Wednesday, November 07, 2001

You are having an intimate dinner party for 5, Who would you invite? No, not family, friends or business associates. People from the arts, sciences, history, movies, dead or alive?

When John F. Kennedy was president, he hosted a dinner at the White House for Nobel Prize winners. Gathered were the greatest minds alive at the time. In his remarks to the group, JFK said something to the effect of, "This is the greatest assemblage of brain power this room has ever held since Thomas Jefferson dined here alone." Jefferson would be first on my list.

On Jefferson's tombstone no mention is made of his having been president, or secretary of state, or any other office or title that he held. What it lists are accomplishments he left behind: Author of the Declaration of Independence, author of the statue of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and founder of the University of Virginia.

When Jefferson was president, one of his dinner guests had to be sneaked in the back door because he was considered too radical and dangerous. That was Tom Paine, author of Common Sense ("For as in absolute governments the king is law, so in free countries the law ought to be king") and the American Crisis ("These are the times that try men's souls"), two publications that did as much (or more) for the cause of American independence as Sam Adam's little Tea Party in Boston.

After the American Revolution Paine went on to France where he got involved in their Revolution. At one point during the French Revolution, Paine was imprisoned and marked for death - a fate he narrowly escaped. By the time he returned here, this country had moved past its revolutionary furor and failed to welcome him back properly, with the exception of Jefferson, who had to sneak Paine into the White House for dinner. Paine can come to my party too, but he can use the front door.

While we're on a revolutionary track here, we need to segue into somebody with a sense of humor. To fill that position I'll invite Abbie Hoffman, the performance artist clown prince of the 1960's revolution, Hoffman took political action to the next step of media event. As much as the mainstream press hated him, they had to cover his outrageous acts (like levitating the Pentagon to exorcise its demons). Hoffman, working on the Hollywood adage that even bad publicity is good publicity, played the negative coverage into a platform for his views on equal rights and ending the war in Vietnam.

To provide a little music I'll add a one-time associate of Hoffman's, John Lennon, as my fourth guest. He can help with the music and the humor level, as well as participate in the political discussions.

I think I'll round off this particular evening with a guest who was simply too intellectual for Hollywood, Orson Welles. After creating his greatest [completed] film, Citizen Kane, at age 26, Hollywood turned on him. He couldn't make the pictures he wanted to, and was often reduced to filming second rate scripts to survive. Even those (see Lady From Shanghai) he turned into classics. Eventually he turned his back on Hollywood, and the world lost out on sharing in his creative genius.

So, that's the five for tonight's dinner party. Ask me again tomorrow and I may have a completely different list. I didn't think too much about the guests until I typed each name. Better planning would have resulted in a few female guests, too. I apologize for that. In fact, is it too late to call Grace Kelly? Oh well. Maybe next week.

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