The Party of the Century

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It (Independence Day) ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore.

--John Adams to his wife Abigail, July 3, 1776

Consider John Adams the founding executive producer of this year's Fourth of July festivities. The second President did not, of course, know about the Statue of Liberty, much less Hollywood mini-series or the value of a rating point. But David Wolper, the actual executive producer of Liberty Weekend, likes to cite Adams as a kind of 18th century mogul in a powdered wig. Were Wolper to stage a historical scroll of credits for his extravaganza honoring the Statue of Liberty's restoration, he might even see fit to list Adams as a creative consultant.

Adams anticipated the pomp and ceremony and would no doubt have appreciated Wolper's efforts to bring forth tears and goose bumps from the masses huddled around the New York City waterfront for Friday's spectacular fireworks. But he could not have imagined the 200 Elvis Presley look-alikes who will perform during Wolper's Sunday night finale. Nor could he have dreamed of spending up to $30 million for a party or making $10 million by auctioning off broadcasting rights to ABC television. He would be puzzled by the multifarious products with the Statue of Liberty imprint: Liberty charcoal briquettes, Liberty beach towels, Liberty dry-roasted peanuts, Liberty tobacco. Moreover, Adams probably could not have conceived how practically everyone in a country of 240 million might be very nearly sated with a celebration that is yet to occur.

The four-day Liberty Weekend requires a litany of superlatives: it will feature the biggest fireworks display in U.S. history, the largest street fair ever in America, the greatest massing of Coast Guard and auxiliary vessels for a single event since World War II, the biggest security mobilization in New York City history. For David Wolper, the man who brought America Roots, North and South, and the ceremonies for the 1984 Olympics, less is less; more is better; most is best. His script calls for the President to light the statue on the night of July 3. On July 4, tall ships will sail up the Hudson, and fireworks will turn night into day. On July 5, scholars will meet to discuss the idea of liberty, and the New York Philharmonic will play in Central Park. On July 6, the closing ceremony in New Jersey's Giants Stadium will feature more stars than there are in heaven, to use MGM's old motto. Throughout the weekend, rockets will glare, bands will blare, sails will billow, pigeons swoop and spectators whoop; 200 square dancers will hop, 300 tap dancers will bop, Frankie Avalon and Francis Sinatra will croon while audiences swoon, and more than 12,000 immigrants will pledge undying allegiance to their new country.

New York Mayor Ed Koch, who is playing the role of host, says, "It's going to be the party of the century." Whereas the Bicentennial celebration ten years ago was a bit self-conscious and introspective, this year's 100th birthday bash for the statue is a no-holds-barred, check-your-inhibitions-at- the-door blowout. And who cares if the Lady's real birthday is not until October?

The New York Convention and Visitors Bureau is expecting 6 million people to take part. Among them will be 100 corn-belt farmers from 17 states who won an all-expenses-paid trip from a company that produces fertilizers, and 50 French students who won an essay contest on the topic of liberty. Says primo party giver Mayor Koch: "I invited the whole world."

Officials expect many of these visitors to descend on the Harbor Festival, a kind of mini-world's fair in lower Manhattan. The 40-man American Samoan Dance Ensemble, Olatunji's African Flaming Drums of Passion, the Odessa Balalaikas from Los Angeles and other performers will transform the city's financial district into an ethnic Disneyland. Organizers expect to sell 3 million hot dogs (at $1.50 each) and 7 million cans of beverages, which will be transported by 150 40-ft.-long refrigerated trucks ("I have nightmares about trucks, trucks, trucks," says Suzanne Hemming, executive director of the Harbor Festival). New York, already one of the most congested of cities and long familiar with gridlock, may be in danger of peoplelock.

Security is a high priority. Airspace for several miles around Liberty Island has been declared off limits for five days. Helicopters will sweep the skies, while police divers will guard the water. Some 75 Coast Guard boats will patrol the bay, along with 200 civilian vessels recruited to help out. But with 40,000 vessels expected in New York harbor, the patrol vessels may be moored in boatlock. Onshore, 15,000 of New York's Finest will be working overtime for the celebration, costing the city's taxpayers an estimated $4.26 million.

Thursday, July 3, is the Lady's unveiling. A select gathering on Governors Island of 2,700 VIPs and corporate sponsors who have either paid $10,000 a couple or contributed from $3 million to $5 million to the statue's restoration will munch canapes and mill around or near President Reagan. Trumpeters on Governors Island will play the theme for Liberty Weekend composed by John Williams, who created the ominous music for the shark in Jaws and the otherworldly anthem for E.T. On Ellis Island, Chief Justice Warren Burger will administer the oath of citizenship to 192 people, while 12,500 more participate via satellite from three sites around the country. Then Wolper's game plan calls for the new citizens to break into spontaneous song. Interspersed throughout the ceremonies, Neil Diamond, Frank Sinatra, Gregory Peck, Elizabeth Taylor and others will give a show-biz salute to Lady Liberty.

Back on Governors Island, Lee Iacocca, the Chrysler Corp. chairman who has raised more than $250 million for the renovation effort, will introduce the President. Iacocca will be introduced by Interior Secretary Donald Hodel, the man who fired him as chairman of the statue's Centennial Commission. According to the schedule, at 9:19 the President will press a button to shoot a laser beam across the harbor, triggering an elaborate lighting process that will first reveal the Lady's demure silhouette and then finally bathe her in floodlights. Afterward, Reagan will award the Medal of Liberty to twelve "remarkable naturalized Americans": Henry Kissinger, I.M. Pei, Irving Berlin, Hanna Holborn Gray, Kenneth Clark, Elie Weisel, Dr. Albert Sabin, James Reston, An Wang, Itzhak Perlman, Franklin Chang-Diaz and Bob Hope. Just what is the Medal of Liberty? An award dreamed up by Wolper, and a brouhaha developed over the fact that none of the winners is Italian or Irish. Koch, ever ready to leap to the defense of ethnicity, denounced the awards as "idiotic" and promptly decided to give out 87 medals of his own.

The following morning the President will stand on the deck of the battleship U.S.S. Iowa to review 33 naval vessels from 14 nations. Each boat will fire a 21-gun salute. Then Operation Sail pushes off, as 22 tall ships begin a stately six-hour progression up the Hudson River. As the foreign ships sail past, casings will shoot up from barges and drop a weight that will open a parachute carrying rice-paper flags for the country of the ship. One tall ship is no tribute to Liberty: the Chilean Esmeralda, a graceful, 370-ft., four-masted schooner that was used as a site for torture after the 1973 coup by General Augusto Pinochet.

The fireworks spectacular takes place that night. Tommy Walker, a paladin of pyrotechnics who has lit up the sky for five world's fairs, two presidential Inaugurations and three Olympic Games, has brought together three venerable fireworks firms to put on the $2 million blast. From 42 barges around lower Manhattan and Liberty Island, 20 tons of fireworks and more than 40,000 projectiles will explode over the statue for 30 minutes. Walker has used a computer to harmonize sound and light, so that racks of roman candles will sway to the limpid rhythms of The Blue Danube and dragontails will skip across the sky to the beat of a Mexican hat dance.

Those with a view and an entrepreneurial bent are capitalizing on the occasion. Waterfront restaurants are taking reservations for $400 a person, while lofts with sight lines to the harbor are commanding one-night rental fees as high as $43,000. Alert city revenue officials have been busy reminding local residents that these windfalls are taxable.

After the shell shock of the Fourth, July 5 will be a bit of a breather. First Lady Nancy Reagan will officially open Liberty Island. Accompanied by 100 French and American schoolchildren, Nancy and her charges will become the first official tourists to climb inside the newly renovated statue. Afterward, 250 white "doves of peace" (real-life homing pigeons, but that's show biz) will race down the plaza of Liberty Island and, if all goes as planned, join up with 4,000 other pigeons to circle the statue 2 1/2 times. Saturday morning offers the beginning of a two-day academic conference at the New York Marriott Marquis on "Liberty--The Next 100 Years."

Festivities move to the Meadowlands Sports Complex on Sunday, as the likes of Muhammad Ali, Bobby Orr, Billie Jean King, Mary Lou Retton and Hank Aaron parade around the stadium. There will be a gymnastics exhibition and skating by Peggy Fleming, Dorothy Hamill and Scott Hamilton. A planned tug-of-war between the New York Jets and Giants football teams seems to have been a casualty of David Wolper's unpredictable kitsch detector, which has been on alert since recent criticisms of the weekend's rampant schlockiness.

For the closing gala that night, Wolper will stage a kind of macro-Ed Sullivan show. The production calls for a 20-tier stage, waterfalls, lasers and a cast of 12,000, not counting the thousands in the audience who will participate in a flashlight stunt. Performers include the Statue of Liberty All-American Marching Band, a 476-member consortium from 92 colleges and universities that will have 40 sousaphones and 76 trombones; 300 banjo and fiddle players; an 800-voice chorus; a 250-voice gospel choir; an 850-member drill team; 300 jazzercize dancers; 200 square dancers and 300 tap dancers --and, of course, those tenscore Elvis Presley impersonators. All that plus Kenny Rogers, Willie Nelson, Elizabeth Taylor, the Temptations, the Four Tops, Frankie Avalon, Waylon Jennings, Billy Preston, Patti LaBelle, Shirley MacLaine, Gene Kelly, Liza Minnelli, the Pointer Sisters, Charlton Heston. And Fabian.

Wolper insists that "not one cent" of the statue's restoration funds is paying for Liberty Weekend. "All of the costs are being covered by the sale of television rights and tickets," he says. But many of the tickets for the opening and closing ceremonies are unsold. Of the total of 58,000 tickets, 9,000 remain, most of them in the $100 and $200 category. ABC, however, is not worried; the network bought the broadcast rights for $10 million, and has already sold $30 million worth of commercials.

Despite all the hoopla, says Tommy Walker, "the statue is still the star of the show." But like a demure singer in a long gown who is surrounded by chorus girls in sequined miniskirts, the statue may seem slightly lost amid the fanfaronade. Whether Liberty Weekend turns out to be a genuinely inspiring occasion or the most overdone pseudo-event in history may depend on the beholder. Anyone who is disappointed, however, can look forward to the fall: plans are under way for a more modest rededication ceremony on Oct. 28 to celebrate the statue's real 100th birthday.