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15
May 10
Sat

The art of the State dinner

Vanity Fair has a fascinating article about the role that State dinners play, all the protocol and diplomacy that underlies them, and how each President brings their own style to these dinner party-of-dinner parties.

Like most presidential couples, both Nixons reviewed the seating plan for state dinners once the social secretary had made up a preliminary chart. According to Breathitt, “Henry Kissinger was in on the seating, too.” The national-security adviser, who was then a bachelor, was clear about his preferences. “One day I walked upstairs to the second floor of the East Wing,” says Breathitt, “and coming out of the men’s room there was Henry Kissinger with Anatoly Dobrynin, the Russian ambassador during the pits of the Cold War. Henry grabbed me and said, ‘Anatoly, this woman will be the death of me. She seated me next to a 98-year-old crone last night who had no teeth.’ So I said, ‘Phoo on you. That was the foreign minister’s wife, and you need to sit next to someone with dignity and rank.’ He said, ‘I know everything! Bring out the beautiful spies who will torture all these things out of me!’ Dobrynin said, ‘Never seat him next to beautiful women. I cannot do a thing with him the next day when you’ve seated him next to a beautiful woman.’ So that became the challenge: Henry was always seated next to whoever was the prettiest on the guest list. If we didn’t know who was the prettiest or see any likely candidate, the military social aides were told at their briefings that they were to report back on the cleavage factor, and we would then have a massive reshuffling of place cards. It finally came to the point where [White House chief of staff] Bob Haldeman told me that if I ever seated Henry next to a beautiful woman again I’d be fired.”

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