Monday, November 26, 2007

Washington Social Diary

The Georgetown house where Jack and Jackie Kennedy lived when he was elected President.
Jackie Doesn't Live Here Anymore
By Carol Joynt

Memo: Maureen Orth's recent obituary of Washington society that appears in the current Vanity Fair has people here in a minor boil.

The critics of the piece – and they are vocal – believe it comes across as the desperate grab of a writer trying to hold on to her gig with Graydon Carter, feeding up a manufactured story on the backs of friends and acquaintances. Some believe many of the “observers” she quotes are playing a tired game of living in the Camelot past, an era that for most people is way over. There are others who believe Orth took advantage of her friends and got them to say things that, on reflection, they probably did not like seeing splashed in glossy black and white.

It's time to put a stop to the social séance of bringing Jacqueline Kennedy back from the grave. She's not a poltergeist. Besides, if Jackie were alive and 35 and walking Georgetown's streets today I doubt she'd be wearing white gloves, having tea parties and fussing over handwritten RSVPs. She was modern in her time and would be modern now. The people who hold on to her Washington moment hold on to a past that is gone gone gone.

Orth pulls from her own posse in her text but those who come across as the meanest of the mean are Buffy Cafritz, Lady Catherine Meyer, Lea Berman and, to a lesser extent, Deeda Blair. They chew on the bones of the dead and the flesh of the few women who actually attempt to be hostesses in the Washington of right now. Are the new hostesses too ambitious? Are they likable people? Well, gosh. Was Evangeline Bruce a genuinely likable person? Was Perle Mesta ambitious? Or Gwen Cafritz?  People grumbled about them, too.

Tried and convicted in the Orth piece are Bill Clinton BFF Beth Dozoretz, “philanthropist” Catherine Reynolds, and the Kuwaiti ambassador’s wife, Rima Al-Sabah. Their crimes? Too many to mention here but they include inviting lobbyists and sending out invitations months in advance of the party date. Conspicuously absent from the piece (and likely very grateful) are: one very active hostess, Juleanna Glover, and some of the significant male players such as Dr. William Haseltine (he of the human genome, and ex of Gale Hayman), a busy host with a big Georgetown house and plenty of $$$. AOL's Jim Kimsey, too, has his own pile of millions, a McLean mansion and a generous disposition. Also Rick Rickertson, managing partner of a multi-million dollar private equity fund. These men have parties and their parties are popular. They all are bachelors, too. Are they Ivy league tweedies blooded in an old-boy spy network, as in the days of yore? Nah. But, again, hasn’t that era gone by the wayside, too?

The mention of Sally Quinn is a flashpoint for the kinds of people who will read Orth’s words as obsessively as they dissect a Tom Friedman Op-Ed piece. For whatever reasons, Sally’s neighbors get their short hairs up when she’s quoted on the in’s and out’s of Washington in general, and Georgetown in particular. She’s as controversial here as Hillary Clinton is everywhere. (“You know, Sally will take that as a compliment,” a mutual acquaintance said.)
Maureen Orth (left) when she was interviewed by Carol Joynt at The Q&A Cafe in May 2006 before a sold out audience.
Not that Sally is vicious in her quotes this time around, but she has become a person who is pre-emptively condemned simply for having an opinion. The other women, and men, who are fawningly quoted are from all parts of the Washington social map, but collectively they come across as condescending, cruel or sadly stuck in the misty and mythy past. It’s so much doom and gloom. Was that their agenda or Orth’s?   Nonetheless, never has there been such mourning for the silly pretense of finger bowls.

What everyone forgets is that Jackie was a rather typical Georgetown matron of her time. There are plenty of others like her inhabiting Georgetown today: attractive young women with style, means, children under age 10 and busy and ambitious husbands.

Perhaps the men aren't running the CIA, but the CIA now isn't what the CIA was back then. Parties, large and small, go on. There are women here who have significant social muscle but keep it on the media downlow. The Orth piece puts the RIP on cozy dinners at tables of eight, but they do still happen. And yes, the guest lists sometimes include those diabolical lobbyists, but anyone who believes lobbyists haven’t been around this town forever are in denial.

What made Jackie Kennedy’s influence different was that her husband got the White House job and she was able to move her dinner parties from N Street to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue while friends came with her and got the reflected glow. That would happen today to any woman who moved from Georgetown to the White House. (Yes, even Theresa Heinz Kerry, had fate gone her way). In the last 40 years, with the exception of Betty Ford and Barbara Bush, the First Ladies moved into the White House from somewhere else — outside the Beltway. Nancy Reagan's social Mecca, for example, was New York and Beverly Hills. Hillary Clinton just plain didn't have one. Laura Bush keeps utterly off the social radar.
The White House on November 25, 2007, where Jack and Jackie Kennedy lived after he was elected President. She and her children moved out 44 years ago, fewer than two weeks after Jack was assassinated in Dallas. Soon enough Jackie left Washington for New York.
Orth and crew spanked the Bush White House for coming up short on star power and distinction with the guest list for the state dinner honoring Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip last spring. She singles out one of the “mediocre” invitees, “pretty blonde” Elizabeth Hasselbeck, for a special hazing. Hasselbeck may not be the brightest bulb, but targeting her comes across like getting rough with a mentally-challenged kitten. 

Yes, the Kennedys had some glittering dinners that set the bar high. However, very few here feel that social life stopped with the Kennedys, or for that matter, Pamela Harriman and Katharine Graham. Nor do they believe that 9/11 killed the city’s social spirit. We have moved on. The focus, fortunately for many of us, has become broader. The city is bigger, the social matrix is more complex. It doesn’t matter anymore whether the President and First Lady are on the circuit.

It’s been years since people seriously scanned the published list of who dined at the White House. With the exception of a mall store proliferation in the village’s once quaint commercial area, Georgetown is as cool as ever, and Washington has hosts and hostesses whose parties match the times.

Just as it is with Sally Quinn and Ben Bradlee, Maureen Orth and her husband, Tim Russert fairly walk on water among a certain segment of the capital’s population. (Although Quinn has been known to be a sort of sour presence when mixed in with any but those she considers her own kind – when a new arrival in Georgetown had her first Christmas party a few years ago, Ms. Quinn showed up but was heard to mutter: ”I came only to see the house.”) Nevertheless, there is a lot of head-scratching over why some of Orth’s friends spilled to her so viciously. She had to know people would get hurt, and since they aren’t people who pass legislation or push buttons on bombs they are essentially innocents on the sidelines.

However, be they the maligned ones or not, the hosts and hostesses will still have parties and, at least in the spirit of peace, maybe they will invite Orth and Russert, Catherine Meyer, Quinn and Bradlee, Buffy Cafritz et al, and possibly they will graciously attend. That would be one swell Washington party.

Photographs by Carol Joynt
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