Called These Entertaining People: A Guide for the Elegant Hostess, it was written by Florence Pritchett Smith, also known as Mrs. Earl E. T. Smith, and was published by Macmillan in 1965. It is a delightful, information-packed guide to entertaining and to life exquisitely lived along the New York/Southampton/Palm Beach axis back when people still dressed for dinner and when society columns still appeared in newspapers. In other words, before all Hell broke loose.
It's really rather delicious.
My dear friend Bitsy Adams gave it to me when she came to stay with us at Darlington House several weeks ago. Bitsy arrived with the book perfectly and beautifully wrapped, and she was quite pleased to make a present of it to me, as she was confident that I would appreciate it. And Bitsy was correct. But I didn't just appreciate it—I loved it! And I think you will, too.
|Mrs. Earl E. T. Smith|
photo from the book's dust jacket
Florence Pritchett Smith, the book's author, was quite the lady: a former model, society gal about town, radio and television personality, columnist, wife to America's Ambassador to Cuba during that country's revolution, onetime JFK girlfriend, and partygoer and giver extraordinaire. According to some of the accounts I read while researching this essay, Mrs. Smith and President Kennedy remained more than "just friends" long after each had married others, a dalliance eased at times by the convenience of having adjoining houses in Palm Beach, a town known for knowing how to have fun.
|Florence Pritchett with John F. Kennedy at the Stork Club, 1944|
Photograph courtesy of Spartacus Educational
But it is not for the Kennedy connection that I find this book interesting or recommend it to you, Dear Reader. No, it is for the merits of the book on its own. These Entertaining People is a delightfully chatty read and is chock-a-block with the author's excellent advice, observations, and helpful tips for throwing successful parties, from intimate informal luncheons to large black-tie dinner dances. The book also includes anecdotes about and recipes from a heady list of American and European society figures, fashionable decorators, and media personalities of the day.
|Florence Pritchett with actor Robert Walker at El Morocco, 1945|
Photograph courtesy of robertwalkertribute.com
Although some of what Mrs. Smith writes in her book seems somewhat quaint in today's post-women's liberation world, most of what she has to say still resonates when it comes to the subject of being a thoughtful, generous, and caring host (or hostess). One can learn a great deal from Mrs. Smith, and not just about entertaining at the most elite level, either, but also on a more accessible one for today's readers, too. She writes with authority and clearly knows her subject intimately and thoroughly. But she is not just a self-appointed arbiter of such matters: the editors at Life Magazine considered her to have hosted one of the top 100 most-memorable parties of the twentieth century, the Cuban Fiesta Ball she threw at the Waldorf-Astoria in 1958, during her husband's ambassadorship.
|Florence Pritchett Smith poolside in Palm Beach, 1956|
Photograph courtesy of TimeLife Images
Here's are the chapters in her book:
- Good Food Is Worthy of Love (in which the author basically says the way to a man's heart is through his stomach)
- Creating the Perfect Menu (including the author's helpful tips on what does and doesn't work)
- The Importance of the Setting (in which the author rightly opines that it isn't just about food)
- Table Settings by Decorators (including suggested table settings from each of the following)
- Keith Irvine: Informal Luncheon Settings
- Mrs. Henry Parrish II: Formal Luncheon Tables (aka "Sister")
- Vincent Fourcade: Informal Dinner Tables
- William Baldwin: Black-Tie Dinners (that's Billy Baldwin)
- Valerian Rybar: A Pink-and-White Plan for an Outdoor Black-Tie Dinner Dance
- Helen Cole: Changeable Centerpieces (who recommends using plastic flowers when fresh ones aren't available!)
- Famous Hosts and Hostesses: Their Favorite Menus (including the author's stories about and recipes from each of the following, among others)
- Mrs. Gianni Agnelli (aka Marella)
- The Late Madame Jacques Balsan (born Consuelo Vanderbilt)
- Cecil Beaton, Esquire
- The Marchioness of Blandford (born Tina Livanos)
- Countess Consuelo Crespi (the American-born editor of Vogue Italia)
- Mrs. Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. (aka Mary-Lee)
- Princess Irene Galitzine (the White Russian princess couturier)
- Mrs. Winston F. C. Guest (aka CZ)
- Mrs. Loel Guinness (aka Gloria)
- Mrs. Leland Hayward (aka Pamela Digby Churchill Hayward Harriman)
- Mrs. Henry J. Heinz II (aka Drue)
- The Duke of Marlborough (known as "Sunny," but thought to be anything but)
- Mrs. William S. Paley (aka Babe)
- Mrs. T. Reed Vreeland (aka Diana, the legendary editor of Vogue)
- Mrs. John Hay Whitney (aka Betsey)
- The Duchess of Windsor (aka "That Woman!")
- Menus Remembered (including the author's observations, menus, and selected recipes for)
- Informal Dinners
- Black-Tie Dinners
- Dinner Dances
- Midnight Suppers
- Special Occasions: Tea, Cocktail Parties, the Sporting Life, Debutante Parties
- How to Plan a Wine Cellar
- Gourmets and Gastronomy: Historical Anecdotes
For those of my readers who are interested in entertaining and living the good life, Reggie highly recommends that you find yourself a copy of Mrs. Smith's book, read it cover to cover, and take it to heart. Not only is it full of excellent suggestions and good ideas and tips, it is well written and often amusing, too. The author comes across as a delightful and engaging person, full of common sense and fun, and someone that Reggie would have been delighted to know and count as his friend.
Tell me, do you have a favorite vintage entertaining book in your library?
Photographs of These Entertaining People by Boy Fenwick
Photographs of These Entertaining People by Boy Fenwick