- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 5, 2006

If a party’s got Cheez Whiz on Ritz crackers, members of the Cabinet turning out in rolled-up jeans and sixtysomethings clad in black leather, it can only be one event: The Best Friends Foundation’s annual “Do You Remember When Rock Was Young?” fundraising gala.

About 500 guests showed up dressed with varying degrees of enthusiasm for this year’s 1950s-themed bash at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel Saturday night. A few couldn’t help being confused by the fact that it featured music by headline acts famous in the ‘70s — Three Dog Night and Sister Sledge.

“This [party] has a ‘50s reputation,” said ABC News-7 anchor Kathleen Matthews, looking rather fabulous as she showed off an off-the-shoulder black shirt and shiny black pants. “People are trying to figure out, do they dress like “Grease” or pre-Jim Morrison? I’m channeling Olivia Newton-John from ‘Grease.’”

The musical selection was a little incongruous, founding co-Chairwoman Elayne Bennett agreed, noting that her committee was “trying to attract the baby boomers” with Sister Sledge, “who [represent] the origins of hip-hop. Mrs. Bennett also approved of Three Dog Night because of its hot song, “Joy to the World.” “We think there’s a lot of joy in the world,” she said.

There were no hippy-ish bell-bottoms spotted on guests, who stayed true to the 1950s all the way. Waiters wore black-and-white checked aprons and bore trays of (mostly untouched) deviled eggs, mini-Reubens and mini-burgers (“sliders,” in ‘50s speak). Boxes of Cracker Jack adorned cocktail tables, and a simulated diner offered milkshakes and malts (although more potent beverages were available). Pink lights lent a rosy glow to the affair, which, with so many people old enough to remember when rock really was young (or nonexistent), wasn’t exactly going to turn into a rollicking rebel fest. With the exception of John McLaughlin that is; he appeared in a black leather jacket and a black T-shirt emblazoned with a skull and the words “Outlaw Etiquette.”

“I treat ‘outlaw’ as a verb,” the TV pundit said with a growl, followed by a smile.

Other supporters included Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Minetta; Sen. George Allen; House Majority Whip Roy Blunt; Mayor Anthony A. Williams, wearing an argyle sweater and a Washington Nationals cap; former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Jack Kemp; Marlene and Fred Malek; journalist Morton Kondracke; and Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, dressed all in black, right down to his cowboy boots. “I’m sort of the late end of the ‘50s, so I didn’t have anything in my closet,” he explained as AOL co-founder Jim Kimsey passed by sporting a black T-shirt with “Sweet Talking Guy” written in glitter.

Mrs. Bennett, the wife of former Secretary of Education William Bennett, started Best Friends in 1987 as a character-building program to help prevent teenage pregnancies. Now the foundation is part of the curriculum at numerous public schools in Washington (and 14 states), and includes the parallel “Best Men” program for boys. Its mantra is “self-respect through the practice of self-control,” with the promotion of abstinence from sex, drugs and alcohol.

Organizers hoped to raise more than $500,000 from the benefit, although the post-dinner live auction turned out to be a bit of a disappointment when the top item, a brand new $54,000 Corvette, failed to attract any bids. (Mr. Bennett bought the car last year, but not this time.).

Entertainment featured song-and-dance routines by students from participating District schools, including Shaw Junior High and Brightwood Elementary. But the highlight was surely the performance by Sister Sledge, led by still hot and leggy Kathy Sledge, that brought most of the party, even the geezers, to their feet with “We Are Family” and “Good Times.”

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