- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 4, 2005

What’s the buzz?

This year’s Kennedy Center Honors class — Tony Bennett, Suzanne Farrell, Julie Harris, Robert Redford and Tina Turner — got as royal a treatment as this country can muster Saturday night.

First up: a start-studded cocktail party in the State Department building in Northwest, where the honorees were flanked by some of the arts world’s glossiest stars. Then it was on to dinner, where Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice kicked off the traditional toasting ceremony, her first since taking over from Colin Powell.

The biggest non-honoree of the night, talk-show titan Oprah Winfrey, didn’t make the cocktail scene, but her gal pal Miss Turner made sure few revelers minded her absence.

The former Anna Mae Bullock wouldn’t talk to the press, and she hid those trademark gams in a long gown, but nearly everyone seemed to be buzzing about her. Most commonly heard remark: “I can’t believe she’s 66.”



However, one contrarian guest maintained off the record that her sister, now age 69, had worked with Miss Turner in show business during the 1960s and that Miss Turner was even older.

“I don’t know how old she is,” Black Entertainment Television co-founder Robert L. Johnson said the following afternoon at George and Liz Stevens’ Honors Brunch at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. “With legs like that, who cares?”

Lawyer and friend-to-the-stars Vernon E. Jordan said he was a big fan but had never met Miss Turner until that night. He was still rhapsodizing about her the next day at the Stevens’ brunch and didn’t miss a beat when asked what his favorite Turner hit might be. “‘What’s Love Got To Do With It,’ what else?” he said with a grin.

Nonpartisan notes

It isn’t easy for politicians to retract their partisan claws, but events such as Honors weekend are made for across-the-aisle handshakes. Saturday’s Honors dinner gave the liberal-leaning crowd of Hollywood heavyweights the chance to applaud Miss Rice as heartily as the honorees. Yet that didn’t stop those assembled from giving the most love to Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader and a constant thorn in President Bush’s side. The firebrand politician didn’t take the bait, though. After Miss Rice took her turn with the honorees for their class portrait, Mrs. Pelosi rushed to her side to give what appeared to be kind words for the secretary’s first Honors dinner.

The dialogue earlier that evening may not have been so bipartisan. We spotted actor Ron Silver, whose politics took a right turn after September 11, giving a respectful earful to former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe at the cocktail party. Then again, maybe Mr. McAuliffe was asking for advice on breaking into movies?

Redford: Take 2

Mr. Redford could have punched his Honors ticket had he never assembled a ragtag group of filmmakers for the first official Sundance Film Festival in 1991.

The actor’s good intentions became an institution and helped independent films revitalize the mainstream.

The project has had a similar effect on its founder.

“It’s sort of regenerative,” Mr. Redford said Saturday night. “It’s great to see it work. It gives new voices a chance to be heard.”

Former NBC anchor Tom Brokaw, seen huddling with CBS head Les Moonves earlier in the night, reflected on Mr. Redford’s work behind the camera when asked for his favorite piece by the honoree.

The answer came quickly — “A River Runs Through It,” Mr. Redford’s 1992 ode to family and fly fishing.

“I thought only Bob could pull that off,” Mr. Brokaw said of the tender drama.

Singing Tony’s praises

Singer K.D. Lang was as surprised as everyone else that Mr. Bennett wowed the MTV demographic with his 1994 “Unplugged” concert.

Looking back, she says she shouldn’t have been so shocked.

“People will always have an appreciation for the singer and the song,” said Miss Lang, nattily attired in a black suit.

Mr. Bennett credits part of his longevity to simply loving his work.

“That has a lot to do with it,” said the charming crooner, who graciously accepted the praise of well-wishers throughout the night with the same disarming charisma he uses to light up the stage.

Tony-winner Marian Seldes, who read the citations for all five honorees, said of Mr. Bennett: “He’s still the best singer to fall in love to, and with.”

Farrell’s early steps

Miss Farrell, she of the sublime ballet moves and impossibly thin figure, was the baby of the honoree bunch at age 60.

“Her mother thought dance class would give her poise. It seemed to have worked,” Miss Seldes said of Miss Farrell during her citations speech.

James D. Wolfensohn, chairman emeritus of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, cheerfully confessed to loving Miss Farrell from afar during his toast to her. The affection began the first time he saw her on stage, and it only intensified when Miss Farrell began her post-dancing career as an educator.

“Suzanne has given much to the nation as a dancer. Now, she’s passing on that love of dance that is only hers,” Mr. Wolfensohn said.

— Compiled by Christian Toto.

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