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R S V P : Princely Visit a Crowning Glory


As a British subject, it is protocol for Jacqueline Bisset to curtsy on meeting the Prince of Wales.

Whether she accomplished the maneuver properly was not quite clear, because as she headed for the royal fete Wednesday night in the Mojave Room at the Cerritos Performing Arts Center, the high heel of one of her black pumps snapped and she was left wobbling.

The room was the site of a reception hosted by New Yorker magazine during the intermission between acts of the Royal Shakespeare Co.'s "Henry VI: The Battle for the Throne."

Despite the magazine staff's efforts to form a reception line so that as many guests as possible could meet Charles during the short interlude, the prince was soon trapped in a tight knot of eager greeters.

"I think it's just the tallest and most aggressive who make it," commented one guest as she described the scramble for the royal handshake.

Guests at an earlier reception missed out on the royal presence. Celebrities limoed through rush-hour traffic, having been asked to arrive early because they had to be seated in the theater before the prince. So the center put on a reception to feed and amuse them.

The traffic delayed the usually punctual prince, so there turned out to be plenty of opportunity to mingle and schmooze around the buffet table laden with smoked salmon and caviar. On hand were Steve Martin with Victoria Dailey, Dick Benjamin and Paula Prentiss, "Gettysburg" director Ron Maxwell, who was escorting Bisset, Roddy McDowall escorting Mary Steenburgen, Oliver Stone, John and Mary Lithgow, David Hockney and Beatles' producer George Martin.

"An odd choice of play to put before a prince, don't you think," said Martin Landau who with Gretchen Becker, found himself in conversation with Tom Halifax, the Belfast artist who is in the royal entourage to compile a sketch book of the prince's tour.

"At least that's what I think I'm doing" said Halifax, a portrait and landscape painter who usually works in oils, but is using drawings and Polaroid film to capture the eclectic nature of the royal progress.

Star-gazing is part of that progress, so snapshots of Landau and Becker were added to his previous photos of police outriders and mariachi bands at the daytime events.

Backstage after the play, press photographers with less privileged access were grumbling about getting too many shots of the prince's bald spot as he continued his meeting and greeting with the officials of the Cerritos Center and the cast.

Later there was to be a cast party hosted by food and beverage conglomerate Allied Domecq whose $6 million sponsorship is financing the British acting company's overseas tour, but Charles left after some chat with the actors.

"He was asking about the choice of a Yorkshire accent, not something an American would probably pick up on," said Tom Smith, who portrays the future Richard III.

Asked by a reporter if they were monarchists, Smith; Jonathan Firth, who plays Henry VI, and Ruth Mitchell, who plays Queen Margaret, charmed their way out of any concise reply--after all the prince is president of the Royal Shakespeare Co. They said they were more concerned about getting their entrances and exits right on an unfamiliar proscenium stage than thinking that the future king of England was out there listening to the struggles it took and perhaps still takes to hold onto the crown.

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