinese," Hammer said.
Among the early agenda items that Hammer foresaw for the second Reagan term, he said, was the signing of an international cultural agreement with the Soviet Union.
Fresh from another version of her standard speech--this one last week on "CBS Morning News"--on the impact of budget cuts on the arts, New York City Opera general director Beverly Sills said the subject was a recurring one in her frequent private dinners with President and Mrs. Reagan.
A fiscal realist, Sills said that "I would like to see a balanced budget. I don't want to see our country in a state of economic collapse; I just would like to see fairer cuts. I don't think any one area of the budget should be sacrosanct and not have any cuts." Specifically, perchance, was Sills referring to the Reagan defense budget? "Yes. I don't think any area should be exempt."
In any case, Sills said she often voices these opinions when meeting with the President. "We're great friends," she said.
Pared down during the last six months by 70 pounds, Sills was wearing a scarlet gown that "predates Reagan red." It was, after all, 13 years old, an elegant relic of her "old size-10" days.
Meanwhile, over at the Washington Hilton, about 5,000 Texans were gathered for what could have been the only party in town where men in normal shoes looked decidedly abnormal.