Sunday, October 16, 2005

When the Shrivers throw a party, it’s not a gala. It’s not a ball. It’s a blast.

And Saturday night was no exception. Opening their Potomac home to more than 600 guests, Eunice and Sargent Shriver showed they still know how to boogie. Or at least their square-jawed, handsome kids do, all in the name of Best Buddies, a nonprofit organization founded in 1989 by Anthony Kennedy Shriver.

Headquartered in Miami, the organization matches up volunteers like Caps owner and AOL Vice Chairman Ted Leonsis and other bold-faced names with intellectually disabled people around the world. If there’s a more fun way for deep pockets to part with their moola, it has yet to be invented.

Brothers Mark (“Every year it gets better”), Timothy and Bobby (“I’m the oldest and smartest”) showed up to lend support. There was co-chairman Leonsis, arm in arm with his Best Buddy Ken Holden from Tampa. They’ve been communicating for six years, and e-mail each other every day.

“Dallas” actress Linda Gray (a Best Buddy volunteer) chatted with co-chair Jan Brandt. “There’s no question it’s the best party in Washington,” said Miss Brandt, who also has a Best Buddy. Being associated with the cause to aid people with special needs is a highlight. “It has made my heart sing.”

The statuesque Miss Universe Natalie Glebova (Russian-born but raised in Toronto) had the young male partygoers rubbernecking, as did Miss USA Chelsea Cooley, who wore her tiara. Asked what the oddest thing was that has happened to her this year, Miss Cooley said: “Everywhere I go in hotels, the fire alarm goes off. It happens all the time.”

Nine-time Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis glad-handed Smith Bagley while patrons AOL’s Tatiana Platt (“It’s a great mix of people. Some politicians, some celebrities”) and her husband Campion sipped martinis with Holidae Hayes.

Dot-com king Michael Saylor squired his young date wearing Chinese chopsticks in her blonde bun. “It’s a wonderful cause. Anthony is inspirational,” he said.

The theme was “An Asian Affair,” and the tent on the side lawn under a nearly full moon featured gold-painted Chinese umbrellas and dragons illuminated on the tent walls. Many in the crowd wore Asian attire, and the whole night was loud, raucous and spirited, topped by a knockout private concert by Grammy-winning singer Cyndi “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” Lauper, who wowed the crowd late into the night. (Just hope the Shrivers invited the neighbors.)

Auction co-chairs Carole Dell and Mrs. Shriver must have been pleased by the take — 100 percent of which goes to charity to pair up people with special-need “buddies” who are often on the fringe of society. “I think it’s wonderful so many young people are here,” Mrs. Shriver said. They hoped to raise $1.2 million.

There was a trip to the Grammy’s, which fetched $4,000. There was also an exhaustive silent auction, featuring fabulous vacations, a boxing glove signed by Muhammad Ali, a mention in Art Buchwald’s column, attendance at a taping of “Oprah,” tickets to U2 in Washington, a signed bomber jacket from Maria Shriver’s husband and California’s governator Arnold Schwarzenegger , a U.S. Open hat signed by actress and uber-babe Nicole Kidman and a framed poster of John F. Kennedy to remind you “of the early days of Camelot,” donated by Mrs. Shriver. (“Remember when men were men and politics was easy?” the program noted.)

As for the live auction, Mr. Leonsis won the trip to the Olympics in Beijing in 2008 with Mr. Lewis as host ($14,000), and Mr. Lewis outbid everyone for a brand-new Volvo for $64,000.

Spoiler alert: “It’s my mom’s Christmas gift. She lives in Jersey. She won’t know.”

— Stephanie Mansfield

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