NEW YORK — President Clinton celebrated on the eve of his 50th birthday Sunday with a gala fund-raising bash that combined big-name stars and an atticful of Clinton family memories to yield a $12-million pot of campaign cash.
With supporters looking on in 89 TV-linked fund-raisers around the country, the variety show used testimonials, rarely seen family pictures and home movies to retrace Clinton's life story in a way that left the birthday boy a bit thick-voiced and teary.
"I just hope you all have had half as good a time as I did," Clinton said after the two-hour show at Radio City Music Hall.
The variety show, two other New York events and the 85 related fund-raisers brought out a total crowd of more than 20,000 faithful Democrats--busting political fund-raising records, according to party officials. "I don't think anything has been offered on this scale," boasted Don Fowler, the national chairman of the Democratic Party.
The cast of entertainers was also on a generous scale: Singers Tony Bennett, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Kenny Rogers, Jennifer Holliday, Carly Simon and Jon Bon Jovi; comedians Whoopi Goldberg, Rosie O'Donnell and Leslie Nielsen; and Olympians Carl Lewis and Kerri Strug.
For the price of a ticket--donors paid anywhere from $250 to $15,000--the faithful got some glimpses of the president and his family that have rarely been seen even by their closest friends.
Here was family footage of daughter Chelsea, whom the Clintons have largely shielded from publicity, kissing her father, fishing with him, climbing with him into a hot-air balloon, chatting at the kitchen table. Here are shots of the president as a pudgy toddler swaddled in wool clothing and as a boy with hair whipped into a frothy pile in imitation of Elvis Presley.
And here, films of teen brother Bill taking younger brother Roger out to tool around Hot Springs, Ark., in his first car, an extravagantly finned Chrysler sedan.
The show summoned up the old memories in different ways as well. In the style of "This Is Your Life," the producers brought out Sister Mary McKee, who as Clinton's second-grade teacher gave him a C in comportment for raising his hand too many times in class. "I'm so proud of him I could pop," she said, leaning on her walker.
She added that once she had talked to Clinton's mother, Virginia Kelly, about his excessive eagerness to speak.
Also present was Roger Clinton, who appeared in a video with his wife and 2-year-old son, Tyler, photographed at Palisades Park in Santa Monica. Though it wasn't always fun being the president's brother, it was fun being Bill Clinton's brother, said Roger, who has endured some harsh news coverage during his brother's term.
The producers also arranged a video of Clinton's classmates at Hot Springs High School, who held forth lustily the school's cheer. Three men who shared a house with him during his Georgetown University days showed up in person.
As the camera panned to Clinton and his family in the front row, it caught him several times hastily wiping tears from the corners of his eyes.
The event and an earlier fund-raising reception brought out hecklers angry about Clinton's support for the welfare reform bill. One group of more than half a dozen black-clad young people chanted "Shame!" and unfurled banners in one corner of the auditorium.
The crowd began to chant, "Four more years!" But when one audience member cried, "Throw the bums out!" Clinton interceded: "Relax! Relax! One of the great things about this country is that you can say whatever's on your mind, and nobody can shut you up."
A few jokes during the evening came at Clinton's expense. Actor Nathan Lane, who co-starred in the film "The Birdcage," gave Clinton a greeting from the film "The Lion King" that he said meant, "You're 50 now, you're allowed to inhale."
But the comics took even more pokes at Clinton's 73-year-old rival, Bob Dole. Lane said Dole's birthday bash had been held at Stonehenge, which was erected for the purpose. And Goldberg, the emcee, joked that Dole's image had been found on the rocks recently retrieved from Mars.
Clinton, thanking the friends who contributed to the event, noted with some bitterness that some of his friends have been "subjected to ridicule. The term FOB--Friend of Bill--"has become an epithet in some quarters," he said.
Musing on turning 50, Clinton said he expects to have "couple of bad hours there" when he receives a routine invitation to join the American Assn. of Retired People. But he said he was comforted that ex-Beatles Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison "are all older than I am."
s For a minimum of $250 and a maximum of $15,000, 5,100 Democrats got a chance to attend the variety show. The final event of the evening was a post-show dinner at the Waldorf Astoria hotel for donors who put up $10,000 each.