Thursday, April 19, 2012

Entertaining with the Kennedys

There is a great write up on the Kennedy White House entertaining at the Kennedy Library.  This is what they have to say about Mrs. Kennedy’s first State Dinner:
The Kennedys gave their first state dinner on May 3, 1961, in honor of Tunisian President and Mrs. Bourguiba. Mrs. Kennedy had never before attended a state dinner at the White House but she had grown up in surroundings of formal entertaining and was not unfamiliar with the procedure. She made elaborate preparations for this one and went back into the records and read reports on state dinners that had been given by preceding Presidents and First Ladies. These reports provided a pattern and framework around which she applied her own originality. She spent hours in consultation with her capable social secretary, Letitia Baldrige, who had been a classmate at Miss Porter's School in Farmington, Connecticut. She received help and advice from the State Department Protocol Office. She conferred with the President, who took an active interest in the state dinners, and sometimes stopped by on the way from his office to the family quarters to sample the wines that were to be served at the dinner.
For the Tunisian visitors, Mrs. Kennedy selected a menu that would reflect the spring season and also be in keeping with the dietary customs of the honor guests. It consisted of:
Medallions of Cold Salmon
Roast Lamb with Vegetables
Salad and Brie Cheese
Molded Strawberry and Vanilla Ice Cream
Petits Fours

The guest list had been whittled down to ninety persons after much checking and rechecking of a master list originally compiled. Nineteen of the guests were members of the Tunisian President's cabinet or entourage and there was a similar representation from President Kennedy's cabinet and administration, plus a select group of outstanding citizens from various walks of life.

In making plans for the entertainment, Mrs. Kennedy had checked the weather forecast and was promised a clear night, but a little chilly. President and Mrs. Bourguiba arrived at the White House a few minutes before eight o'clock and had a brief visit with the Kennedys in the First Family's private quarters on the second floor of the mansion before the foursome descended the steps to the Marine Band's "Hail to the Chief."

Mrs. Kennedy wore a Grecian-style gown of pale yellow silk organza touched with brilliants. Mrs. Bourguiba, a handsome, older woman, wore a gown of blue-gray satin.
Following dinner, guests were directed outside to the South Lawn for the big surprise of the evening. It was a patriotic American military panorama staged on the South Lawn. Klieg-lights formed a stage for the parade of units from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps in a setting that was dazzling.

The setting was a natural one, with the illuminated Washington Monument rising above the trees like a bright white sentinel to the left, and the South Lawn fountain playing in the center background. The shrubbery on the grounds served as curtains to shield each unit until its turn "on stage," so that the 480 performers seemed to appear from nowhere as they marched into the light. Overhead and in the distance could be seen the twinkling lights of planes coming in for a landing at National Airport, and visible on the lawn were the mul-ticolored tulips blooming around the fountain.

President and Mrs. Kennedy and a dozen top-ranking guests watched from the second floor balcony outside the Blue Room. Mrs. Kennedy wore a mink coat over her sheer dress to ward off the 52 degree chill, and Mrs. Bourguiba wore a brocade coat collared in fur. On the terrace below sat the remaining eighty guests in chairs arranged theater-style.

Mrs. William Fulbright tried to share her mink stole with her husband, the Arkansas Senator, until military aides appeared with white blankets borrowed from the White House closets to wrap the shivering guests as they watched the brilliant performance.
The program which began just after ten o'clock ended on the dot of ten-thirty when both Presidents rose to take the final salute. President and Mrs. Kennedy, looking pleased at the apparent success of their first state dinner, escorted the state visitors back through the White House and bade them good-night at the door. The Kennedys remained at the door and shook hands with the other departing guests.

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