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Oh, but Just Think of the Table Talk!

Ali Wentworth and husband George Stephanopoulos, at this year's White House Correspondents' Dinner, could be your partners for sparkling banter. (Lois Raimondo/The Washington Post)

Time to play that old icebreaker: "Name your fantasy dinner party."

Who's on your guest list? If it's Christopher Buckley, Nora Ephron, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Anna Deavere Smith, Malcolm Gladwell, George Stephanopoulos or his wife, actress Ali Wentworth, you're in luck. They're part of an "impressive array of literati" who can be yours -- for $200,000 from the 2009 Neiman Marcus Christmas catalogue.

Every fall, the luxury department store unveils exotic, one-of-a kind gifts: a custom suit of armor, his-and-hers robots. This year's "Algonquin Round Table Experience" boasts 15 celebs (including some mystery media types not listed in the catalogue) donating their "engaging wit and sparkling conversation" to benefit Washington-based charity First Book, which distributes books to low-income kids.

Hey, are you guys getting paid to show up? "It's a charity thing," Buckley told us. "Of course I'm not being paid."

The buyer gets a private dinner for 10 at N.Y.C.'s famed Algonquin Hotel, and chooses eight guests from the list but -- disclaimer! -- isn't guaranteed those favorites will actually be at the table. ("Final guest list is at our discretion; substitutions could occur.") "We'll do our best," said Neiman rep Ginger Reeder.

Of course, the idea of reproducing the legendary gathering of wits is fraught with downsides: forced one-liners, awkward pauses, invidious comparisons to Dorothy Parker, withering asides on literary blogs -- which are already having fun with the published list of "brightest minds."

"George is the appeal," said Wentworth, who was asked to participate by First Book co-founder Kyle Zimmer. "I'll probably pass the nuts and show people where the toilet is."

The upside? The charity gets a huge chunk of change and lots of free publicity. If no one buys the fantasy dinner before the Jan. 31 deadline, the store will donate an undisclosed amount -- but far less than the $200K sales price.

By The Reliable Source  |  October 14, 2009; 1:03 AM ET
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