It wasn’t your usual book party, for sure.
The president of the United States introduced the people who introduced the author, who just happened to be the first lady and a senator-elect, on the day before the official publication of her coffee-table tome, “An Invitation to the White House: At Home With History.”
Top billing at Tuesday’s late-afternoon White House soiree, however, was given, diplomatically enough, to this year’s celebration of the 200th anniversary of the mansion. The gold, yellow and white Clinton administration Lenox china made its public debut, showing a first-time-ever representation in gold of the famous house in the middle of a gold-rimmed charger plate.
A perpetually beaming Hillary Rodham Clinton, in a salmon-pink pantsuit, used the occasion to make some lighthearted remarks to a standing-room-only crowd in the East Room about her years as the mansion’s titular overseer. She recalled the “privilege” of rejecting the idea of bringing back President Theodore Roosevelt’s big-game trophies to the State Dining Room.
“There are some downsides,” she deadpanned, “but once in a while, you can say ‘no heads on the walls.’”
In an unusual move for a party of its kind, all 375 guests were invited upstairs to peek into second-floor rooms under the watchful eye of White House curator Betty Monkton and social secretary Capricia Marshall. (A breakfast menu was displayed beside the fabled Lincoln bed.)
Another first: White House pastry chef Roland Mesnier appeared out of uniform, having been invited for the first time in 21 years to attend a White House party as a guest rather than staff.
Luminaries in line for the tour included a sizable New York contingent, among them Ladies Home Journal editor Myrna Blyth and television’s Charlie Rose. Local headliners included District Mayor Anthony A. Williams, WETA President Sharon Percy Rockefeller, former White House social secretary Ann Stock, Clinton family lawyer-agent Robert Barnett and the heads of nearly all the city’s major museums.
WAMU-FM’s Diane Rehm reported on how during an earlier live radio interview she had asked Mrs. Clinton if she thought her marriage would hold. “I think she was taken aback by that. ‘We’ll stay together,’ she said.”
National Gallery of Art Director Rusty Powell raved about the “smaller 19th-century paintings,” such as two Bierstadts hanging in a tiny second-floor hallway that are part of the White House collection. Corcoran Gallery of Art head David Levy cavalierly dismissed the craftsmanship displayed in some of the presidential portraits on view.
Not even presidential family historian Carl Sferrazza Anthony, who was on the podium alongside J. Carter Brown, treasurer of the White House Historical Association, knows who has been selected to do the official Clinton portraits. No word has come down about when or whether there will be any.