"DON'T PEOPLE UNDERSTAND? IT'S GOING TO BE MORE FUN," BILL Clinton once said as he tried to explain how his Presidency would be different. Last week, to press the point, Bill and Hillary and Al and Tipper (plus Chelsea and all the Gore kids) threw the country a four-day, $30 million extravaganza. And suddenly Washington, D.C., became the District of Celebrities.

Even the stars were starstruck by the plentitude of luminaries. "God, there's Warren Beatty!" cried Faye Dunaway as she saw her Bonnie and Clyde costar at the airport. And there was Barbra Streisand. And Aretha Franklin. And Diana Ross. And Stevie Wonder. And Michael Jackson. And...and look who was obliging autograph seekers outside the Lincoln Memorial! Jack Nicholson, a study in cool on a cold day—black shirt, black sweater, black blazer, a bit of color in his pocket from an open pack of cigarettes, gray slacks, yellow shades. What did you come to Washington for, Jack? "For the country," he said. During one show, Nicholson's eyes welled up with tears as Abraham Lincoln's words were read aloud.

The stars formed strange constellations. Here was Jack Lemmon introducing Chuck Berry. There was Tony Bennett performing at the same function as L.L. Cool J. And wasn't that actor Steve Guttenberg calling Peter, Paul & Mary onstage as Chelsea Clinton giggled in the wings? The President's favorite sax man, Kenny G., accompanied opera diva Kathleen Battle on "We Shall Overcome." A surprise Lincoln Memorial appearance by a mumbling Bob Dylan followed a screaming display of Navy F-14s. "I would have liked him to sing something I could understand," complained Meredith Baxter. But Bill gave the singer a thumbs-up as Al and Tipper snuggled. (Bill skipped the performance of another boomer idol, Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir. Perhaps the President knew he'd have to inhale the marijuana-filled air in the concert tent.)

There were a few other politically incorrect intrusions. Souvenir pins made in China. (Does Amnesty International know about this?) Aretha Franklin and others wore...gasp!...real furs, thereby infuriating animal lovers like Alec Baldwin. In town with perennial steady Kim Basinger, Baldwin declared, "I want to throw red paint on them. But I'm not going to."

Which meant that the major suspense story of the week swirled around Hillary's gown, a violet sheath with chiffon overskirt created by Sarah Phillips, a little-known New York designer. The First Lady chose Phillips over other contenders, including odds-on-favorite Helen Benton of Arkansas. Benton's business manager did her best to explain, describing Hillary's taste as still "in formation."

Arkansans who feel proprietary about the President had best heed the advice of banker Ben Thomason, a Clinton intimate from Rison, Ark. "He's not our Bill Clinton anymore," said Thomason. "A lot of people think Arkansas has gone to D.C. and the White House will be our Governor's Mansion. It just can't be that way." Well, it was fun while it lasted.

DAVID ELLIS
LINDA KRAMER, MARGIE SELLINGER and STEPHANIE SLEWKA with bureau reports

  • Contributors:
  • Linda Kramer,
  • Margie Sellinger,
  • Stephanie Slewka.