Of Home Entertaining Of Various Sorts



This, our annual “social” issue, reminds me that I have a problem. While Jack and I go to a million benefits, we don’t entertain at home much. Like never—unless we’re giving a party for our godson Doug Herman who is finally getting married. In fact, we pulled that one off in a hurricane—without a generator! But our caterer Andy Burke, bless him, brought a portable one just in case.

Things are so bad that when I asked Jack what he wanted for his eightieth birthday, he said: “Friends here for dinner.” So, guilt-stricken, I called ten of our closest pals and told them I had to have them over. They laughed—and came.

Some people are naturals at home entertaining, like our former neighbors Betty and John Burke (parents of aforementioned caterer). Once they persuaded Hugo Koehler, a big guy with Dick Tracy features, to dress up as Shirley Temple and sing “On the Good Ship Lollipop;” but bounding into the living room, he cracked a giant lollipop on the ceiling and it rained down sticky pieces on us. We also played after-dinner poker there. Jack and I would bring our poker tablecloth imprinted with a large nude woman, and players anted their chips over strategic places.

Mary and Neil Gilliatt’s dinner parties were elegant. They did their own cooking (Mary, I’m sure, in high heels) and Neil smoked the trout and turkey. The staff served it formally—at candlelit tables exquisitely set with the proper silver for every dish, crystal finger bowls and centerpieces of yellow roses from their garden (Neil was famous for his roses). Then we’d adjourn for coffee in the living room where he would stand before the fireplace, read a bit of headline news and lead a lively discussion on said subject. With guests like Reggie Jones of GE, Enid Haupt of the New York Botanical Garden and fearless conversationalists like most of us, we had memorable exchanges.

Pam and Bob Goergen pulled out all stops for an anniversary, complete with a cartoonist to do portraits of us. Their art collection is something to behold, so we weren’t surprised to see gentlemen wired with earplugs discretely posted here and there. But we were surprised at dinner on the tented terrace when the band played “Hail to the Chief” and in walked President Bush. That is, the perfect ringer for “W”. For a while he had us buying into that phony security act, but my tablemate Mr. Republican Malcolm Pray didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

It’s all things Swedish at the Heimbolds’ lovely Christmas party—from glögg to herring salad and princess torte. Charlie, of course, was our ambassador to Sweden; and Monika, a native Swede, works closely with Her Majesty Queen Silvia on her World Childhood Foundation. The moment we all wait for is the appearance of Saint Lucy coming down the staircase singing “Santa Lucia” in white robes with a crown of candles, attended by a little girl similarly attired (but with electric candles). A talented Swedish-speaking teenager and her younger sister have also done the honors.

An aside: On a trip to Sicily, Nancy Vaughn and I found ourselves in a church gazing up at a life-sized statue of Saint Lucy holding a plate of something we decided looked like chocolate chip cookies. Later our guide Luigi explained. The bad guys had done everything to try to kill her—stabbed her, blinded her, finally burned her at the stake. So she is often depicted holding a plate on which rest her eyeballs.

Then there was an annual pig roast hosted by the American Airline pilots who rented an old Victorian house we called the Jolly Green Giant on the Frantz’s island on the water. (Unbelievably, in 1918 the house had been moved from Belle Haven to Riverside by barge.) Memories: Skydivers Curtis Wood and his father dropped in from above. A grande dame, mad that she was seated on the porch beside the only other old lady there, did her best to drink up all the gin in the place and had to be taken home. Come nightfall the pilots built a spectacular bonfire on the beach. But when some busybody from across the water in Old Greenwich reported it, the fire department arrived, their engine got stuck on the little bridge over the causeway and the firefighters were invited to stay for a beer. 

Gimmicks: That’s what you need for a good party at home. To celebrate Derby Day, Karen and Gerry Fox make sure a jockey on horseback greets their guests at the top of the driveway. Penny and Ray Foote have a friend who plays such incredible piano that even tone-deaf guests want to sing along. The Von Gontards threw a Western party where Adie, a magician of note, startled a guest by landing a white dove on top of her cowgirl hat. Edgar and Peggy Walz (now Beecher) gave unforgettable scavenger hunts, where guests had to drive all over town tracking clues before returning for dinner and the grand prize—a case of rum (miniature bottles of Mount Gay). For wedding showers, like one for Boo and Hank Huth, Jack and I relied on a palm reader named Marianne, in real life a travel agent on the Avenue. She was always on target and in character right down to her gossamer shirts and gold loop earrings.

Hmmm. We did have fun. Maybe I should crack out my hostess apron again.

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