David Letterman, left, and Dustin Hoffman were among the Kennedy Center… (Brndan Hoffman / EPA )
Dustin Hoffman may be winning a Kennedy Center Honor, but on the awards gala's red carpet Sunday he said he's not thinking much about his legacy as an actor. In his profession, he said, nothing lasts long.
"Like signing your name on cake in icing on a hot July day," said Hoffman, who also commented on meeting President Obama for the first time earlier in the evening.
"He said, 'I didn't know you were so short'; I said, 'I didn't know you were so tall.'" (The actor and the president are 5-foot-5 and 6-foot-1, respectively.)
PHOTOS: Kennedy Center Honors 2012
Leading David Letterman's Top 10 best things about being honored by the Kennedy Center was seeing the president walk in the room. Letterman was amazed, he said.
"I don't believe this," said the talk-show host, "but it's been fun for my family."
The annual celebration of the performing arts brings out a mix of Washington wonks and Hollywood types. Many started their night at a reception at the White House, including Alec Baldwin, Jack Black, musician Lenny Kravitz, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
The honorees are just as eclectic a group: Hoffman, Letterman, guitarist Buddy Guy, ballerina Natalia Makarova and British rockers Led Zeppelin. Though Zeppelin is being recognized as a group, each of its living members — John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant — earned Kennedy Center Honors.
In his remarks at White House, Obama joked that the group of performers had "no business being on the same stage together."
"We’ve got Buddy Guy sitting next to Dustin Hoffman. We've got Dave Letterman alongside one of the greatest ballerinas of all time," Obama said. "I don't think Dave dances."
PHOTOS: Kennedy Center Honors 2012
The president said he'd worked with his speechwriters, but there just was "no smooth transition from ballet to Led Zeppelin."
Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama were slated to attend Sunday's show.
Other attendees included Tina Fey, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Obama's now former campaign guru David Axelrod, who arrived wearing a bright red bow tie and his not-long-for-this-world mustache. Axelrod has promised to shave his trademark 'stache later this week as part of a fundraiser for epilepsy that grew out of a campaign bet.
"It's kinda strange," he admitted. "But for a million dollars for epilepsy..."
Pelosi physically collided with actress Naomi Watts on the red carpet, stepping for just a minute on the petite blond's blue gown. Watts attended with husband Liev Schreiber to honor Hoffman.
Schreiber praised his fellow actor's passion: "He thinks at a different velocity and burns at a brighter intensity."
The Kennedy Center Honors medallions were presented Saturday at a State Department dinner hosted by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, which was also attended by 2011 honoree Meryl Streep.
The Kennedy Center Honors broadcast will air Dec. 26 on CBS.
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