TO no one's surprise, Nancy Reagan stole the show. Singing in the satiric Gridiron Club show Saturday night, the nation's First Lady brought down the house with her rendition of ``Thanks for the Memory.''
``The Congress it raved and ranted/The right wing became disenchanted/In spite of it all/We had a ball,'' she sang with a gentle lilt, receiving a standing ovation.
Her husband was no slouch either.
``George Bush intended to be here tonight,'' quipped the President, ``but his 18-wheeler broke down on the Interstate.''
``They say I'm not on top of anything anymore,'' he told the crowd of dignitaries. ``If you don't believe that, ask ... uh ... what's his name ... uh ... Nikita Khrushchev.''
The Reagans have attended every Gridiron Spring Dinner since they moved into the White House - lending their grace and humor to Washington's most irreverent annual social event.
Following long-time tradition, the 103rd white-tie dinner and show put on by the Gridiron Club this weekend lampooned the nation's political figures, from George Bush to Michael Dukakis and Jesse Jackson.
For Washington, the Gridiron event is the journalistic spoof of the year, attracting to the Grand Ballroom of the Capitol Hilton a distinguished array of guests. The count this year was four Supreme Court justices, 15 governors, 22 members of Congress, and 7 Cabinet members, in addition to a number of ambassadors, corporate moguls and newspaper publishers.
Formed in 1885, the Gridiron Club limits its membership to 60 Washington journalists. Its chief raison d'^etre is to produce an annual revue that pokes fun at the foibles and failings of those who wield power (or think they do) - but does so with restraint and good will. As the guests are told, the Gridiron ``sizzles'' but does not ``burn.''
Judging by the applause, the guests Saturday night were not disappointed. In the environment of this year's volatile presidential race, there were easy laughs for everyone, Republicans and Democrats. In the Democratic skit, revolving around a search for a presidential nominee or the ``Great Pumpkin'' `a la the ``Peanuts'' comic strip, the Gridiron Club chorus set the scene with these words to the tune of ``Love is Sweeping the Country'':
No one's sweeping the country,
Candidates are a bore,
Our audiences, the party senses,
Were never so turned off before.
Produced by Dan Thomasson of Scripps Howard News Service, the Democratic show spared no aspiring candidates. Picture a duet between Tipper and Al Gore to the tune ``I Hear Singing and There's No One There.'' Tipper, played by club member Margaret Mayer, sang of her crusade against bawdy rock lyrics:
All they celebrate is sex and sin.
Don't know why they need to put it in.
Take it out and don't come back again.
We need some censorin'
Of rock 'n' roll.
``Al Gore,'' rendered by William Raspberry, columnist for the Washington Post, joined in with:
Zip the lip, darling Tipper.
Act more hip like Mrs. Gipper.
This won't play in New York or L.A.
The Democrats' call for tough trade legislation to fight Japanese imports was the target of another song. Impersonating Dick Gephardt, Michael Ryan, one of the handful of professionals who bolster the show each year, belted out to the tune of ``America, the Beautiful'':
O beautiful for Subaru,
And Datsun, now Nissan.
For Mitsubishi, Isuzu,
Shipped here on All-Nippon.
God shed his grace on these:
Thy tiny cars and sushi bars,
And all things Japanese.
Not only the journalists had a whack at the politicians, however. Gov. Mario Cuomo of New York, speaking for the Democrats, had some pointed words for the GOP presidential contenders. Pat Robertson, he said, is calling for a moral revival; he wants to get rid of immorality, adultery, debauchery.
``And things are almost as bad outside the evangelical movement,'' he gibed.
George Bush, too, felt the Cuomo sting. The governor said he had obtained a transcript of a meeting in which the President discussed the Iran-contra affair with the vice-president, Secretary of State George Shultz, and Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger over some sandwiches. Shultz said he was totally opposed to it. Weinberger said it was a terrible idea.
And Bush? He, said Cuomo, commented: ``Excuse me, who gets the tuna and who gets the ham and cheese?''
The governor said he had been visited by the devil the other day. ``He said, `Mario Cuomo, I can make you president of the United States, but first you have to forfeit your soul.' I said, `So what's the catch?'''
For the Republican side of things, Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming delighted guests with his famed wit. ``This must be the only country in the world where a person is presumed innocent until the president offers him a job,'' he remarked. And later: ``Politicians always fail to keep their promises - maybe that's why the country has lasted for more than 200 years.''
As the guests worked their way through loin of veal, wild mushrooms, tarragon tomatoes, and vegetables and corn turbone - the menu served by President Reagan at the White House for the Gorbachevs in December - the Gridironers concentrated on their musical parodies.
Tenor John Duvall, playing Mario Cuomo,rendered a soulful ``Santa Lucia'' with these words:
If others fade away from public vision,
I'll have to save the day as my new mission.
Seek and you all shall find
Whom you have got in mind.
Ma-ri-o Cuo-mo, Ma-ri-o Cuo-mo.
Jesse Jackson, impersonated by Ernest Sult, rhapsodized to the tune of ``Summertime'':
One of these mornin's, you're going to fall down prayin'
I'll just bide my time ... 'til they say ``pretty please.''
Then, on that mornin' I will lay down my blessin'
With Gore and Dukakis on their knees.
If the Gridiron ``Democrats'' had their fun, the ``Republicans'' were not to be outdone.
It was a year for celebrating the new US-Soviet rapprochement. The Republican skit, produced by Allan Cromley of the Daily Oklahoman, was set in Moscow, with outsize portraits of Lenin and Reagan both reading ``Hero of the Soviet Union'' dominating the scene. Bear hugs from Russian bystanders greeted ``George Shultz'' and other arriving GOP noteworthies.
Laughter rippled through the audience as ``Gorbachev'' sang ``Brush Up Your Glasnost.''
When a ``sinner'' brought on stage by Pat Robertson sang ``Would Jesus Wear a Rolex on his Television Show?'' and again when ``Anatoly Dobrynin,'' former Soviet ambassador (played by Hedrick Smith of the New York Times), and Treasury Secretary Jim Baker (Gridiron member Donald Larrabee) gave a rendition of ``Zip-a-Dee Doo-Dah'' satirizing Wall Street:
How did de Dow Do?
How's wid de Dow?
Down five hundred
But it's rebounding now.
A satire of Bush done to the Michael Jackson's rock hit `Bad' - sung and danced by Maureen Ribble - provoked an encore.
It was not unexpected to find the President outflanking the press, however, even after sitting for more than four hours before delivering his remarks. ``Nancy and I didn't know we had to stay overnight,'' he quipped.
Mr. Reagan poked fun at himself as well as fellow Republicans. Someone said George Bush is a whistle blower, he commented, but George isn't the type to blow the whistle on anyone. ``He'd have the doorman do it.''
If Pat Robertson becomes president, he'll change the music, said the President. It won't be ``Hail to the Chief.'' It'll be ``When the Saints Come Marchin' In.''
Now, Reagan told the guests, all that talk about Nancy talking to him at night. The other night, he said, ``I woke up to find half the Cabinet in bed with me .... Frank Carlucci kept grabbing the covers.''
In conclusion, he told the Gridironers he doubted they would find a president who enjoyed the Gridiron more than he. ``You're really going to miss me if you have to sit through eight years of President Dukakis,'' the President said.
The Gridiron show, produced by Alan Emory of the Watertown Daily Times and held together under the baton of US Marine Band leader Col. John Bourgeois, ended with a nostalgic tribute to the Reagans.
Gridiron President Carl Rowan, columnist of the Chicago Sun-Times and the club's first black president, introduced the final song by observing that the Reagans had set a ``marvelous record'' of coming to the Gridiron dinner for eight straight years, ``good times or bad.''
A Gridiron song then ``thanked'' the President ``for the memory of Stockman and Jim Watt/ That Iran-Contra plot/ Of Ollie and Bill Casey/The diversions you forgot/Oh, thank you, so much.
Mrs. Reagan was ``honored'' for ``banishing Al Haig and/Bloodying up Don Regan's nose.''
Then the lights dimmed and she appeared in the spotlight, wearing - yes - a red dress.
Despite all the laughter, it is difficult to gauge how much those who are targets of the Gridiron satire actually enjoy it. Some political figures choose not to accept invitations. But those who do, like it or not, have to emerge wearing a smile - even a tight-lipped one.
Benjamin Harrison in 1892 was the first US president to attend a Gridiron Dinner, and every chief executive since then has attended.
Reagan is only the third president to have attended every spring function during his White House tenure. William Howard Taft and Herbert Hoover also had unbroken records but, because neither served for eight years, Reagan was second only to Franklin D. Roosevelt in number of dinners attended. `Michael Dukakis' sings `Never on Sunday' I'll bring a miracle on Sunday or Monday or Tuesday as ethnic history, 'Cause on Election Day, a Tuesday, good news day, you'll find that the miracle is ME. O, I will leak a tape on Wednesday or Thursday and Friday Joe Biden pays the price. Then fire the manager on Sunday, and say that, on Sunday, it's really not so nice. A technocrat with a heart of gold, With a line so pat that it can't be sold. O, I'm the Duke. Liberals will agree That I'm not a fluke. Shake my money tree.
Chorus: Now, we don't care if it's on Sunday or Monday or Tuesday - We know the Duke will run. But it will surely take a Miracle, a miracle, a miracle To make him Number One. First Lady's farewell song Thanks for the memory, Of all the times we had, The happy and the sad, Looking back, Don Regan doesn't even seem too bad, Oh, it's been so swell.
Thanks for the memory, That Soviet Mona Lisa, Sometimes known as Raisa, She said to me, Would you like to see My MasterCard and Visa, Oh, it's been so swell.
Not all was happy, that's granted, The Congress it raved and ranted, The right wing became disenchanted, Inspite of it all, We had a ball.
So, thanks for the memory Of the whole press corps, At times I cursed and swore, You sometimes were a headache, But you never were a bore, So, thank you, bye, bye ...
Encore: Not all was happy, that's granted, The Congress it raved and ranted, Ron's enjoyed these past four years, And I must admit, So did I, So, thank you, bye-bye ...