Back home in Czechoslovakia, Václav Havel has never been a Party guy. The former dissident’s criticism of his country’s Communist regime, in fact, had landed him in prison for five years. But on his recent visit to Manhattan, the newly elected playwright-president proved himself a multi-party animal, Western-style. Arriving at night after addressing a joint session of Congress, Havel traded in his suit and tie for jeans and a sweater and headed straight to the rock clubs of Greenwich Village. “We roamed the places he loved to roam when he was here 21 years ago,” said his pal, Czech-born film director Milos Forman.
The highlight of Havel’s two-day stopover was a celeb-laden tribute that attracted more than 5,000 well-wishers to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Paul Simon, James Taylor, Placido Domingo and Roberta Flack sang. Tom Hulce conducted the Cathedral Singers in the final chorus of Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio. Gregory Peck read from a Havel speech. “I’ve been in the presence of great statesmen, and I’ve been in the presence of great artists, but I’ve never been in the presence of a great artist-statesman,” said Paul Newman. Havel returned the compliment. “I’m very glad I see here Mr. Newman, who is such a big legend that I didn’t believe he physically exists,” he said. But the celebs seemed even more impressed that a playwright could become a world leader. In Havel, actor Richard Jordan suggested, the Czechs have a politician who will both “write his own speeches—and mean what he says.”