A glittering crowd of Hollywood celebrities toasted "Dutch" Reagan as one of their own Sunday night, celebrating his movie career as the high point of his public life and--for an evening--relegating his presidency to a footnote.
But Washington wasn't far from Reagan's mind as he thanked his Hollywood friends. "For those of you who said such nice things about me tonight, I just wish you were all under oath," he said. "I wish you were all members of Congress."
Reagan then wistfully recited his dream Cabinet: "With John Wayne as secretary of state, Clint Eastwood as secretary of defense, Jack Benny as secretary of Treasury and Groucho Marx as secretary of education.
"Even presidents can't have everything," he said, "but all of you tonight, you really made my day."
"An All-Star Party for 'Dutch' Reagan" was "an old actor coming back to his friends," said Joe Kay, associate producer. Dutch was the name Reagan used when he began his career as a radio announcer. Spotlighting the nickname, Kay said, was a way of underscoring that the tribute "doesn't have a presidential flavor."
Frank Sinatra, a longtime Reagan friend, was host for the event, which was taped at NBC studios in Burbank but will be televised by CBS next Sunday.
A nostalgic evening was capped by the announcement of a Ronald Reagan wing for sick, crippled and disabled children at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. Monty Hall, past president of Variety Clubs International, the show's sponsor, said the gift in Reagan's name was a Variety Club tradition that began when John Wayne was honored in 1976.
With his wife, Nancy, at his side, Reagan watched some favorite entertainers perform, including Dean Martin, Burt Reynolds, Charlton Heston, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, Ben Vereen and Emmanuel Lewis. Dodger announcer Vin Scully was on hand to pay tribute to a fellow sports announcer.
Although Reagan has been honored in many ways for his political achievements, his movie career has not won similar notice.
Reagan seemed to thoroughly enjoy the belated acclaim for his contribution to Hollywood. The common assumption that he was "a grade-B actor" is something of a sore point with Reagan.
During one of his summit strolls with Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev, Reagan asked that he "tell Arbatov they weren't all B-movies." Georgi Arbatov, the Kremlin's leading commentator on U.S. culture, had irritated Reagan with his less-than-flattering assessment.
Reagan suggested that the Soviets should see "King's Row," the most highly regarded of his movies.
After Sunday night's taping, the Reagans enjoyed a catered dinner from Chasen's with the cast. They fly back to Washington today after a fund-raising event in Seattle.