WASHINGTON -- President and Mrs. Bush led an all-star tribute Tuesday night to commemmorate legislation that created the American Film Institute and to pay homage to the art of motion pictures, what Bush called the 'mirror of America.'
The gala celebration drew a hefty share of faces from the film industry and government, including Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., and Sen. Charles Robb, D-Va.
'I'm proud to be sitting at the table of Lynda Johnson Robb, whose dad (President Lyndon Johnson) signaled the beginning (of the American Film Institute),' said Bush.
'Movies are the mirror of America, if you will, they are also the conscience of America,' said Bush, citing such films as 'Coal Miner's Daughter,' 'Hoosiers,' 'Lean on Me' and 'Clean and Sober.'
The president also thanked the Hollywood community for films that reflect anti-drug themes 'and for helping to stop this (problem) that threatens our kids.'
In September 1965 Johnson signed the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act, which created legislation that resulted in the American Film Institute, an independent, non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the art of the moving image.
AFI Director Jean Firstenberg called attention to the current efforts by several organizations for film preservation.
'We are honored to share this occasion with our sister institutions throughout the country with whom we share a common bond dedicated to the preservation of our film heritage and the commitment of cinema artists of tomorrow whose ideals and visions shall reach the audience of the world,' she said.
Actors on hand for the festivities included Jane Alexander, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Jack Gilford, Sharon Gless, Goldie Hawn, Charlton Heston, Steve Martin, Lou Diamond Phillips, Christopher Reeve, Kurt Russell, John Travolta, Victoria Tennant and Cicely Tyson, along with directors Norman Jewison, Martin Scorsese, Stephen Spielberg, George Stevens and Robert Wise.
Television newsman Walter Cronkite, ABC's Barbara Walters and talk show host Phil Donahue also were present.
Some of the evening's entertainment was provided by the audience. Martin delivered a pantomime magic act that bordered on raunchy and singer Marilyn McCoo sang a medley of movie theme songs.
In another segment, Donahue introduced various audience members who each took a turn at the microphone, uttering famous lines from famous films, from NBC President Brandon Tartikoff delivering the Peter Finch speech from the movie 'Network' -- 'I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore' -- to Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney intoning the one-sentence message from 'Star Wars' -- 'May the Force be with you.'
Even Bush got into the act, repeating the Humphrey Bogart line from 'Casablanca': 'Here's looking at you, kid.'
Later, film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert did a series of 'instant reviews,' commenting on the one-line performances, and Siskel wrapped up the set by commenting, 'Can you believe it, eight years with a movie actor in the White House (former President Reagan) and critics never got invited?'
'Well, did you see any of his films?' Ebert retorted.
However, in a show of political one-upsmanship, Bush got the last word.
'Barbara and I are just delighted to be here,' he said. 'Imagine meeting Steve Martin. Marilyn McCoo, you're invited to the White House anytime and I mean that. Mr. Siskel and Mr. Ebert, you're not invited, and I mean that, too.'