WASHINGTON -- President Reagan honored a glittering list of show business personalities at a White House reception Saturday to help commemorate the annual 'Festival at Ford's Theatre' benefit extravaganza.
After the reception, the Reagans spent the evening front row center at Ford's Theatre, where a large array of top name entertainers participated in a special benefit to raise funds for the landmark.
The formal reception for the artists was held in the Blue Room, and the president and first lady Nancy Reagan personally welcomed a line of guests that included dancer Ben Vereen, actresses Liza Manelli and Natalia Makarova, magician David Copperfield, singers Larry Gatlin, Lou Rawls and Wayne Newton and the cast from the show '1,000 Years of Jazz.'
The box in which Abraham Lincoln was sitting when he was assassinated was empty, as usual, draped with red, white and blue bunting. A picture of George Washington hung on the outside.
'One hundred years ago, a great tragedy took place in that box,' Reagan said from the stage after the performance. 'Now there are lights and the theater is alive again.'
He said that because of donations of time and money, 'This theater will be here as part of American history, open and alive forever.'
Reagan heaped praise on the cast -- which ranged from a juggler to a ballerina -- and asked, 'You folks ever think of getting into show business for a living?'
He said that if magician David Copperfield ever wanted to get into politics, he would be invited to the Oval Office. 'There are a few things I'd like to make disappear -- the Middle East, the deficit, a long list.'
At the reception, Reagan joked with the stars, many of whom he knew from his days as an actor in Hollywood, and was photographed with them.
The event was so formal that reporters and photographers assigned to cover it were required to wear tuxedoes and formal gowns.
At the theater, the Reagans sat between Sen. Howard Baker and his wife, Joy, and House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill and his wife of 40 years, Millie. Baker, a Republican, is Reagan's top ally on Capitol Hill, while the O'Neill, a Democrat, is his outspoken opponent on many issues.
The president noted the length of the O'Neills' marriage and quipped, 'Millie, could you give me some hints on how I could make Tip happy?'
Baker tossed an apple to juggler Michael Davis, who flipped it around with an egg and a bowling ball. Davis snatched bites of the apple as it passed his mouth, but misjudged once and bit the egg in half at the end of the act, leaving Reagan howling with laughter and slapping his knee with his program. O'Neill assisted Copperfield in a card trick.
The highlight of the evening was a song and dance routine by Vereen, who dashed off the stage and sat on a railing in front of the president and Mrs. Reagan. He then bounded up, shook the president's hand and gladhanded everyone around, including a surprised Secret Service agent in a tuxedo.