A consummate power town, Washington was once a place where minor celebrity was appreciated. When former "Wonder Woman" Lynda Carter moved here after marrying lawyer Robert Altman, she was reportedly welcomed greedily by the elite ladies-who-lunch, who behaved like so many wilting lilies looking for a little ray of sunlight.
Bill Clinton's star-studded Hollywood seems to have changed this permanently. During the Inauguration festivities for George W. Bush, the list of celebrities rumored around town was long, but the star wattage turned out to be low. Plenty turned out Saturday night at the one party with bona fide Hollywood credentials: the Creative Coalition's "Bi-Partisan Celebrity Inaugural Event" at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. And there were some memorable moments: Chris Matthews kneeling down to chat with Dr. Ruth; the brooding presence of Creative Coalition president Billy Baldwin (posing much as he does here, though with much spikier hair); Bo Derek, with that indefatigably serene expression on her face; actor Lou Diamond Phillips getting into the spirit of the new, restrained administration and introducing himself simply as "Lou Phillips."
But are these real power brokers? Sharon Lawrence, ubiquitous on the political party circuit, doesn't seem to have had a high-profile gig since her character was killed off on "NYPD Blue" and her own sitcom failed a few seasons back; Derek's last acting gig was a failed TV series two years ago, and she's now hawking autographed Playboys she "starred" in 17 years ago on her Web site; for Phillips, who seems to work steadily on Broadway and in supporting roles, it's been 15 years since "La Bamba"; and for Baldwin, who someone mentioned was currently working on three movies, it's been 10 years since, well, "Backdraft."
So who was the biggest draw? Derek drew a reverent circle of onlookers who kept a careful distance, looking afraid to talk to her. (What, exactly, would one say to her?) No, it was Arianna Huffington who seemed constantly surrounded by people craning their necks to hear what she had to say, and a hush followed Matthews from room to room. The most excitement seemed to be happening a flight below the VIP lounge, on the dance floor, where excited young politicos were celebrating a new president, completely oblivious to the Hollywood imports two floors above. -- Kerry Lauerman [10 a.m. PST, Jan. 21, 2001]
A time to drink -- but not champagne
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, as the Americans for Democratic Action held its "Counter-Inaugural Gala" on Saturday night. The $35-a-head party took place in the Grand Ballroom of the Mayflower Hotel, the spot made fleetingly famous when Monica Lewinsky hid out there during the height of Clinton's impeachment trial.
In typical Democratic fashion, there was no dress code, with outfits ranging from ball gowns to blue jeans. Many of the young ladies embellished their fancy dresses with oversize Gore/Lieberman buttons and stickers. The dance floor stayed crowded; people moved with abandon to the rock 'n' roll stylings of the Oxymorons.
A woman from the stage announced that the band would play Bush's favorite song and, within a few notes, the gathering erupted into a collective, sneering laugh as the Oxymorons launched into J.J. Cale's "Cocaine." All was fine for the revelers as long as they danced or stayed where the music was. With no more space in front of the band, people also danced in the balconies. Outside the ballroom, a few Democrats had collapsed into green lounge chairs, looking forlorn and cradling drinks.
If you wanted a drink, you had to stand in line and pay for a color-coded ticket, like the kind given out at county fairs. For a red ticket ($6.75), an attendant in a bright white uniform would splash white or red wine into a wide glass. The wine wasn't any good, but there was plenty of it and glasses were filled close to the brim. Soda, juice and hard liquor were also available -- but no champagne.
On the other side of the Mayflower, Republicans started streaming in from the official galas, filling the Town and Country Lounge and sitting in the hotel's lobby in front of a television replaying the inaugural ceremony. Kelsey Grammer came in along with the obligatory stream of fur-clad ladies and the occasionally Stetsoned man. The beloved sitcom shrink wore a nondescript tuxedo with blue and gray sneakers, something that only a Hollywood Republican could get away with.
He was widely noticed, but relatively undisturbed. The Republicans had seen him before at the big Bush ball, and the Democrats didn't venture into the GOP side of the hotel. -- Alicia Montgomery [5 a.m. PST, Jan. 21, 2001]
The "Silver Spoons" treatment
Minutes before Bush's swearing-in ceremony was set to begin, Rick Schroder was visibly flustered. The "NYPD Blue" star, wandering through a seating section devoted mostly to Bush friends and congressional staffers just below the main podium, was being ushered around by a testy inaugural committee representative, who was frantically trying to figure out how to get him up to the platform, where he was supposed to be seated among Bushes and senators.
"This is Ricky Schroder!" the exasperated representative told a Capitol guard, accidentally using the childhood nickname of the former "Silver Spoons" star.
The guard seemed utterly unimpressed.
Schroder held up several oversize yellow tickets, which looked nothing like the passes everyone else was using to access the Capitol grounds.
The guard shook his head. "I can't let him," he said.
Schroder and the representative rolled their eyes. "These are the tickets I'm using to get into the galas," Schroder said.
The guard sort of ignored him, and the representative started rapidly talking to other guards. Schroder, with a small entourage, began wandering around near the U.S. Army Band, which was dangerously close to the press section. In his full-length, light gray cashmere coat amid black and olive trench coats, he was like a neon sign. Soon, several reporters inched their way over to him.
Before they could get to him, a hidden door opened, revealing an expanse of steps up the Capitol. Soon, Schroder was hustling up the steps to the gallery, and then the door closed and he disappeared from view. -- Kerry Lauerman [1 p.m. PST, Jan. 20, 2001]
The long goodbye
One president took office under a cloud of illegitimacy, having lost the popular vote and won the electoral tally only after the Supreme Court gave him Florida. The other president left office tarnished by impeachment, having just agreed to a plea bargain that acknowledged he had indeed lied under oath about his Oval Office affair. But President Bush and former President Clinton greeted each other with warmth and apparent good cheer at the Inauguration Saturday. And then they went on to jostle with each other for the nation's attention for most of the rest of the day.
Clinton came to the Inauguration ceremony fresh from signing new executive orders and pardons, including one for his brother, Roger Clinton, and another for Whitewater loyalist Susan McDougal. After their warm goodbye, Bush's first act was to try to undo some of his predecessor's last-minute liberalism.
Then Bush went to lunch, and Clinton went to Andrews Air Force Base for a goodbye to friends and supporters, who packed into a hangar and hung on his every word. The crowd included former Virginia Sen. Chuck Robb, AFL-CIO president John Sweeney and Clinton's old buddy Vernon Jordan.
"We did a lot of good," Clinton told his admirers, a little choked up. "I left the White House, but I'm still here! We're not any of us goin' anywhere. If you believe in what we did these last eight years, you do not have to be in power in government to advance those causes.
"The people are in the driver's seat," he added. "And I'm glad to be goin' back to bein' one of the people." Pointing to his wife, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, he smiled and said: "You've got a senator over here who'll be a wonderful voice for you."
He closed with: "You gave me the ride of my life, and I tried to give as good as I got."
It was a short speech by Clinton standards, but it wasn't yet a farewell. For more than an hour he worked the room, saying goodbye to seemingly every well-wisher personally. On television, cameras kept cutting between Bush's inaugural lunch and the president's long goodbye.
Then he stood in the driving rain and said one last farewell to his staff at the steps of the airplane that was taking him to New York's Kennedy Airport. At that moment, Bush appeared on the east steps of the Capitol, ready to begin his parade, but he got only a split-screen TV image as the outgoing president boarded the plane.
Over on MSNBC, Chris Matthews and Mike Barnicle said goodbye to the man who made them national wiseguys. "We're not sure he's gonna get on that plane. He might go back to the White House and say, 'Hey, I forgot something,'" Barnicle quipped. You got the feeling he hoped so; the Barnicle and Matthews show may not find a home in the Bush years.
At 2:55 p.m. EST, the cameras cut back to Andrews Air Force Base as the Clinton plane took off.
Around the same time, an egg hit President Bush's motorcade as it made its way to the White House.
Just an hour later, as the motorcade pulled up behind the West Wing, guess who landed in New York? The networks split the screens briefly. Then Bush walked across the White House lawn to the Inaugural Parade reviewing stand as Clinton made his way to his next podium. But this time the cameras stayed mostly with Bush. -- Joan Walsh [12:30 p.m. PST, Jan. 20, 2001]
"We will not get over it"
As Bush took the oath of office to become the 43rd president of the United States, several hundred people gathered in Stanton Park, one block behind the Supreme Court Building where just over a month ago, his opponents claimed Bush was handed the presidency.
The NAACP bused in people from as far away as Detroit and North Carolina to attend the Shadow Inauguration, which was led by the Rev. Al Sharpton.
Sharpton was aggressive in his criticism of the new president. "We come today to underscore that in this capital city, they're perpetrating one of the great untruths in world history. Across town, a man who lost the election is being sworn in to preside over these United States ... Some of his friends tell us to get over it, but we will not get over it because the right to vote is too painful," he said.
"We had to fight too hard, we had to suffer too long, too many people died, there were too many cold nights in jail. Too many people lost their careers, and you're going to have to do more, Mr. Bush, than get sworn in. You're going to have to do more than use your corporate greed. You're going to have to do more than use a police presence. You're going to have to do more than get messy with Jesse.
"We beat your daddy, and we'll beat you too." -- Daryl Lindsey [10:22 a.m. PST, Jan. 20, 2001]
Shake your bonbon
As President Clinton exits the White House -- and takes his Hollywood Rolodex with him -- a curious hodgepodge of the entertainment industry's A, B and C lists kicked off celebrations for Inauguration weekend before a somewhat disappointing turnout of participants, who seemed largely motivated by the appearance of a representative from a nonvoting U.S. territory: Puerto Rican pop star Ricky Martin.
Also on dreary display Thursday were soul diva Kim Weston, decked out head-to-toe in fur, à la blaxploitation heroine Cleopatra Jones, singing America's black national anthem, "Lift Every Voice and Sing"; mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves performing "American Anthem"; and Sandi Patti, the Christian recording world's answer to Barbra Streisand, belting out a spirited version of the national anthem.
Wayne Newton offered President-elect George W. Bush a made-for-Branson cover of Neil Diamond's "They're Coming to America." Jon Secada sang a salsa-fied, Spanglish-ized rendition of "America the Beautiful." The Rockettes gave about five minutes of G-rated leg. Broadway legend Andrew Lloyd Webber and Charlotte Church, the 13-year-old Welsh soprano, also performed for Bush's royal court, as did Britney Spears knockoff Jessica Simpson. Nashville stars Brooks and Dunn cooked up some twangy, country-fried Americana.
In one of the afternoon's more bizarrely chosen sets, Webber accompanied Teen People cover girl Simpson on a tune from his new musical, "Beautiful Game," which centers on the perpetual unrest in Northern Ireland. "Let's Love in Peace" is full of Sir Andrew's usual Broadway nuance, with lines like "Just imagine no more violence/no more bombs, the sound of silence/time to be, you and me/you and me/time to love in peace." They were joined by Josie Walker, star of the London musical.
There were also smoke-streaming parachutists, F-16 Falcon fighter jets and low-flying Blackhawk helicopters overhead -- all choreographed to music played by the Navy Marching Band. And there were few protesters. Most notable was a small flock of Falun Gong worshipers, who assumed the yogic position near the Reflecting Pool.
The only real hint of controversy hung around Martin's performance. The pop star had been attacked for accepting Bush's invitation to perform at the event. Though he has not said whether he supports Bush politically, Martin faced down criticism even from longtime songwriting and producing partner Robi Rosa, who accused Bush last week of pandering to Latinos by courting Martin. At Thursday's concert, a local radio station showed its support for the singer by handing out hundreds of "I love Ricky" placards.
But Martin came last. The first families arrived. Colin Powell announced the concert's theme, "Celebrating America's Spirit Together," and introduced Olympic swimmer/Tae-Bo pitchwoman Dara Torres and "The Greatest" Muhammad Ali, ushered in with a marching-band version of "The Greatest Love of All."
"There's a lot of excitement in the air," Bush said as he followed Powell onto the stage. "I'm not sure if it's because of you or because of Ricky Martin," he quipped. (It was pretty clear to this reporter that a hefty chunk of the crowd was there to see Martin.) "I'm honored to serve and I am ready to start," he told the cheering audience. With that, he introduced his favorite pop star.
Puerto Rican pop's crown prince flailed wildly, moving his trademark swiveling hips to his signature "The Cup of Life" -- singing in English and Spanish. The afternoon's funniest moment came as Martin invited the president-elect onstage and gave him an impromptu lesson in how to shake his bonbon. Martin was less successful in getting Bush to sing along. As the chorus continued, fireworks lit up the cold and soggy sky. -- Daryl Lindsey [8 a.m. PST, Jan. 19, 2001]