Despite all the fracas--the booing of the President, the protests outside--Elizabeth Taylor emerged victorious from Sunday's big AIDS fund-raiser here.
The dinner, underwritten by New York Life Insurance Co., raised $500,000 for the American Foundation for AIDS Research. And Taylor, the group's national chairman, finagled another $2 million for the cause from a couple of new friends.
In her intoxicatingly breathy voice, Taylor had pulled off an impossible diplomatic maneuver to keep the party flowing, warmly thanking President Reagan for speaking while acknowledging that many in the audience had disagreed with his advocacy of routine AIDS testing. In fact, some had registered their response in unabashed booing.
Kiss From a Star
After Reagan's speech, only his second major speech on the topic of AIDS, Taylor kissed the President, went to the microphone and said, "I know there are some people who disagree. That was quite clear. But I think what the President said is basically in concurrence with what we all hope and pray for: A cure for AIDS.
"About the testing, there are differences of opinion, but, Mr. President, I think it was gracious and wonderful of you and Nancy to come."
Taylor's statement was met with thunderous applause and allowed the Reagans to depart gracefully before dinner was served.
Leading Scientists, Activists
With leading AIDS scientists and activists in town from all over the world to attend the Third International Conference on AIDS, the foundation's kickoff fund-raiser brought together politicians, socialites, scientists and corporate interests, with prices ranging from $250 per plate to $25,000 per table of 10. When Reagan agreed to attend it was originally considered a boon for the AIDS cause, since he had said so little about the issue previously. Tickets to the dinner sold out early.
But just before the party, attended by 850 guests at the lush riverside Potomac restaurant, word began to spread that the President was going to make a speech calling for more testing of various groups for the virus. The foundation advocates voluntary, confidential testing accompanied by counseling, and would prefer that the government increase funds for research, treatment and education, rather than focus on testing.
There had also been talk of a possible walkout to protest Reagan's speech, but unhappy guests decided to remain in their seats and boo instead.
"We decided that no matter what, he was a guest in our house," said Abigail (Dear Abby) Van Buren, a member of the foundation's board. "I was delighted with what he said."
"I think the President said what he wanted to say and a great majority of the audience received it and some took issue, but the overall ambiance and mood and spirit of the event were very up and very successful," said Barbara Boggs of Washington Inc., the morning after the party. Washington Inc. had planned the affair. "It was an extremely effective and successful fund-raiser," Boggs added. "We were delighted on behalf of AmFAR."
Reflecting on the previous night's events, George Trapp, a vice president of New York Life, said Monday the company had no regrets about sponsoring the affair and felt it had accomplished much.
"I think generally we feel pretty good about underwriting it," Trapp said. "I think it did two things. It raised money, and the attention that the party itself and the President's remarks received is going to raise peoples' consciousness one more notch about what the disease is all about and what we as a society ought to be doing to stem the spread of it."
In his speech, delivered as chanting protesters outside burned candles in memory of AIDS victims, Reagan drew several choruses of boos, mixed with some light applause, when he called for routine testing for the AIDS virus for immigrants, marriage applicants, prisoners and those seeking treatment for drug abuse or sexually transmitted diseases.
Impassioned Speech by Koop
Reagan had taken the podium after impassioned speeches had been made by Surgeon General C. Everett Koop and the world's two leading AIDS researchers, Dr. Robert C. Gallo of the National Cancer Institute and Dr. Luc Montagnier of the Pasteur Institute in Paris. Gallo and Montagnier have feuded over which of them first discovered the virus, but they were gracious to each other during their speeches.
Reagan then spoke and said "fund-raisers always remind me of one of my favorite stories" about a man who was soliciting funds for a charity. The solicitor tells a man, "Our records show you have not given anything to our charity." And the man asks if the records also show that a member of his family is disabled and another is a widow struggling to support her family.
"No, our records don't show that," the embarrassed solicitor admits.
"Well," the man replies, "I don't give anything to them. Why should I give anything to you?"
When Reagan got into the serious part of his text, drawing both boos and applause, some guests took the middle road, they acknowledged later. They did not like the sound of routine testing because discrimination might result from it, they explained, but they also were delighted that Reagan had said AIDS sufferers deserve compassion and that unfair treatment of victims "has no place in the home of the brave."
Asked how he felt about the party, Koop replied, "This is the most significant week in the history of AIDS for this country. The President is coming forward with some flat-footed statements about AIDS and now we can move forward."
Dr. Mervyn F. Silverman, president of the foundation, said, "I'm very pleased that the President talked about compassion and said the problem is a disease, not people. But I'd like to state again the position of AmFAR is that it supports voluntary, confidential testing accompanied by counseling. Safeguards must be present to prevent discrimination.
'Issue Is Counseling'
"The whole issue of testing is misguided. The issue is counseling."
Despite the emotional turmoil of the evening, the guests were treated to several merry moments. After Reagan spoke, Japanese philanthropist Ryoichi Sasakawa, chairman of the Japanese Shipbuilding Industry Foundation, strode to the microphone in a kimono and began giving an animated speech in Japanese.
After several moments, an interpreter explained that he had said, "My name is Ryoichi Sasakawa. I am 88 years old. Since I was a small child I was told by my parents that I was sent to this world as a cleaner of this dirty world."
Sasakawa went on to explain that he had recently enjoyed a visit in Japan with Taylor and was donating $1 million to the foundation. Sasakawa has contributed many millions to various charities throughout his life and is particularly interested in world health issues, having helped to fund research on smallpox and leprosy.
Taylor thanked Sasakawa, playfully slipping his check down the front of her dress, and added, "This has been an extraordinary month for me. I also met Malcolm Forbes for the third time in my life and he presented me with a check for $1 million."
Taylor beckoned millionaire publisher Forbes to the podium and held his and Sasakawa's hands high in the air, like winning boxers.
"My million-dollar babies!" she exclaimed.
Taylor was not the only celebrity there. George Hamilton attended, as did playwrights Larry Kramer and William Hoffman and model Beverly Johnson. Entertainment was provided by Roberta Flack and Marvin Hamlisch. Ruth Westheimer, the television sex therapist, was escorted by Robin Weir, Mrs. Reagan's East Coast hairdresser.
Guests from Los Angeles included Dr. Michael Gottlieb, a founding chair of the foundation; Matt Redman of the AIDS Project L.A.; Dr. Joel Weisman; Dr. Roger Detels, dean of UCLA's public health school; Jerrold and Helen Kushnick, dinner vice chairmen; fashion designer Carole Little; and attorney David Topel. David Mixner and Peter Scott of MECLA, a preeminent gay political organization, attended, as did gay activist Jean O'Leary and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles), among others.