Monday, April 25, 2011

Reggie Recommends: These Entertaining People

I have something that I would like to share with you, Dear Reader, that I think you will enjoy.  It is a book that was recently given to me, and which now sits firmly ensconced in the pantheon of my entertaining library at Darlington House.

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

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)
    • Brunch
    • Luncheon
    • 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


  1. Hello:
    What a marvellous recommendation! This title, we feel, will make an excellent addition to our own 'society bookshelf' where it will sit very nicely alongside 'Emerald and Nancy' by Daphne Fielding, Diana Cooper's 'The Rainbow Comes and Goes' and, of course, the totally amusing and very practical 'Noblesse Oblige' by Nancy Mitford.

    Dressing for dinner, the theatre, the opera and Private Views are still de rigeur in Budapest which suits us very well. The Hell which you mention has not quite broken out here yet, although is in full sway in Brighton.

    We are thrilled to learn that standards are upheld at Darlington House.

  2. Reggie, what a find! Where did you come across this gem? More importantly, why haven't I come across this gem? The search is on!

  3. Jane and Lance Hattat: Thank you, I am sure you will enjoy it, given what is already on your shelf. One does adore Diana Cooper's autobiography and also Noblesse Oblige (one's bible when it comes to U-speak).

    BruttiBuoni: I believe copies are available on Alibris.

  4. Entertaining with Elegance: A Complete Guide for Every Woman Who Wants to be the Perfect Hostess on All Occasions, by Genevieve Antoine Dariaux.

    Her other book, Elegance: A Complete Guide for Every Woman Who Wants to be Well and Properly Dressed on All Occasions, was re-issued a few years ago, and funnily enough, a novel was made out of it, too.

  5. I am particularly interested in the special occasion menu for "The Sporting Life"

  6. The book sounds wonderful! I can guess several possibilities for Mrs. Parish's formal luncheon table setting, but it would have been interesting to see what she would have stated as a menu in those days. At the Duchess of Windsor auction, I left a bid on the leather and cardboard table setting guides, but lost out when all went for many times the estimates.

  7. I'll get right on it! It sounds like a perfect hostess present.

  8. Which Noblesse Oblige? Do you mean the volume by Nancy Mitford?

  9. This looks great!

    I have a few vintage cookbooks on my shelves of cookbooks (You might want to visit my food blog, Bruce's Kitchen!):

    The Bible Cookbook, Marian Maeve O'Brien
    Macy's Salad & Desert Book, Mabel Claire
    Food for Two, Ida Bailey Allen
    Harvest of American Cooking, Mary Margaret McBride

  10. Good idea to preserve these books and the quality of life they propose. Today I consulted Google to find out how one should dress for an afternoon wedding in June. The morning suit is worn here in contemporary Italy for these occasions even though the party goes on after dark—I must admit I have trouble with that. A helpful site said that I should wear a good pair of khaki pants and a button down collar shirt and that I should follow the mood of the day: if no one is wearing a sports jacket well then leave it in the car.

  11. Although I'm supposed to be "on break" I couldn't resist checking in and finding this wonderful suggestion. Leave it to Reggie to come up with an entertaining book I don't already have.

    The only one that I can think of is Betsey Bloomindale's book although I can't recall the name. Nan Kempner has a good one too although I dont know if you would call vintage.

    The Smith's were often spotted at the Havana Country Club, one of the fine perks of being an ambassador. They were both very "helpful" to their Cuban friends after the revolution. He was later a mayor of Palm Beach. Should be an interesting book. Cant wait to get my hands on it.

  12. Dear Mr. Darling,

    Sounds like a fun read, however, I'm a little uneasy taking Helen Cole's advice on utilizing plastic flowers as a centerpiece. If fresh flowers are not available, my advice would be to use fresh fruits massed in compotes or bowls. Anything, dear God, but plastic flowers! Am I alone here?

  13. Thank you for this marvelous post. I quickly ordered the book and can't wait to dive in.

    One of my all time favorite gardening books is James Bartholomew's (British journalist) "Yew and Non-Yew: Gardening for Horticultural Climbers" published in 1996 and available at Amazon. A sampling:

    Top Three Yew Features: 1-Knot garden, 2-Potager, 3-Rooms divided by yew hedges. Top Three Non-Yew Features: 1-Concrete frog in rowing boat 2-Blue naked lady ready-made fountain 3-White plastic Grecian urns.

  14. Reggie --

    Oh, come on.

    Celebrating Jack Kennedy's limitless adulteries is no possible occasion for an expression of taste.


  15. Dear Reggie, this book sounds amazing! I'm off to track down a copy!

    Of course I love Nancy and Diana but as entertaining cookbooks go I love a book that is out of print but still possible to get hold of called Darling you shouldn't have gone to so much trouble by Anna Haycraft and Caroline Blackwood.

    Have a great rest of the week xx

  16. My favorite vintage entertaining book is the notebook my great-aunt kept as a USAF officer's wife in Bangkok in the early 60's, complete with seating charts, menus, recipes, and notes about which wine General X prefers, and which desserts his wife can't stand. Must scan it in one of these days... it needs to be on the Internet!

  17. Lovely blog!
    I found your site while searching, "These Entertaining People"- trying to find a fair market value for the book as I must unload some of the thousands of books I have collected over the years. My copy does not have the dust jacket- a pity as the picture of yours is beautiful.. My book is, however, in good condition. If any of your fans are interested in purchasing it, they can contact me at (BTW, I am not a bookseller, just an ordinary person.)
    Keep up the fabulous blog!


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