Lifestyle of the rich and famous: At White House, Bush lives it up

KENNEBUNKPORT, MAINE — What if you could call up Hollywood's latest heartthrob and have him come round for a drink? Or, imagine getting one of the world's best golfers to give you a lesson on the links.

And what would it be like if you could simply express an interest in being invited into the most exclusive haunts, and all your host would want to know is how soon you could get there?


George Bush knows.

One of the great powers of the presidency is to be able to hobnob with celebrities, and Mr. Bush is not afraid to use it.


In fact, this president is an unabashed celebrity-hound who pursues the best and brightest, the hottest and the coolest, with the tenacity of a teen-age groupie.

One recent day here at his vacation retreat, for example, Mr. Bush spent the morning visiting veteran newsman Walter Cronkite aboard his 48-foot sailboat, played golf in the afternoon with the legendary Arnold Palmer and topped off the evening by dining at sea with Jimmy Dean, the country singer and pork sausage king, aboard Mr. Dean's 110-foot yacht, the Big Bad John.

"He's very pleased to meet anyone who's exceptional in their field," said an administration official who has basked with Mr. Bush in the aura of Michael Jackson, Kevin Costner, Dana Carvey, Linda Evans, Randy Travis, Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio -- just to name a few.

The difference between being First Fan and the ordinary groupie, of course, is that Mr. Bush's prey is inevitably more thrilled about the meeting than he is.

Chuck Norris, the martial arts movie star whom the president invited to go jogging with him in Washington one day last year, could hardly get over his awe at riding in the presidential limo. He even brought his son along to share the excitement.

"No matter how many times you've been to the White House, it's always a thrill," comedian Sid Caesar said at a state dinner in 1988 hosted by former President Ronald Reagan.

The Reagans, for all their Hollywood connections, were mostly homebodies who kept to themselves and a small circle of friends.

But Mr. Bush is "a very sociable guy," said the official, who chose not to be identified. "He just likes to be in the middle of where the action is."


The president's meetings with celebrities are usually arranged so casually, it's not always clear who made the first move.

It's long been standard practice, of course, for astronauts, champion athletes and other heroes of the moment to be invited to the White House. But Mr. Bush, unlike his predecessors, will often take such guests aside and suggest future outings.

That's how tennis stars Pam Shriver and Chris Evert wound up in a doubles match against Mr. Bush's sons, Jeb and Marvin.

At other times, presidential aides will tell Mr. Bush someone like actor Kevin Costner is in town and ask if he wants to meet him. Sure,the president says, and Mr. Costner finds himself at Andrews Air Force Base playing golf with the leader of the Free World.

Gary Shandling got tapped for an invite to the Oval Office when the president learned the comedian was in the White House on a tour. Mr. Bush even recruited Mr. Shandling, who was then star of a television show, to help spice up the president's monologue for a dinner appearance that night.

In another example of his approach, Mr. Bush saw the musical group Forever Plaid in their show at the Kennedy Center recently and invited them to Kennebunkport last week to perform at his lobster-bake dinner for British Prime Minister John Major.


"He sees something he likes and he goes after it," the official said of Mr. Bush.

Former "Dynasty" star Linda Evans came to the ceremony honoring volunteer projects that help preserve America's heritage and natural resources.

Mr. Bush only appeared at the event for about 10 minutes, then spirited Ms. Evans back with him to the Oval Office.

Who says he's not interested in domestic issues?