- The Washington Times - Monday, May 14, 2001

Best Friends fourth annual 50s themed gala — "Do You Remember When Rock Was Young?" — brought out big names, big money and big skirts Saturday night at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel.

It might have been called "Do You Remember When We Were Young?" The evening hearkened back to what organizers called a better, more wholesome era — when, as founding co-chair Elayne Bennett put it, "Boys were expected to come to the door on a date and they were afraid of dad."

Mrs. Bennett, who wore a short black poodle skirt covered with pink hearts, remembered how her dad would come out to kick the tires when a boy — presumably not her husband, Bill "Book of Virtues" Bennett was about to take her cruising.

"I look back and all the bad memories are gone," said Secretary of State Colin Powell, who looked like a really cool cat in his black satin jacket. (His wife, Alma, is a founding co-chairwoman of Best Friends and helped organize the event with Mrs. Bennett and benefit co-chairs Jean Case, Marlene Malek, Joanne Kemp, Janet Langhart Cohen and Susan Hurley Bennett.)

Needless to say, there wasn´t much talk of duck-and-cover, segregation or the Red Menace at this light-hearted party, which raised more than $1 million for Best Friends. The organization was started back in 1987 by Mrs. Bennett to encourage adolescent girls to abstain from sex, drugs and alcohol. It´s now working to strengthen the characters of more than 4,700 mostly middle-school students across the country, some of whom were present in full ´50s regalia to dance and sing for the heavily sunglassed crowd.

Guests posed on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, while the audio system blasted out "You´re the One that I Want" and "Leader of the Pack." Waiters offered silver trays of Ritz crackers adorned with dollops of Cheez Whiz, deviled eggs and pigs in a blanket. It was a reminder that while the music may have been fun 50 years ago — as opposed to today´s, said Mrs. Bennett, "with its message of degradation and destruction" — the food, at least the hors d´oeuvres, could be distressing.

Bill O´Reilly, Fox´s tough-talking host of "The O´Reilly Factor," wasn´t quite sure what he thought of the semi-surreal party. "If I don´t have a great time," Mr. O´Reilly grumbled, "Bill Bennett´s in major trouble." Note: he was wearing a white jacket and a "Smooth Talkin´ Guy" T-shirt identical to Mr. Bennett´s.

Donna Marriott wore a poofy poodle skirt and a satin Pink Ladies jacket (a la "Grease"). Why was she there? "This is our hotel," she said.

Other guests, who paid $350 and up to attend, included White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card; Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Mel Martinez; former Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen; various tech types (Steve Case, Jim Kimsey, Joe Robert, Raoul Fernandez, Mark Ein); and such media personalities as Judy Woodruff, Chris Wallace, Lark McCarthy, Andrea Roane, Ben Stein and Tim Russert. Rep. Connie Morella must have been glad she showed up her husband, Tony, won the door prize, a 27-inch TV.

District Mayor Anthony A. Williams wore his traditional suit and bow tie because, he explained, he had a few other (more normal) events to attend later that night. Still, he worked admirably with what he had: "I´m a high school principal tonight," he joked, then pointed to one guest's feet. "We don´t allow sandals in this school."

It was all pretty wacky. Tables were strewn with Good & Plenty boxes and bags of M&Ms, the party favor was a fabulous Elvis music box ("authorized and authenticated by Graceland") that plays "Teddy Bear," and dinner was retro-gourmet all the way. It began with jumbo shrimp cocktail, moved on to surf and turf and green beans, and ended with a brownie sundae with plenty of whipped cream, extra fudge and maraschino cherries on the side.

Entertainment included a "celebrity" trivia contest called "Let´s Win Ben Stein´s Rock & Roll Million Bucks," a take-off on the Comedy Central show "Win Ben Stein´s Money." Mr. Stein, looking very Las Vegas in an Elvis wig and sideburns, said that 40 years ago he attended his high school prom in the same hotel. "I´m only 10 sizes bigger," he quipped, before beginning a few rounds of ´50s and ´60s music esoterica (who sang "Sweeter Than Sugar, Kisses Like Wine"? Answer: the Chiffons).

The crowd went on to boogie-woogie to the oldies, played live by the Chiffons, the Coasters and the Drifters (or their remnants). It sure was fun shaking their (mostly middle-aged) booties for such a worthy cause, and to remember how wonderful it all was, before heading out the door and back into the 21st century.

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