Monday, May 11, 2009

Washington Social Diary

The French ambassador's residence at well after midnight. Inside the Vanity Fair/Bloomberg party was going strong.
Media and Movie Stars Mash Up in Washington
By Carol Joynt

The circus came to town this weekend. What was once upon a time a rather understated singlering event is now anything but. The White House Correspondents Association, with their annual dinner, may have created the world’s first six-ring circus.

No missing the location of this party.
The funny part was to see movie stars and celebrities, who should be immune to gawkers, cameras and crowds, look wide-eyed at the hoopla as it crushed around them at various pre-parties on Thursday and Friday and Saturday afternoon, and then especially Saturday evening in the frenzy at the Washington Hilton Hotel during the two-hour “cocktails” before the actual dinner. If anything, the dinner itself has taken a supporting role to the parties.

The corridors and meeting rooms in the Hilton’s bowels were a media and movie star mosh pit as those news organizations that can still afford the freight hosted crowded pre-parties. Anyone dressed appropriately can crash these parties, rub shoulders with Jon Bon Jovi, Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher, Tyra Banks, Ludacris; Chace Crawford and Ed Westwick, the handsome boys from “Gossip Girl,” Jon Hamm, Amy Poehler, Eva Longoria, Natalie Portman and on and on.

In fact, conspicuous by their presence were the genuine Washington power players – White House chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel, White House advisers David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett, Social Secretary Desiree Rogers, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, National Economic Council director Larry Summers and Virginia Senator Mark Warner.

There’s no question that a dinner which once was only about Washington officialdom is now officially about out-of-towners, chiefly from Los Angeles and New York, who get some political cred while sprinkling show biz fairy dust upon their appreciative media hosts.
Barbara Walters in conversation at the National Journal-ABC News pre-dinner party. Jon Bon Jovi arrives at the National Journal/ABC News party.
All the above action was before the superstar among superstars, President Barack Obama, entered the Hilton ballroom. The President, with First Lady Michelle Obama, once again wowed and owned the media and their celebrity guests.

In his appearance he seemed uncomfortable with the comedy parts but supremely at ease with the serious notes of his speech -- as if the man, while not without humor, is still not a comedian; serious times demand a serious tone.
George Lucas with a friend. Melody Hobson.
Matthew Modine. Fonzworth Bentley. David and Susan Axelrod.
Justice Antonin Scalia with Kathy Kemper. Nina Black Reid and husband Chip Reid, White House correspondent for CBS News.
Ed Westwick and his mother, Carol, his date for the WHCA dinner. Larry Summers and writer Leon Wieseltier.
Howard Fineman of Newsweek. North Carolina natives Stephanie Green and Charlie Rose. Donatella Versace and Jonathan Rhys Meyers.
Kuwaiti Ambassador Salem Al-Sabah and Rima Al-Sabah. "Mad Men" star Jon Hamm with his wife, Jennifer Westfeldt.
Sally Bedell Smith and Stephen Smith. Well-known "husband of ..., " Todd Palin. Kate Walsh and Ann Compton.
Rapper and actor, Ludacris. Bradley Cooper talks about why he's at the WHCA dinner.
Felicity Huffman strikes a pose. B.J. Novak of "The Office."
Attorney General Eric Holder. "The Belz," Richard Belzer. Kyle McLachlan.
George Stephanopoulos with his wife, Ali Wentworth. Dana Delaney and Tim Daly.
But then, I watched it at home on television, resting between the pre-parties and the after-parties. Watching it on television is different from being in the room. When I arrived at the Vanity Fair/Bloomberg after-party at the home of French Ambassador Pierre Vimont, I asked the dinner attendees about the President’s performance. To a one they thought it was a winner from beginning to end, and that he was very funny and totally at ease with the jokes.

I’m glad Vanity Fair hooked up with Bloomberg to host an after-party. Years ago VF did it alone and tossed a party like no other in Washington. Then Bloomberg took it over and its quality declined year after year.
The trees were painted with a wash of lights in hues of pink and blue.
The re-entry of Graydon Carter and his team brought it back up to the old standards, with the considerable assist of Vimont’s grand house and a gorgeous night of warm breezes. The tall trees that preside over the lawn were painted with a wash of lights in hues of pink and blue. There was music. Jazz, standards and soft rock played from speakers that were everywhere. The food was yummy and bite sized and passed as frequently as champagne and cocktails.

Graydon Carter said he was confident the party was only the first of what will be a lasting arrangement. I departed well after midnight and the evening was still very much alive.

For more on the history of the WHCA dinner, read about how its evolved over the years:
Donald and Joyce Rumsfeld talk with French Ambassador Pierre Vimont, whose home was the site of the Vanity Fair/Bloomberg party. James Franco. Rahm Emanuel.
Rachel Pearson with Mexican Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan. Patricia Duff and Rachel Pearson.
"Gossip Girl" star Chace Crawford. Amy Poehler. Hudson River "hero," airline Captain "Sully" Sullenberger.
Mort Zuckerman makes a point to David Brooks. NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg makes a point to David Axelrod.
Susan Zirinsky and Sir Howard Stringer. White House social secretary Desiree Rogers. Valerie Jarrett talks with a guest.
Motion Picture Association chief Dan Glickman with Demi Moore. Asthon Kutcher talks politics with an attentive audience.
Eva Longoria Parker receives a kiss from Jonathan Rhys Meyers. Designer Jason Wu. CBS Evening News executive producer Rick Kaplan with Valerie Jerrett.
Dinner at the Bradleys

The weekend of the White House Correspondents Association dinner is packed with so many events, beginning Thursday night, that it’s important to pace and edit. Which is why that of among all the early events I chose the Friday dinner at the home of Katherine and David Bradley.

They own Atlantic Media Group, which publishes National Journal, Atlantic Monthly and Hotline, among many media entities.
The setting for dinner in the Bradley's garden.
Ricky Shroeder, during the cocktails before dinner, chose to keep to himself by the outdoor fireplace. He said he welcomed having a moment to himself.
A gift for the Bradley's.
The menu.
Clockwise from top left: The Tortilla soup; The Caramel-Popcorn Foam; The Ancho-Cilantro rubbed Chicken.
The Bradley’s annual “eve of” dinner is reliably a serene pause before the storm. Cocktails were indoors and dinner was served in a flower-filled and airy tent pool side, with delicious food from caterer Susan Gage, wines from Mondavi, and a guest list that mixed corporate and media.

I found only one visitor from Hollywood, Ricky Schroeder, who said he was a guest of a friend from Toyota.
The dinner in full swing.
Bradley family photos. Jazz during dinner.
Samba with dessert.
Guests in the pool? No, children.
Throughout the meal, National Journal food writer Corby Kummer gave brief talks about the courses and the wine. If it sounds intrusive it wasn’t. The guests welcomed learning about the provenance of the Toasted Tortilla Soup, the Chili-Cilantro Rubbed Chicken, the Hominy Polenta and the Caramel-Popcorn Foam. As dinner wound down, there were two loud splashes in the pool.

Wow, I thought, this is like a party at the Bobby and Ethel Kennedy’s, circa 1961. But, alas, the splashes came from the Bradley’s exuberant children. Maybe next year a couple of guests will take the plunge.
Arianna Huffington and David Bradley. Katherine Bradley, Christina Huffington and her mother, Arianna Huffington.
Sharon Rockefeller in the center with Jo Cooper on the right. Coming from the house out to the garden for dinner.
Don Baer and Cathy Ward. Gregg Ward, senior VP at United Technologies, and Ron Brownstein of National Journal.
Roxanne Roberts with Atlantic Media executive John Fox Sullivan. Cathy Ward.
Photographs by Carol Joynt. Carol is the host of The Q&A Cafe, a talk show at Nathans Restaurant in Washington, D.C.