When Does an Invitation Count Most?

Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe got an interesting invite in the mail last week.

Tribe, frequently touted as a front-runner for a Supreme Court nomination in a Democratic Administration, somehow was invited by former Texas Republican Sen. John Tower to join the Inner Circle, the heavy-hitter group of the Republican National Committee. His personal letter said he had been nominated for the honor by another former Republican senator, Massachusetts' Ed Brooke--and why not come on down to D.C. in March to meet with the President and other Administration hot shots?

Great. Tribe could probably prove a real party hit, telling about his testimony against the Supreme Court nomination of now-resigned Judge Robert Bork. It isn't likely that the mistake placing Tribe on Reagan's party list will be repeated by placing his name on Reagan's Supreme Court list.

Literary Roots . . . Perhaps

Invitations are such a touchy business. Maybe it started back in junior high. Or the first time we read F. Scott Fitzgerald. Or Edith Wharton. Or John O'Hara.

Whatever the collective source, nothing produces anxiety attacks like the news that invitations are in the mail. Especially when it's not clear if that party invite has been mailed to you.

This week's Museum of Contemporary Art party, hosted by designer Giorgio Armani, is sending tremors along our city's fashionable fault line. It will probably be a very lovely evening--but it becomes much more important to be there when it's clear that you can't buy an invite (unless those who contributed six figures to MOCA count as having paid for a seat). Armani's Lee Radziwill is deciding who makes the cut. Yes, the princess and Jackie O's sister is now employed by the designer and has come from New York to rank the Los Angeles social scene.

Social Insecurity generally runs high in Los Angeles, since every step of the party dance is as monitored as a French court reel. TV crews, the trades, mainline newspapers and now magazines watch and comment and critique. Paparazzi snap sure shots, like the peripatetic Marvin and Barbara Davis (always a great picture with her massive jewelry), or the frequently interviewed Michelle Lee (always time for a couple of quick TV quotes), or Beverly Hills' Ellen Byrnes (always another charity event down the block that she's promoting), or actress Lois Hamilton (always sporting a tight latex dress on one of the most nationally starred bodies in town).

Night after night, the constant attendees along the charity circuit compare and rate the massive hotel functions that they happen to be gracing that evening. These parties are what Pasadena's Sharon Thralls has rightly termed "grip-and-grin" events--people smile, shake hands, then quickly move on to the next encounter.

For many of the guests, party-going is work too. They have a business involvement with the honoree, or they were honored themselves several months ago and the honoree bought a table at their dinner, or they would like to have something to say to the honoree when they pitch a project early next Thursday morning. The event-goers could also have a serious commitment to the charity, cause or candidate.

And, of course, some people in this town will go out to the opening of a can.

Now this is all pay-as-you-play partying, with choice charity events mostly running upward of $250 a ticket. You might not rate the best-located table--but write a check and send it in the return mail and you can probably get into that particular party. In some cases, money is the great leveler.

Other times, even here, money just doesn't count. So there is a perverse delight in the dark soul of any party critic (pro or pro-am) when a major invite goes out, and it's an invite to a party without a price tag. Now it's easy to see who does count--or at least who, in the opinion of the host and hostess, makes for a great party.

Two summers ago, Lew and Edie Wasserman celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on Universal's back lot, with a hundreds-plus guest list that included senators, former ambassadors, the biggest stars in Hollywood and a good sprinkle of their lifelong friends. For days before, first-class flights from D.C. and NYC were so stuffed with brand names on their way to the fete that they resembled pre-party receptions.

Money, no matter how much, simply can't buy that kind of a list. The moved-here-from-Denver Davises hosted 400 close buddies in their Beverly Hills estate at Christmastime. They could pull top local names--but not a national power mix. As children say playing "Hide and Seek," they're getting warmer--but they are still not hot.

When a price-tag invite comes, there are serious questions to be asked. Anyone who winds up on someone's mailing list and gets an invitation to a benefit gala has to be part seer, part snob, judging weeks before the first canape is consumed whether the party is "worth it." Will the event be fun? Who's on the benefit committee and do they signify social power? Will we be able to snag a good table? How crowded is that week? Is this a party we have to be seen at?

And you thought being rich was easy. There are complaints, complaints from Constant Attendees, as their mailboxes spill over in this busy social period.

Of course there could be a worse fate. The invites could stop.

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