Inaugural Parties Heat Up After a Cold Start : Astronauts, Olympians, Hollywood Stars and Some Plain Folks Make the Wintry Scene

Times Staff Writers

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."

Greeted Guests

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.

"Black tie and boots" was the evening's dress code at this bash--the biggest assemblage of Texans in a single room in Washington since the heyday of the Johnson Administration--hosted by the Texas State Society in honor of Vice President and Mrs. Bush.

"It's the only way to dress," said rancher/oil man Mike Montes of Bryan Station, Tex. "I wear the same boots to work in the field and in the oil business"--albeit probably not with his tuxedo.

No one dances quite like Texans, a fact demonstrated en masse as what seemed to be most of the guest list waltzed and two-stepped to Johnnie High and his band. Those who were not dancing were probably eating some of the best Tex-Mex victuals the capital had seen, much less tasted, in recent memory, and sipping from bottomless reserves of Lone Star beer.

Still, the real cause for the excitement was as much the gift that was to be presented to Vice President and Mrs. Bush as it was the Second Couple themselves. Having ridden from San Antonio for three days in a trailer-truck, Mr. V.P., a 1,400-pound, 7-year-old steer boasting a 52-inch spread between his longhorn prongs, was about to be rolled on to the stage in a giant metal cage.

Said rancher Wayne Wright, in the same proud tones he might use to describe a favorite child, "He's mean as hell."

Wright, after all, conspired with ranching partner Gene Canavan and San Antonio Rep. Tom (or in this crowd, "Tommy") Loeffler to present the beast to the Bushes. It was awarded to Bush by Texas Monthly as a "bum steer award," for eschewing his Texas roots and trying to take a $123,000 tax deduction for listing his "home" as Kennebunkport, Maine.

Scheduled for auction in May, Mr. V.P. was expected to bring at least $100,000 to benefit a favorite Bush family charity, the Oncology and Hematology Unit of the M.D. Anderson Hospital in Houston. "Years ago in West Texas," Bush explained, "we lost a child to leukemia," and since then, the family had been avid supporters of the institution.

On the subject of vice presidential fashion, Bush was a clear standout in the crowd.

Black tie and boots? No way. The vice president wore shiny black patent leather evening slippers.

"City slicker stuff," said someone in the crowd.

Up in the Big Apple, the attire was more like rainbow tie when about 450 people paid $50 apiece to pack into the ballroom of the historic Puck Building in New York's chic SoHo district Saturday night for a "Can't Stop Us Now Counter-Inaugural Ball." Sponsored by Center for Constitutional Rights, a public-interest law firm specializing in civil and human rights work, as well as anti-nuclear efforts, and these days, a strong defense of Central American activists, the party was hosted by the same Rev. Jesse Jackson who earlier in the day had led a protest of 750 marchers in front of the White House.

Jackson was bleak in his characterization of the next four years: "It's dark," he said, speaking of the quality of life in America under the Reagan Administration, "because of the uncaring character of the Reagan Administration, because of the insensitivities of the Reagan Administration, because of the deception of the Reagan Administration."

Reassuring the crowd that "our trials will make us strong," Jackson went on to stress the need to enforce voting rights in the South, and the importance of bringing more blacks, females and Latinos into the Congress.

"No pharaoh, no Nebuchadnezzar, no Reagan will make us submit," Jackson intoned, then left his audience with a ray of optimism.

"Surely as it is dark," said Jackson, "the morning comes."

Californians have their own version of the "Eagles." The California Golden Bears, annual $10,000 donors to the Republican state party, gathered for a reception and lunch at the Sheraton Grand. Parker Montgomery, one of the original $25,000 founders of the group and the chairman of Cooper Laboratories, said that so far the highlight of his visit was "getting enough sleep."

Assemblyman Bob Naylor, the minority leader of the California Legislature, was there, coming straight to the party from the red-eye flight.

"Kay (his wife) and I came last time, and we both pledged we wouldn't come again," Naylor said.

So, what was he doing here?

"If you want to run for the Senate. . . ."

"We've been going strong, one thing after another," said Gordon Luce, the well-known San Diego banker. "I respond well to the brisk, cold weather. I prefer California weather, but this is sort of stimulating, exciting. So many great people to see."

Speaking of people to see, Luce was asked what he thought about the great flap made over Sinatra pointing a fist at a reporter and saying, "You're all dead!"

"He's a great entertainer," Luce dodged gamely.

Ed Mills, the Community Bank director who started the "Friends of Reagan" with Henry Salvatori, Cy Rubel and Holmes Tuttle way back when Reagan made his run at governor, was coping with the snow by letting his limousine driver worry about it.

"That helps," the Laguna Beach resident said.

White House counselor Edwin Meese III and U.N. Ambassador Jeane J. Kirkpatrick were honored at a party that was so ill-planned, it didn't do much honor to anyone who attended. Lew Lehrman's Citizens for America invited 1,700 people to the reception. To the planners' apparent surprise, at least half of them came, only to find the party was being held at the Heritage Foundation's office building on a floor of offices--none of which would comfortably hold more than 30 people. People were packed body against body in offices and tiny hallways.

"Can you believe," one guest said, "that they invited all these people to stand in a hallway?" The Heritage Foundation is a conservative think tank that has close ties to Reagan.

When Meese and Kirkpatrick finally arrived, separately, their Secret Service people had to form a wedge through the crowd as if they were returning a kickoff in a football game, and few people actually got to speak to them.

Among those who briefly braved the crush were Sen. Pete Wilson, Atty. Gen. William French Smith, William Casey, Sen. Jesse Helms and Lionel Hampton. Some visitors from Escondido, John and Marilyn Dailey, opted to stay in the lobby of the building rather than fight the mob on the third floor.

"It's a great turnout, but I think they should have held it someplace else," John Dailey said.

"I think they got more people than they counted on," said Marilyn Dailey, who nonetheless was enjoying the weekend, partly because, "it's the only time I get to wear my mink coat."

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