By People Staff
December 21, 1981 12:00 PM

No gala pulls in Washington’s brightest and best-dressed quite like the Kennedy Center Honors, bestowed each year for achievement in the arts. At last week’s ceremonies the guests—including Ella Fitzgerald, Walter Cronkite and Tennessee Williams—nearly outshone the roster of honorees: Cary Grant, Helen Hayes, Count Basie, pianist Rudolf Serkin and choreographer Jerome Robbins. “They have made us proud to be Americans,” declared President Reagan before awarding them colorful ribbons. “We owe them a great debt.”

The evening’s program of speeches and entertainment, which will be televised by CBS on Dec. 26, was as bubbly as the champagne that followed (though Reagan referred to Robbins as Jerome Roberts and Rex Harrison introduced his former fair lady as Katharine, not Audrey, Hepburn). Mikhail Baryshnikov brought gasps with his performance from Robbins’ Fancy Free, Ella Fitzgerald sang Basie songs with Joe Williams and the Count’s band, and before a formal dinner for the 2,000 guests, Art Buchwald chewed on the Administration. “Just think, Mr. President,” he said, “if you had not gone into politics, you might be in the chair Cary Grant is in right now—and Al Haig would be in yours.”