At long last, the glamorous and poignant saga of Elsa Maxwell is coming to a bookshop near you…. “Party Girl: The Elsa Maxwell Story” by Rosemary Kent…. “Elsa knew where the bodies were buffed,” said Kent.
–William Norwich, in the New York Daily News
You’re at an intimate dinner party. The guest on your left is under the blacktop driveway of a two-bedroom brick house in Highland Park, Michigan. How do you begin a conversation? I’m a firm believer in the old rule that one must always avoid politics and religion at the dinner table. Try instead to draw your companion out on subjects of general interest–boarded-up closets, for example. Even the dullest guest is likely to have some thoughts about them. If that fails to strike a spark, try air shafts. Chances are, you’ll be talking away in no time. If it’s a summer party, how about air-conditioning vents? Or, if you happen to be dining outside, the topic of wooded areas might be promising. If none of these seem to appeal, put on your brightest smile and turn to the guest on your right. After all, you’ve done your best.
What’s the perfect time for a party? Any time! The perfect place? The trunk of a 1975 brown Buick LeSabre in a deserted area of the Mill Basin section of Brooklyn! From a fifty-gallon drum at the bottom of the Gulf of sunny Mexico, to the foundations of the art-deco-inspired Chrysler Building, in Manhattan, to a shallow mound of fresh earth in Rambouillet Forest, southwest of romantic Paris, every successful party requires but one ingredient: people. A dear friend of mine in a field behind her house in Leeds, just 150 feet from her front door, once said to me, “Elsa–” Of course I sympathized completely. All of us may feel a bit apprehensive when we contemplate giving a big social affair. The first thing I do is make a list–something like:
Nancy and Henry Kissinger
a crawl space
four twenty-gallon plastic bags
gladiolas by the armful
a remote fishing-access site
Now that I’ve got the basic outline, I can relax and let my imagination color it in.
As I once remarked to Consuelo Vanderbilt in an unclaimed crate at the International Arrivals Building at Kennedy Airport, money and titles mean nothing to me. Character, sense of humor, charm, and dental records are what I look for in a guest. To me, a county landfill project full of dukes and millionaires is a county landfill project full of bores. At any gathering it’s the mix of personalities that makes things go. If I invite a person from the A list, I make sure to include one from the B list, one from the world of show business, one from a creek in the Bronx, one from the arts, one from a storm drain in Great Neck, and so forth. A varied crowd guarantees your party against the horrors of shop talk.
People often ask me, “Is it permissible to wear evening clothes to a gathering in the late afternoon?” “On which side of the salad fork should one place the posthole digger and scrap-metal compactor?” “Is a commercial strength of quicklime sufficient for my entertaining needs?” “Should I require my caterer to provide an estimate in advance?” “What’s in the chimney of the pharmacy on North Lincoln Avenue?” “How many cinder blocks should I allow for each unescorted woman? …. What about the narrow passageway separating the building at 684 Ralph Avenue from the adjoining building?” “What is that odd smell?” “Should I examine a double-locked steamer trunk mailed slow freight to a nonexistent address in New Orleans?” “Should I check the refuse bins of a popular theme park? The hold of a burned fishing boat off Craig, Alaska? A vacant lot on Dean Street, between Classon and Grand avenues? A rented room on West Seventy-sixth Street? The bottom of an elevator shaft in an Ozone Park housing project? The tall grass at the entry to the Hutchinson River Parkway near Bruckner Boulevard? Beneath the paving stones in the courtyard of the Via Veneto restaurant in Queens? In the wall of the men’s room of a Brooklyn veterans’ meeting hall? Under the service bay of a derelict garage in Keansburg, New Jersey?”
I always answer, “Warmer, warmer. Yes, my dears, you are getting warmer all the time.”