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A Starless Night That Still Shone Bright

June 24, 1996|BETTY GOODWIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

No, Quasimodo, the star of Disney's new "Hunchback of Notre Dame," was not on the premises.

There was an all-star cast of the non-Hollywood variety at the Walt Disney Studios on Thursday night, including Abba Eban, Israel's representative to the United Nations during the Truman era and deputy prime minister of Israel; Madeleine Albright, the United States' permanent representative to the United Nations; and Jehan Sedat, the former first lady of Egypt.

The "Legacy of Leadership" dinner, underwritten by Disney and held in the studio's "Pretty Woman" sound stage (No. 2), took place to commemorate President Harry S. Truman's decision to recognize the state of Israel and to raise more than $250,000 for the Harry S. Truman Library in Independence, Mo.

Truman became the first world leader to recognize Israel just 11 minutes after the Jewish state was declared on May 14, 1948. Indeed, money raised by the library's fund-raising efforts will go toward education programs as well as permanent exhibits. "What we're really trying to use is the Truman period as a series of case studies on how you make important, complicated decisions," said library director Larry Hackman.

Why Disney? "Very simple. These people wanted to do something in California and we have the capacity," said Disney's John Cooke, who sits on the board of the Truman Institute, which raises money for the library. One other thing: Walt Disney and Harry Truman were fellow Missourians, pointed out Gen. Donald F. Dawson, the library's president emeritus.

The event didn't rate even a blip on the celebrity Richter scale, save for Sid Caesar, but it did attract Truman biographer David McCullough, Truman grandson Clifton Truman Daniel, and Alon Ben-Gurion, grandson of former Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion.

"I do whatever [the library directors] ask me to do," said Daniel, a reporter at the Morning Star in Wilmington, N.C. He struck up a quick friendship with Ben-Gurion, manager of the Capitol Hilton in Washington. "It's nice that our grandfathers had that connection."

The sound stage was also populated with descendants and kin of other key players of the Truman years, including Barbara Pauley Pagin--widow of oilman Edwin Pauley, Truman's close advisor and friend--and dinner co-chairwoman Carmen Warschaw, whose father, Leo Harvey, was the single largest contributor to the library in the 1950s. (Cooke, Stanley Hirsh and Walter Gerken also co-chaired the event.)

"There seems to be an unusual number of people in this community who understand the significance of Harry Truman, particularly the recognition of Israel," said Hackman of the 400-strong crowd, which ran the gamut from Rodeo Drive retailer Richard Carroll to Bank of America's Kathleen Brown, Sotheby's Andrea Van de Kamp and Playboy's Richard Rosenzweig.

While Albright, on behalf of the Clinton administration, pledged America's "unwavering support for peace" in the Middle East, Eban--recipient of the first Harry S. Truman Lifetime Achievement Award--emphasized Truman's strength of character and his large vision of America's place in the world. "He affected generations of people more profoundly than any of his successors," Eban said.

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