Newsreal: Pol Pot sends his regrets

Salon reports on the movers and shakers who couldn't attend Time's gala birthday party.

By Andrew Ross

Published March 5, 1998 8:00PM (EST)

NEW YORK --Time Magazine's 75th birthday bash has been noted in certain quarters for the odd assortment of celebrity guests in attendance. Some have wondered what such well-known merchants of sleaze, bigotry and death as Dick Morris, Jerry Falwell, F. Lee Bailey and Dr. Jack Kevorkian were doing there nibbling canapis and having their pictures taken alongside Bill Gates, Joe DiMaggio, Steven Spielberg, Claudia Schiffer, Sean Connery, Kofi Annan and President Clinton. But, as Time managing editor Walter Isaacson strenuously pointed out, there were no moral or value judgments made in drawing up the guest list. It didn't matter what you had done in the past 75 years to advance or impede the cause of human progress, it was whether you had enough wattage to have made it onto Time magazine's cover. "It helps that being on the cover of Time is a certain touchstone for America, and people who have been on the cover like to come back and celebrate this fact," said Isaacson, author of a respectful biography of Time cover luminary and noted war criminal Henry Kissinger.

Unfortunately, not all Time cover boys and girls were able to attend. Among those who sent their regrets:

Adolf Hitler: Despite the best efforts of a 50-man Bechtel engineering team hired by Time-Warner, Hitler could not be dislodged from beneath the concrete piles where the former Time magazine cover subject and ex-F|hrer of the 1,000-year Reich remains pinned in his Berlin bunker.

Saddam Hussein: The Iraqi strongman originally accepted the Time party invitation, eagerly planning to "take Manhattan" in the wake of his triumphant negotiations to avert a U.S. air strike. But he turned around at the Baghdad airport after being told by New York City police that, contrary to assurances from party hosts, he would not be able to store chemical and biological weapons in the coat check room at Radio City Music Hall, where the Time celebration was held.

Charles Manson: In a comedy of errors, Manson was invited, then disinvited, when a party organizer realized he was in fact the notorious mass murderer and not the husband of rock star Marilyn Manson.

O.J. Simpson: The Juice is currently plotting his comeback as the narrator of fellow Time invitee Jerry Falwell's production, "The Clinton Chronicles -- Part II," in which private investigators associated with the Paula Jones Defense Committee present proof that the Clintons had Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman killed for welching on a guns-for-cocaine deal in Arkansas. Unfortunately, O.J. cut his hand opening the invitation and is being treated at the Panama City, Fla., Golf Club & Infirmary. "This really hurt," a Time executive told Salon. "After all, he's done so much for our circulation."

Marv Albert: In a gesture that one Time editor characterized as "embodying the spirit of Christian charity," the newsmagazine placed the disgraced sportscaster on its VIP list. But Albert declined to attend. In a statement delivered by his chaplain, Oral Roberts, Albert said: "I am greatly touched by Time's gesture. But my advisors and I feel that, at this point in time, the sight of so many gorgeous women in backless evening gowns might adversely affect my recovery."

Paula Jones: Ms. Jones would have made a splash in her $100,000 Vera Wang gown, designed for the occasion and paid for out of her legal defense fund. But the magazine angrily withdrew the invitation after it learned that Jones was the source of an exclusive story by Newsweek on Kenneth Starr's plan to expand his investigations to include Hillary Clinton. The first lady, according to the story, asked Jones' husband, Steve, when he was a busboy at a Denny's in Long Beach 20 years ago, whether he played Parcheesi during his work breaks.

Chinese Prime Minister Li Peng: The "butcher of Tiananmen Square" was all set to attend when Rupert Murdoch, Time-Warner's fiercest commercial rival, offered to kill the memoirs of former Hong Kong governor Chris Patten if Li turned the invitation down. On the advice of Henry Kissinger, a longtime friend of the Chinese dictatorship, Time managing editor Isaacson was to counter with an offer to have Patten killed if Li would attend. But Time lawyers stepped in, warning that such an action could trigger an FCC investigation into the programming practices of Warner Brothers television.

The Rev. Sun Myung Moon: The Korean evangelist and convicted tax felon was invited to give the benediction at the anniversary do -- until Tom Cruise, one of the real stars of the Times event, threatened to picket the party on the grounds that the invitation discriminated against the Church of Scientology.

Jeffrey Dahmer: As an after-dinner highlight, the body of the late cannibal was supposed to lie in a glass coffin on the Radio City Music Hall stage. But the idea was nixed, sources tell Salon, when colleagues at ABC's "20/20" warned Time that Barbara Walters was planning to jump on the coffin and scream, "You bastard! You promised me an exclusive interview!" "Look, she's the pioneer of suck-up celebrity journalism," confided one senior Time official. "That's why we're all here today. The last thing Time magazine wants to do is to piss off Barbara Walters."

Also on the invite list, but not in attendance, were Idi Amin (no forwarding address); Juan Corona (prison officials wouldn't grant a weekday pass); Joe Klein (wished to remain anonymous); Leona Helmsley (insisted the Helmsley Palace was a more appropriate venue for the party); John Gotti (goes nowhere without a lawyer, but Kenneth Starr assistants were all too busy); and Fred Friendly (turning in his grave).

"Yeah, we know Jack Kevorkian and Louis Farrakhan are pikers in the big celebrity picture," Isaacson was heard to remark as the party drew to a close and the last balloons were sagging to the floor. "But at least we got the idea out that it's a level playing field now. Villains and crackpots are just as worthy as war heroes and Nobel scientists! We're journalists -- who are we to say different?"

In the meantime, planning for Time's 100th anniversary is already under way. Time editors are reportedly working with Chicago physician Richard Seed to clone Joseph Stalin, Genghis Khan and Attila the Hun for the occasion.

Andrew Ross

Andrew Ross is Salon's executive vice president.

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Bill Clinton Dick Morris Jack Kevorkian