- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 19, 2005

“Social climbing is like murder: They are both processes of elimination.”

— Jane Stanton Hitchcock

THE EVENT: Thursday’s reception in honor of Jane Stanton Hitchcock hosted by Kuwaiti Ambassador Salem al-Sabah and his wife, Rima, at their residence.

THE SCENE: Air perfumed by massive floral arrangements and the sight of red rose petals floating serenely in the Alhambraesque indoor courtyard fountain were sure to soothe sensibilities after limo gridlock and a half-hour receiving line at the end of a 90-degree day. The powerful, the literary, the fashionable, the merely rich exchanged greetings without touching lips to cheek (much too sticky) as they mixed, mingled and eyeballed the competition in between visits to the lavish Middle Eastern and dessert buffets.

WHO WAS THERE: When one of the capital’s most popular and hospitable diplomatic couples host a book party for a friend with solid power elite connections in both Washington and New York, you can be sure the guest list will be top-notch, and it was: Joyce Rumsfeld, Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer, Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta, Housing Secretary Alphonso R. Jackson, former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and his wife, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, journalists Nora O’Donnell, Claire Shipman and Jim Hoagland (Mrs. Hitchcock’s husband); Susan Eisenhower, Lucky Roosevelt, Debbie Dingell, Leo and Grega Daly, Diane Williams, Polly Kraft, George and Liz Stevens, Kate Lehrer and the ambassadors of Sweden, Singapore, the Netherlands, Portugal, Bolivia, Hungary, Finland and Cyprus among others too numerous to mention.

THE BUZZ: “It’s a really great read, the beach book of the summer,” Mrs. al-Sabah enthused when asked about Mrs. Hitchcock’s “One Dangerous Lady,” a whodunit specializing in money, mayhem, madness and murder among New York’s billionaire set. You know the type: nouveau riche mega-moguls and their couture-clad wives who think nothing of maintaining 25-room Fifth Avenue triplexes with lapis lazuli floors, $35 million Gulfstream jets, and 200-foot yachts with 30 in crew. The sort who would kill, and I do mean kill, to get on the boards of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Metropolitan Opera, or get invited to a weekend party at the right English country house.

GUESSING GAME: Speculating who’s who in a roman a clef is always fun and it provided titillating conversation, especially among guests who had already read the book.

Starting with the “Dangerous Lady” herself, of course, who stops at nothing to manipulate her way to the top of the international social ladder. More than a few thought she was modeled after Lily Safra, who inherited fabulous wealth after the untimely deaths of two husbands. Others say it could be Mercedes Bass, the glamorous second wife of Texas billionaire Sid Bass.

And what about conservative-turned-liberal activist Arianna Huffington, once married to wealthy investor Michael Huffington?

“Oh, I hope so,” Elizabeth Frawley Bagley, a former diplomat active in Democratic Party fundraising circles, said with a smile. “All my liberal friends love her and say she has changed, but I don’t believe it.

EASIER PICKS: Dominick Dunne, the inspiration for sleuthing journalist Larry Lockett (who covers murder cases involving famous people for a magazine called Vanitas). Also Robert Maxwell, the late publishing magnate who, like the novel’s fabulously rich art collector Russell Cole, falls (or is pushed) from the deck of his yacht.

“And of course the Taubmans,” financier Marc Leland offered (meaning former Sotheby’s owner Alfred Taubman and his wife, Judy, a former Miss Israel) just before Jacqueline Leland suggested the controversial art-dealing Duke of Beaufort or possibly Sunny Marlborough (the current Duke of Marlborough) as likely suspects for the book’s wily and flirtatious Lord Max Vermilion. Another in-the-know guest insisted Lord Jacob Rothschild was a better candidate.

DISCLAIMER NOTED: The author carefully maintains that the dramatis personae in her fourth novel are not crafted after any specific persons (Mr. Dunne perhaps excepted), but are carefully crafted composites. Nonetheless, one of the models for June Kahn, a notorious gossip, did call her up recently to mention just how much the character annoyed her.

“Everyone recognizes another person,” Mrs. Hitchcock said with a laugh. “No one ever recognizes themselves.”

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