Monday, April 27, 2015

“Weekend” Calling

A canopy of pear trees on 95th Street between Fifth and Madison Avenue. 2:30 PM. Photo: JH.
Monday, April 27, 2015. Fair and mainly sunny weekend in New York, with temperatures just this side of chilly.

The action on any social diary was in our nation’s capital this weekend where “they” were hosting the annual White House Correspondents' Dinner – which is now a “weekend” calling in all kinds of media-oriented people including movie and TV stars and artists and models and bearded ladies and men on the flying trapeze. Just kidding about the latter two, of course, sort of.

JH's shot of George W. Bush at the 2008 White House Correspondents' Dinner.
JH and I attended one of those weekends back in the early days of the NYSD. George W. Bush was President. Clear in recollection was how cookie-cutter, hyper-evented the cocktail parties were. If I weren’t so curious to see how the social passage in our nation’s capital operated, I wudda died-a-boredom. But that’s me, the guy who’s been to a thousand parties of all shapes and sizes and PR/events-produced.

So it was interesting to see, to view. Aside from the casserole of celebrity, laminated as it is today, there is still a small-town, back-home-in-Indiana about the atmosphere of the place and its distinguished cast of characters with more than a little cornpone left in the old political animal. It is truly an all-American town, especially to those of us who grew up in small town America of another era.

However, the WHCD really is a media event that uses the Presidency of the United States to promote an event. Our Washington correspondent Carol Joynt opted out of doing a WSD for this week because of it, but couldn’t resist in commenting after it was all said and done. So she wrote the following Memo re the weekend. I think she shares some of my sentiments about it, but she’s a long time Washington resident and journalist, it’s her beat and she loves it:
I didn't write a Washington Social Diary this Monday because there was no compelling reason to produce one, meaning an account of the annual White House Correspondents' Association dinner and related parties since I'd already written my thoughts – unchanged – a couple of weeks earlier. However, I'm not an ostrich and thought a few observations were appropriate.
The cherry blossoms may be faded, but Washington still looked smashing for the weekend of the White House Correspondents' Association dinner. (Here's the Jefferson Memorial, though they didn't do the cable TV red carpet in his day.)
• As for parties, the class of the field remained the Friday dinner hosted at their Embassy Row home by Atlantic Media’s David and Katherine Bradley. Year after year – it is fun, it is elegant and civilized, it is adult, it is seated, and it is soup to nuts done by 10 pm, and guests, if they choose, can zip off to the more frenzied and louder soirees.

In every way but its location it harkens to the soul of the WHCA dinners of yore, at the then-Sheraton Park, when gray-haired and well-dressed media moguls came south from New York to join their Washington reporters and editors for a night of sophisticated mingling with the government establishment. Everybody got loaded and partied … all at the hotel.
Raising at glass at the Friday night dinner hosted by David and Katherine Bradley at their Embassy Row home.
Estee Lauder model Carolyn Murphy does a selfie with a fan as, to the right, "True Detective" star Michelle Monaghan looks on.
Getting seated at the Bradley's.
Dinner at the Bradley's: the guest list is equal parts high end corporate, notable media, civic-minded entertainment people and some glamorous friends.
Parties at the Bradley's are defined by the guest list, the food and the flowers ...
• President Obama (and Keegan-Michael Key) and Cecily Strong had great writers, understood the material, and delivered their jokes with such skill it was a pleasure to watch them enjoy hitting their marks. Now that the President has given us “bucket” as a useful euphemism, I plan to put it to work and often. Thank you, Mr. President. Cecily – you killed, even though many in the audience were clueless. That is this dinner, year after year.
At the WHCA, two strong comic performances from President Obama and Cecily Strong.
• The media mistakenly identify the White House Correspondents' Association dinner as “the social event of the year,” but it is not social, at least not in the sense of attracting Washington society. It is a media event, a corporate event, a business event; in other words, a work-related schmooze-fest. It could just as easily take place in Las Vegas with all the guests/conventioneers wearing big fat badges. As a networking and marketing event, it is the biggest of the year. Without red carpets, though, the city’s lobbyists play this game more often and better.

• The celebrities were irrelevant this year, for better or worse. Ditto the Vanity Fair-Bloomberg "after" party. It was basically a NY/LA affair.
President Obama at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner, backed by "anger translator" Keegan-Michael Key
• It was troubling to watch CNN (still the go-to for breaking news) focus its entire evening on the dinner – with an anchor in an evening gown, no less! – while on any other day we know they’d be focused on the deadly earthquake in Kathmandu, and the violent Baltimore street protests related to the death of Freddie Gray. It was just plain weird, and only underscored the timeliness of the jokes on CNN made by President Obama and Cecily Strong.

• That said, I was pleased to see that CNN booked Patrick Gavin for their live coverage. He is the director of the just-released documentary, “Nerd Prom,” that explores, debates and occasionally mocks the White House Correspondents' dinner. For stepping out of line and speaking up he is, by DC standards, a marked man. Good for CNN.

• First Lady Michelle Obama had a look on and it was fun. As a mother I could almost imagine her at home before dinner, with daughters Sasha and Malia helping her dress, saying “go for it, mom,” with the hair, and the silvery Zac Posen, and her saying, “you’re right. I have to do something to stay awake on that dais.”
Michelle Obama in Zac Posen on Saturday night in Washington. Did we say train? The beautiful Laverne Cox at the WHCA dinner.
• This is not remotely a haute fashion event, though many women dress in long gowns, including some wearing dresses with trains, no less. Before the TV and movie stars became a staple of the occasion, and thus the need for glam loaners from designers and a red carpet extravaganza, the standard was cocktail length, good jewelry and polished hair. On that basis, the best dressed was MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski. On the other hand, Jane Fonda (a saint for attending) would benefit from a fashion consultation with Helen Mirren.
Jane Fonda at the WHCA dinner. "Morning" Joe Scarborough with co-host, and "best dressed," Mika Brzezinski, in a cocktail length dress.
• At dinner at the Bradley’s I was impressed to see actress Michelle Monaghan, because I am a big fan of “True Detective.” No, I did not ask for a selfie. I was also impressed to see Google’s Eric Schmidt, mostly to be able to thank him for Waze, the app that got me through snarled rush hour traffic to the Bradley home. There was a protest outside the nearby Turkish Embassy, and it created havoc. Not for me with my Waze. Again, thank you, Eric. I did not ask him for a selfie, either.
Michelle Monaghan in "True Detective."
• There will be a lot of second-guessing about the dinner, as there always is, but it can’t help itself. It is like a federal agency, meaning it will return next year without much changed. The celebrity quotient might go up because it will be President Obama’s last in office. There are those here who believe if Hillary Clinton wins the presidential election, then THAT will be the WHCA dinner to beg, borrow and steal to attend. Stay tuned.
Meanwhile among the New Yorkers who were there and holding forth was David Remnick, editor-in-chief of the New Yorker who hosted the magazine's annual pre-White House Correspondents' Dinner cocktail reception on the roof of the W Hotel on Friday night.

The gathering included New Yorker writers and editors, celebrities, journalists, and politicians. Guests, including Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, Lorne Michaels, Katie Couric, Lena Dunham, Maureen Dowd, David Brooks, Larry Wilmore, Tracee Ellis Ross, Jake Tapper, Laverne Cox and Michael Kelly — known to many of the bemused women in the crowd as Doug, on Netflix’s “House of Cards” — came together over the Louis Roederer as the sun set over the National Mall.
Esther Fein, David Remnick, and Lena Dunham.
Saturday Night Live’s Cecily Strong, who hosted the dinner, arrived with castmate Nasim Pedrad just before the last of the District Donuts — adorned with the magazine’s trademark dandy Eustace Tilley — and just before the final notes of deejay Hannah Bronfman’s set faded into the cool spring night.

As a New Yorker subscriber and lifelong admirer, I was happy to include this particular party on the Diary, but frankly, most honestly, because it gave us the opportunity to run the image of the New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd on the NYSD. I was bemused to learn that unlike SOOOOOO many people we know in the media (and everywhere else) who can't get enough of their images anywhere and everywhere, Ms. Dowd believes that Once is enough; the rest is nonsense. And the lady is definitely no-nonsense, a rara avis in the fold.
Hannah Bronfman. Laverne Cox. Tamron Hall.
Tracee Ellis Ross. Lorne Michaels and Lawrence O'Donnell.
Nasim Pedrad, Cecily Strong, and Michael Kelly.
Justin Mikita and Jesse Tyler. TNY publisher Lisa Hughes and Katie Couric.
Paul and Nancy Pelosi. Larry Wilmore.
Ian O. Cameron, Susan Rice, and Maureen Dowd.
 

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