- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 22, 2011

President Obama recently honored Chinese President Hu Jintao with a lavish state dinner at the White House. It was the first state dinner for China in 13 years, since President Clinton welcomed President Jiang Zemin in October 1997. This week, the List looks at some notable state dinners.

  • Barack Obama —  Tareq and Michaele Salahi, polo promoters and aspiring reality-TV stars from Northern Virginia, crashed the state dinner honoring Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India and his wife on Nov. 24, 2009. The Salahis, who were not invited and not included on the official guest list, posted photographs on Facebook of them standing with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. at the event. It was President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama’s first state dinner.
  • George W. BushMr. Bush had the fewest state dinners of any postwar president. The first state dinner by President Bush and first lady Laura Bush was a banquet in honor of President Vicente Fox of Mexico on Sept. 5, 2001. Guests watched fireworks set off on the South Lawn. Dessert was a spectacular 18-inch-high dome of mango and coconut ice cream, with an edible flowering hibiscus plant, complete with hummingbird.
  • Bill Clinton —  Mr. Clinton and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton did the tango at a state dinner for Argentine President Carlos Menem, on Jan. 11, 1999, a month after the House had impeached Mr. Clinton and a month before the Senate acquitted him. On Oct. 4, 1994, the Clintons honored South African President Nelson Mandela in one of the largest state dinners ever held at the White House.
  • George H.W. Bush —  Mr. Bush honored Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in his first state dinner, on June 6, 1989. After Mr. Bush quipped about the Harvard-Yale football game in the toast, Ms. Bhutto responded: “Ladies and gentlemen, I studied at Harvard, and believe me, I didn’t know until tonight that Yale ever produced charming men. I’m glad I met the only one.”
  • Ronald Reagan —  When Reagan honored Venezuelan President Luis Herrera Campins on Nov. 17, 1981, singer Robert Goulet surprised the crowd with a nightclub-act performance as he walked the floor with a microphone. “All I need is a girl,” he sang, looking into Barbara Bush’s eyes. In front of first lady Nancy Reagan, he swooned: “That face, that face, it just isn’t fair, You must excuse me if I stare.”
  • Jimmy Carter  — At Mr. Carter’s first state dinner, on Feb. 14, 1977, daughter Amy Carter’s Siamese cat, Misty Malarky Ying Yang, sneaked down the grand staircase moments before Mr. Carter and his honored guest, President of Mexico Jose Lopez Portillo, descended to greet the 100 guests in the East Room. No hard liquor was served, and the menu was entirely in English instead of having French descriptions of the food.
  • Richard M. Nixon —  Mr. Nixon and first lady Pat Nixon gave more state dinners than any other first couple. “I believe I produced 76,” social secretary Lucy Winchester Breathitt, told Vanity Fair. Nixon was particular about where people sat at his state dinners. Concerning Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, he noted in a memo: “Henry should not always be put next to the most glamorous woman present.  It’s starting to cause unfavorable talk that serves no useful purpose.”
  • Lyndon B. Johnson —  Johnson’s first state dinner, on Dec. 29, 1963, was for West German Chancellor Ludwig Erhard. It had been scheduled by the Kennedy White House. With the nation still mourning John F. Kennedy’s assassination, Johnson moved the dinner to his ranch in Stonewall, Texas. Texas-raised concert pianist Van Cliburn performed at the party.
  • John F. Kennedy —  Kennedy’s dinner for King Zahir of Afghanistan on Sept. 5, 1963, was the first one ever planned for the Rose Garden and is said to have been the first to have a fireworks display.
  • Theodore Roosevelt — Roosevelt hosted a stag dinner for Prince Henry of Prussia, the brother of Kaiser Wilhelm II, in February 1902.
  • Grover Cleveland —  Cleveland gave a candlelit dinner for the King of Spain’s daughter in 1893.
  • Rutherford B. Hayes —  Hayes’ state dinner for Russian Grand Dukes Alexis and Constantine, sons of Czar Alexander II in 1877 featured filets de boeuf a la Richelieu and punch au kirsch.
  • Ulysses S. Grant —  Grant hosted the first White House state dinner when he honored King Kalakaua of Hawaii on Dec. 12, 1874. According to Barry H. Landau’s book “The President’s Table”, there were just 36 guests but “as many as 29 courses”, all French.

Compiled by John Haydon

Sources: “The White House’s Dinner Theater” by Bob Colacello in Vanity Fair, June 2010. The Baltimore Sun, Austin American-Statesman, “The President’s Table” by Barry H. Landau, the White House Historical Association, The Washington Post, the New York Times, www.presidency.ucsb.edu, www.jfklibrary.org.