--John F. Kennedy, via Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years
“I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent that has ever been gathered in the White House—with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”
--John F. Kennedy, via Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years
Image Credit: The Kennedy White House Parties
The are many Easter eggs hidden in Bill Blass’s posthumously published memoir Bare Blass. One of the best concerns his friend Jerry Zipkin, the New York socialite who walked into history as First Lady Nancy Reagan’s gay best friend and Nouvelle Society’s favorite walker. Zipkin was a polarizing figure, as beloved by some as he was despised by others. Bill Blass was in the first camp. He liked Jerry Zipkin very much.
One day, Bill Blass asked a recently hired assistant to get Zipkin on the line. She leafed through Bill’s private address book, filled with the top-secret telephone numbers of the rich and the fashionable. There were two listings for Jerry Zipkin. The first was busy, so she tried the second. Zipkin answered and upon realizing an assistant for Bill Blass was on the other end, he hissed, “This is the private line for Nancy Reagan!”
Even among his friends, Jerry Zipkin was known for his imperiousness. Once, Mortimer’s committed a social faux pas by playing “God Save the Queen” during Princess Margaret’s visit to the restaurant. The Princess was miffed. The society columnist Taki, with whom she was dining, quipped, “It is not for you ma’am. It’s for Jerry Zipkin.” [via the Financial Times]
Image Credit: Ronnie & Nancy, Their Path to the White House
Sorry for the break in posting. I have been hard at work on the annual NHL holiday catalogue. It is now completed, and a PDF version will soon be available for download via this blog. If you would like a hard copy version, please email me your address.
Here is the introduction from this year's catalogue:
“How tragic and how glorious is the passing of time!”
--Little Edie Beale
It is fitting that Little Edie opens this year’s catalogue. She was the first reality superstar and its cultural apogee. How extraordinary that one of her successors in the medium has been elected to the presidency of the United States, the most powerful job on earth. From Grey Gardens to the White House Orangerie: reality programming—you have come a long way baby.
It is an astonishing shuffle of the cards that has left some questioning whether the electorate was playing with a full deck. It is also an event so significant to cultural history—a primary focus of Nick Harvill Libraries—that not to mention it would be ignoring the elephant (or donkey) in the room.
As we contemplate the implications of the election, we seek answers via social media and the Internet. That is akin to instructing a murderer to investigate his own crime. Technology has given us so much, but its dark side is that it has also flattened us out, trapping us in an echo chamber that obliterates the past and disparages opposing points of view.
Like Homer Simpson said of alcohol, the Internet is both the cause and solution to all of our problems. There is a reason it is called the World Wide Web and not the World Deep one. In places, it is baby-pool shallow. Worthwhile books and fascinating people have faded into oblivion, barely covered online. For the Nick Harvill Libraries blog that is an opportunity. I write and post articles that rank high in search results because they are the most in-depth treatment of a particular subject matter online.
Books are not perfect, but in their sum-total, they come close. They are pieces of an infinite and ever-changing puzzle. We must constantly resist the all-too human temptation to arrogantly decide where a puzzle piece ought to go and proceed to hammer it into place. Just as tempting, particularly for nonreaders, is to see the puzzle as complete with only a few inadequate pieces. [Cable news + religious dogma = not much of anything.]
That does not mean we all have to be of the intelligentsia. Diana Vreeland declared, “If we have an intellectual working for Vogue, he’s running the elevator!” I get the sentiment. Pure academic theorizing, untethered to how we actually live, comes with its own set of worries. Correlating literature with our own experiences, however, is one of life’s great pleasures—it connects us to both the present and the past and softens the loneliness intrinsic to the human condition.
Books enable us to see the temporal world in its proper perspective. It is a lesson so easy to forget that it must be constantly relearned. Everything is transitory. Ying becomes yang. Chanel liberates woman from her corset only for Dior ensnare her in it once again. Yippies become yuppies and join the Reagan Revolution. A president of exquisite gentility is replaced by his opposite.
Time despises entropy, and it is inevitable that good will revert to bad. It is only in the long arc of history that we see progress. Do not despair. Take comfort in the words of that unwittingly wise woman, Little Edie Beale. “How tragic and how glorious is the passing of time!”
“Is it possible to get to the top of the greasy pole without intrigue, or guile? It almost seems as if in this case the answer may be yes.”
--Lady Diana Mosley on Ronald Reagan, via The Pursuit of Laughter
Ronald Reagan joked of the Republican Party, “Sometimes our right hand doesn't know what our far right hand is doing.” However, that is not entirely true. Someone in his camp—someone quite close to him in fact—made it her business to know such things. That person was his wife Nancy. If indeed the President did ascend a greasy pole unsullied, it is obvious on whose shoulders he stood to get there.
Her husband’s legacy was always Nancy Reagan’s top priority. It surpassed any concern she had for her own approval rating. As Thomas Mallon’s fascinating (and worthwhile) novel Finale proposes, Nancy Reagan worked tirelessly behind the scenes against the hardliners in her husband’s administration. She wanted peace to be his legacy. In Finale, and perhaps in real life, it is Nancy Reagan who tipped the scales in favor of a pact with the Soviet Union.
Consider her maneuver at the 1987 state dinner for Mikhail and Raisa Gorbachev. Mrs. Regan paid careful attention to the political implications of the seating chart. According to then-White House Social Secretary Gahl Hodges Burt, Mrs. Reagan purposefully sat United Nations Ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick to Reagan’s right. The reactionary Kirkpatrick was a staunch foe of detente. To the Soviets, her presence at President Reagan’s side was “a visible sign of the country’s unity” in favor of the treaty. [via Entertaining at the White House with Nancy Reagan]
Though not apparent at the time, the treaty and state dinner ushered in an era of relative tranquility in a turbulent world. Even though its significance is best appreciated in retrospect, the state dinner was nevertheless a hot ticket in Washington. It was one of those evenings in which luminaries actively campaigned for invitations and made excuses to leave town if not included. The event was easily the most talked-about event since the 1985 dinner for the Prince and Princess of Wales (and of far greater significance to history).
Image Credit: Entertaining at the White House with Nancy Reagan
"The President turned to me and asked: 'Is that a Givenchy you're wearing?'"
--Princess Grace of Monaco, 1965, via the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum
The photograph of Princess Grace visiting the White House was taken during an informal luncheon in the Kennedys' private rooms. For an audio recording of Princess Grace's recollection of that day, check out this nifty animation at Blank on Blank.
Jacqueline Kennedy and Princess Grace's paths would cross again. As Mrs. Aristotle Onassis, Jacqueline was connected to Monaco by her new husband's business ties to the principality. When Onassis died and Jacqueline became a book editor, one of her early projects was the Princess Grace-authored My Book of Flowers, a rare signed copy of which is currently available via Nick Harvill Libraries.
"I believe that all presidents feel isolated at one time or another. So if you can’t go out into the world as much as you’d like, it’s important to bring the world to you."
--Nancy Reagan, Entertaining at the White House
Photo Credit: Nancy Reagan, A First Lady's Style; See Also: Dresses from the Collection of Diana, Princess of Wales
"Democracy is sort of an arrangement, isn’t it?"
--Diana Vreeland (as quoted by John Fairchild in The Fashionable Savages)
At age seventy-eight, Diana Vreeland performed a curtsy so magnificent and deep that it might have sent even someone even half her age toppling to the ground. It suggests that though she considered democracy just an arrangement, she viewed a monarchy as a god-given right. Note the perplexed look of Jerry Zipkin whose turn is apparently next. He must be wondering how he could even begin to compete. The image is from Entertaining at the White House with Nancy Reagan.