Sunday, April 3, 2005

It was a night of golden oldies: ponytails and poodle skirts, bobby socks and penny loafers, Cheese Whiz on crackers and chocolate shakes from a Silver Diner kiosk. You could be cool or square, and they didn’t care.

And nobody did care Saturday as guests made their mostly costumed entrances into the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel’s vast ballroom, miraculously transformed into an over-the-top high school prom scene, circa 1959, for Best Friends Foundation’s annual “Do You Remember When Rock Was Young?” gala benefit and auction.

Kay Kendall, chairman of the Washington Ballet, was oh-so-sweet in her mother-in-law’s Donna Reed-style blue checked shirtwaist dress, bobby socks and cashmere sweater. “I’m wearing my own circle pin,” she said, “my own charm bracelet, my own little pearls. …”

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell sported a Boys and Girls club denim jacket, Levis and penny loafers. “I didn’t have to buy a thing. I never throw anything away,” he said with a smile. Mayor Anthony Williams, arrived in a Nationals baseball jacket and cap — what else? — to chat about opening day (“We’re ready to roll”) with “master of the universe” Fred Malek, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Jack Kemp (looking rather beat generation in a black turtleneck) and former Education Secretary Bill Bennett, whose wife, Elayne, founded the charity in 1987 with Alma Powell to develop in-school programs promoting abstinence from sex, drugs, alcohol and violence.

Mrs. Bennett, wearing a hot pink satin skirt, gamely took over emcee chores when NBC’s Tim Russert failed to show. (“Tim Russert, if you’re here please come to the stage,” one announcer was heard to say early in the evening.). She also got major points for “winning” a “fully loaded” Chevy Tahoe that embarrassingly failed to attract an offer apart from her own initial $45,000 bid.

Other guests dining on iceberg lettuce with roquefort dressing, surf-and-turf and baked Alaska included Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta (wearing a white tuxedo jacket), Virginia Sen. George Allen (in cowboy hat and jeans); AmericaOnline co-founder Jim Kimsey; Kuwaiti Ambassador Salem al-Sabah and his ever-svelte wife, Rima; perennially-best-dressed couple Leo and Grega Daly (monsieur in a buttery soft black leather jacket that was more “La Dolce Vita” than bomber, madame enveloped in an Hermes, Versace and Anouska Hempel ensemble she described as “not ‘60s but a very ‘60s look.”)

The evening began with performances by the Best Friends Leadership Choir, the spirited Diamond Girls Dance Troupe and several groups from Washington schools. But it wasn’t until The Chiffons took the stage with their rendition of “Da Do Ron Ron” that the joint started jumping. Al Wilson and Little Anthony and the Imperials made appearances; Bobby Vee & The Vees pumped up the crowd with their hit “Rubber Ball” with local television personalities Andrea Roane, Lark McCarthy and Barbara Harrison giving it their old cheerleader best. Even Mr. Bennett got into the act, warbling his old fave “Susie Baby” onstage with Mr. Vee despite having forgotten some of the lyrics.

Sadly, the death of Pope John Paul II a few hours earlier couldn’t help casting a bit of a pall over the event, with some guests “dressing down” and others skipping out before the dancing began.

“He was one of the great men of the 20th century, one of the three or four people responsible for the downfall of communism,” Mr. Bennett said.

“I’ve met him several times through the years and had a private audience with him the year before last. I met him again last year with President Bush,” Mr. Powell added before noting that the president’s attendance at the papal funeral later this week would be unprecedented.

Society editor Kevin Chaffee contributed to this report.

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