November 06, 1995 12:00 PM

OF ALL THE WORLD LEADERS I HAVE MET, NONE STANDS higher in my esteem than Nelson Mandela,” said Hillary Rodham Clinton, who, along with 1,150 other invitees, honored the South African leader at a New York City benefit for the Friends of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, which helps finance social programs in his country.

The evening kicked off with the world premiere of Cry, The Beloved Country, starring James Earl Jones and Richard Harris and based on Alan Paton’s 1948 novel about two South African fathers—one black, one white—whose sons die tragically. After the film, Mandela, 77, in town for the United Nations’ 50th anniversary, and guests including Iman, Glenn Close, Danny Glover, Naomi Campbell and David Schwimmer consumed a dinner that cost donors up to $2,500 a plate. Neither dollars nor diplomacy, however, were on the president’s mind when he caught a glimpse of happily married (to writer-producer Roderick Spencer) actress Alfre Woodard. “Every time I see her,” joked Mandela, who is separated from his wife, Winnie, 61, “I’m tempted to have a secret affair with her. I have to control myself.”

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