--Oscar de la Renta, The Fashion Makers, An Inside Look at America’s Leading Designers
“There are many kinds of taste. The rules that apply to one person do not hold true for another. There are women who underdress and look well and women who underdress and look terrible. Gloria Guinness can pick a Mexican T-shirt in a market for two dollars and look great.”
--Oscar de la Renta, The Fashion Makers, An Inside Look at America’s Leading Designers
Despite looking impeccable in even the most casual of attire, Gloria Guinness was not above using one-upmanship tactics to best her fashion rival Babe Paley. According to Babe’s friend Boaz Mazor, Guinness invited the Paleys for a cruise aboard the luxurious Guinness yacht, telling Babe that the itinerary called for casual, simple clothes. However, Guinness planned formal evenings and wore her finest jewels and gowns. [via The Sisters, The Life and Times of the Fabulous Cushing Sisters]
Image Credit: The Power of Style
To mention Florence Pritchett Smith and conspiracy in the same sentence risks being led astray on on a tangent (see this related post). However, the truth is that her elegant cookbook and hostessing guide from 1966, These Entertaining People, A Guide for the Elegant Hostess, does expose a conspiracy of sorts. The fifties were an ignoble era for American cuisine. As income rose, food quality sank. Processed food industry shills like editor Poppy Cannon (see The Bride’s Cookbook) worked overtime to convince the American public that quality food could be produced cheaply and quickly via packaged mixes and can openers. These Entertaining People promoted the opposite, with advice from the author's friends. That those friends happened to be society’s most glamorous hostesses added sparkle and panache to the book.
As to be expected, Pritchett Smith herself was an accomplished hostess. Her husband was the final U.S. ambassador to Cuba prior to the Revolution. She presided over social events at the United States embassy in Havana up until the time when it would have been necessary to plan a welcome party for Fidel Castro and the other Communists rebels, which one imagines Pritchett Smith would have done with aplomb should the State Department have so required.
Following are seven considerations Florence Pritchett Smith considered most important when planning a dinner party:
“Taste buds were meant to be intrigued, never bored. Let them travel the road from bland to spicy, from sweet to tart, from rich to simple.”
There should be a variety of textures: “from thick to thin, from clear to creamy, from soft to crisp, from smooth to rough.”
First in Season
“Keep your eye on the markets for early seasonal things.” “Foods of the season arouse the strongest desires.”
“Pleasurable sensations can be created effectively by sharp contrasts in the temperature of foods.” Serve hot popovers with an ice-cold soup, or drizzle “a hot sauce over ice cream or cold fruit.”
Appropriateness (as to Occasion and Number of Guests)
“A black-tie dinner before a dance requires a menu as decorative as the beautifully dressed guests.” “The fewer the guests, the more delicious and unusual [the] food can be.”
Smith's advice is excellent but what makes this book extraordinary is its star power. Smith polled her society friends requesting their favorite menus, recipes, and entertaining advice. Astonishingly nearly all responded, even such media-adverse personalities as Betsey Whitney. Whitney’s less publicity-shy sisters Babe Paley and Minnie Astor Fosburgh of course replied, as well as Diana Vreeland, C.Z. Guest, Marella Agnelli, and the former and present Mrs. Leland Haywards (Slim and Pam). One of the respondents—Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan—was vaguely related to the author. Her niece, also named Consuelo, had once been married to Florence Pritchett’s husband Earl E.T. Smith (and had two children by him).
Advice from Pritchett Smith's glamorous friends takes up a good portion of the book. Here are some of the best:
“Don’t invite too many married couples. It is suburban. Have pretty women, attractive men, guests who are en passant, the flavor of another language. This is the jet age, so have something new and changing.”
“I have one menu if friends from the United States lunch with us, another for Europeans, and still a different menu for guests from Asia, who are so often vegetarian.”
“At a big dinner I like to have two pretty girls at each table if possible. It makes it more festive because they are as decorative as a bouquet of flowers.”
Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan
“I believe that tact, that intuitive sympathy, will provide the only answer to social problems. It will help to smooth over difficulties and ignore rudeness, at least for the time being. I personally believe in eliminating bounders and bores as well as the cutlet-for-cutlet principle by the simple rule of not accepting an invitation I do not wish to return.”
“My menus are worked out in advance, and I keep the likes and dislikes of my guests in mind.”
Countess Consuelo Crespi
“The extra effort is worth every minute of it when you realize your efforts have made someone happy.”
“Remember, you have invited your guests to your home not to forcibly express your ideas of life and living, but to hear them express theirs.”
“Everyone should learn to create food that belongs to them, not just the inevitable cold ham and turkey… It’s too impersonal. I think so many amusing succulent dishes can be whipped up that it seems to me an awful pity people don’t have a personal idiom, even in their food.”
“[A supper dance should] have lots of tables, lots of soft candlelight, lots of pretty girls in pretty dresses, two or three bars, and two different places for your supper buffet.”
The Duchess of Windsor
“Keep a menu book listing the [food], wine, table setting, the guest list and seating plan, and after-dinner amusements to avoid repetition with the same guest.”
Pamela Hayward Harriman
“Hostesses must care that everything is arranged for comfort and fun.”
When this book went to press, Pamela was still Mrs. Leland Hayward. Following his death, she married senior statesmen Averell Harriman with whom she had enjoyed a love affair during World War II. As Mrs. Harriman, she became a leading hostess for the Democratic Party, propelling William Jefferson Clinton to the White House. President-elect Clinton rewarded her with a plum assignment, ambassadress to France. Her rules for entertaining, which went on to secure her future successes, are included in the book:
1. Do not ruin dinner for other guests because one guest is late.
2. When inviting people, call them on the telephone yourself. It makes it so much more personal.
3. Never criticize servants or a family member in front of other guests.
4. Don’t answer the telephone unless it is an emergency.
5. Never talk about your own domestic or personal problems.
6. Stimulate the conversation, but don’t jog it.
7. Knowing how to cook yourself is fundamental, whether you must or not.
Following are some of the recipes included in the book. NHL has not attempted any of them but is rather intrigued by Countess Consuelo Crespi's Ice Cream Cheese. It seems strange to mix a variety a cheeses together into a melange. One imagines it would be either a terrible failure or a terrific success.
Sadly Florence Pritchett Smith passed away prior to her book's publication. The death of an author limits a publisher's ability to properly promote a book, particularly in the case of a lifestyle tome that relies so much on book-signing events. There were only a few printings and no second edition. At present, Nick Harvill Libraries has one copy available for sale here. It appears to be the only one available anywhere online. [Update: this copy has now sold.]
Gogsie Cushing’s great ambition was to see her three beautiful daughters successfully married into wealthy families. On July 23, 1947, it appeared as she succeeded beyond her wildest expectations. On that day her youngest daughter Babe wed CBS mogul William S. Paley, thereby joining her sisters in the multimillionaire club. Sister Betsey was in a love match with John Hay Whitney, as rich as he was gentlemanly. Eldest sister Minnie was married to the even wealthier, if more troubled, Vincent Astor.
Gogsie died in 1949, not knowing that her dream would soon unravel. Her death gave Minnie license to plan a future more suitable to her personality. It took several years, but Minnie convinced Vincent to agree to a divorce by setting him up with his next wife, Brooke Marshall. Minnie remarried not for money but for compatibility—to the artist Jim Fosburgh.
Babe’s marriage survived but had its difficulties. Bill was an amateur photographer, and from his many portraits of her, it is obvious he loved and admired her even when his behavior failed to show it. Babe and Bill’s daughter Kate privately published a collection of those photographs in The Original Bill Paley, a book that rarely hits the resale market, a copy of which is presently available on the Nick Harvill Libraries website. [Postscript: it has since sold.]
Photo Credit, Jerome Zerbe, Happy Times