New York Parties Are So Over
Wake up! The party's not over
by Blair Sobol
Perhaps Norman Mailer started it all. The latest craze is giving extravagantly dull parties. The bigger and more boring the better. Nowadays the success of any party depends upon the number of people who yawn in your face as you enter or nod out as you check your coat.
What all this means I'm not quite sure. It does seem that the dopers have diminished, leaving the Quaalude crowd mixing marvelously with the kir klatch and the vogue of Valium 'n' vodka.
Maybe there was no place left to go but the Great Tune-Out in the Sky since everybody has been so into communicating their newly raised consciousness. Could it be we were all so busy talking about our "new-found" awarenesses that nobody was left to listen? Still in all it's a sad reflection when people can't even gut through a mere wave across a crowded room, let alone a short soft-spoken greeting and warm handshake, without letting their eyelids slide into half mast.
Of course the daddies of dull parties are the press parties given in festive hard-sell style for some "personality" who doesn't have any or some "event" that isn't. (Actually the originator of p.r. parties, or the creme de la creme of boredom, was the traditional deadly debutante ball.) Over the years press parties have become an art form in this city and certainly a life-style for some people. We all know that many a writer has been kept alive and well on the Bloody Maryed mornings for some author, the chicken a la king luncheons for a new lipstick, and the champagne and cheese kitsch cocktails "from 6 to 8 to meet the oldest living erotic acrobat who loves women's liberation and Linda Lovelace and is appearing at a new bar on Second Avenue called the Arm Pit." It's gotten to the point where a friend of mine has decided to do a non-book book of all these non-event event invitations. It may end up to be a history of the '60s.
Actually there was a time when press parties were exciting even if you kept seeing the same media moguls and friends. No one cared if you got smashed or stoned and didn't know why you were there. And no one noticed that you ended up running the press kit verbatim. For some reason there was still a lot to talk about and connections were made. Now the scene is different and no doubt the public relations firms are really racking their brains trying to think of more creative and less catered presentations. (I just realized we do have THE prize pass-out party to look forward to -- the Bicentennial. Imagine the experience of snoozing through our own country's 200th birthday.)
The only hazard of ODing on press parties is that even those persona, non-professional-at-home-get-togethers (with people you really dig) get to be as dull. That could be the reason for recent popularity of small black tie dinners for eight. People have to do something different to elevate the communication. We've all slopped around in jeans on the floor, doping and groping each other and "grooving" to the earphones for too long. So now we'll all get dressed up and sit up at a neat round table with class, and chablis, and chrysanthemums, and Cole Porter. Or will we?
In the meantime, it's nice to see that show biz still believes in celebrating its turkeys with a lot of fancy party dressing. Last week, for instance, we ventured forth to Raffles for the "Irene" wake. Actually it was quite gay considering everyone present knew the production would get a unanimous "ho-hum" from the critics. But it doesn't matter 'cause it's Nixon's favorite show and theatre guilds have it sold out through 1977. No newspapers, tv sets, or radios were allowed at the party. It was a small closed "cast party for Debbie Reynolds, her kids, the chorus boys and their roommates, the orchestra's groupies, Debbie's hairdresser "Pinky of Tahoe," and John Lindsay. The latter was warm and consoling to Ms. Reynolds, and why not, considering he'd just announced his own closing. By 10.15 Debbie was already seated at her empty table for 12. At 11 John Lindsay had just left his own private table and strolled over to Debbie to sit and smoke a cigar. He stifled one small yawn when she turned to hug her close friend Agnes Moorehead and she did likewise when he got up to dance with one of his female dinner companions. Actually he did frug with Debbie first, to the tune of "You're So Vain," and no one bothered to clear the dance floor or take notice. After Debbie, John managed to boogie his way through five partners while Mary was rumored to have yawned four times and taken the limo back to Gracie Mansion. In fact Mary did disappear but re-appeared to usher John out the door. By that time the milk was being poured in goblets (Debbie has already made an early departure) and producer Harry Rigby was toasting designer George Halley (who's been reported out of work).
Raffles public relations director Peter Aschkenasy pronounced this a "real party" because there were "fewer people and press." (Only Time, Women's Wear Daily, Earl Wilson, Eugenia Sheppard, and The Voice?) But he did have the politeness, or perhaps the balls, to warn us that the next night's "Lost Horizon" bash at the Rainbow Room would be tedious.
Again at the Rainbow Room it was nice to see the immediate 500 guests (stoned out stars, uncomfortably cummerbunded Columbia producers, and their kaftaned secretaries) celebrate the critical panning and the probable commercial success of the film. Agnes Moorehead proved she was a real person by wearing the same rhinestoned salmon chiffon dress she'd worn the previous evening. Hermoine Gingold stood outside the door muffling an "I've-been-through-all-this-before-and-I-certainly-hope-not" answer to someone's question about this party being Shangri-la. Two mysterious midgets wandered around the tables stealing the free bottles of Kiffir colognes and menus. We were told they were the "Shangralettes" but that they didn't sing. John Gielgud didn't show at all, but maybe the lobotomy level got to him between acting in "Lost Horizon" and directing "Irene." Huntington Hartford was not there but Teresa Wright was. Sally Kellerman stood under the Rainbow Room's cardboard Himalayan Arches stating to the exploding flash-bulbs, "Yes, I did leave tonight's premiere after 10 minutes...and yes by the front door." But she didn't bother to say why and no one cared to find out. Someone introduced star James Shigeta (who plays Brother To-Lenn) as Don Ho and Shigeta didn't correct it; he just returned the greeting with a yawn professionally hidden under a smile.
The menu was an elaborate folder filled with engraved titled entrees like Gulai Udang Dengan Labu Kunig (shrimp and rice) and something called a "Horizon Bouqet," of which one well-rehearsed waiter said: "Eat the Horizon Bouquet and you'll turn into Charles Boyer." And that could have been true, since everyone looked and acted like they had aged 100 years.
True, it's unfair to take pot shots at parties since giving bad parties is much easier than giving good ones. But I do feel that parties are still the best atmospheres (next to lobbies, airports, train stations, and Bloomingdale's) to study people -- their awkwardness, self-promotion, and yes their style of yawns. But if these and other recent bashes are any indication of social interaction, it might be time for a little more solitary confinement. As one exhausted and disgusted partygoer sighed as he was leaving the Rainbow, "Thank God I don't have to go to these for a living. I'd much rather read about them. Jesus, last night's was 'Goodnight Irene' and tonight is definitely 'Get Lost...Horizon.'"
[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]