Party Crashing in DC: The Salahis Were Not the First by Gregory Hilton

Tareq and Michaele Salahi today canceled their joint appearance on Monday’s Larry King Live as well as a “press junket.” The junket was organized by public relations spokesman Mahogany Jones, and it is term usually reserved for top Hollywood stars on the day a new movie is released. It involves back to back interviews with prominent print and broadcast news outlets in the same location.
We do not know what will happen to the Salahis, but they have already been inducted into the media hall of fame. The news media has been staked out at the bottom of their driveway for the past 48 hours. They are now one of only a handful of couples to be the focus of major front page stories in The New York Times and Washington Post for two days in a row. They are also the first couple in history to attend a White House State Dinner without an invitation, but they are not the first to crash an exclusive DC event.
I have some perspective on this because of my development work for various non-profit organizations. An unexpected interloper does increase your overhead costs, but many organizations are more concerned about offending some big wig.
A few major donors and prominent government officials do not RSVP or they decide to attend at the last moment. You do not want them turned away at the door, and I have seen guards chastised for denying entry to our local potentates, even though their names were not on the guest list. I have also seen the same party crashers at numerous events. It must be a hobby for them.
I do not want to embarrass anyone so the stories I will relay are from the distant past. Then Congressman Robert Hanrahan (R-IL) crashed a 1974 dinner at the British Embassy in honor of HRH Prince Philip. Only top members of the foreign policy establishment were invited, and the attendees included Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Hanrahan thought the UK Ambassador would be reluctant to toss out a Member of Congress, and he was correct.
The Truman White House had a frequent uninvited guest during his first term. Her name was often not on the list of attendees, but the Secret Service always granted access to Perle Mesta, who was known to be a good friend of the First Family. The Chief Usher mentioned the problem to Mrs. Truman, and was assured he had made the right decision.
The satirical Broadway musical “Call Me Madam” (1950) by Irving Berlin was inspired by Perle Mesta’s life. The play staring Ethel Merman won four Tony Awards, and it was made into a 1953 movie with Merman once again in the lead.
A wealthy widow with no children, she moved to Washington, D.C. in 1940 and quickly attracted attention with elaborate parties. Her spectacular soirées became popular with DC’s power crowd.
Press reports indicate that Harry Truman played the piano at one event, and Dwight Eisenhower sang at another. When asked by the Washington Post to explain her social success, Mrs. Mesta replied, “Just have a $1 million house and hang a lamb chop in the window.”
The phrase “Hostess with the Mostes” from the play was most frequently used to describe Mrs. Mesta. She made the cover of Time magazine where she was identified as a “Washington Hostess.”
Mrs. Mesta was Co-Chairman of Truman’s 1949 Inaugural Ball, and that same year he appointed her Ambassador to Luxembourg. This was only the third time a woman was given a foreign diplomatic post.
She returned to DC after Eisenhower’s election and quickly became an intimate of the GOP administration. Few people today have her skill in transcending party lines, and she was able to accomplish this because her gatherings were rarely partisan. The parties stopped in 1956 when she sold her magnificent Spring Valley home (The Elms) to Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson (D-TX). LBJ was still residing at The Elms when he became President, and the home is now owned by the Syrian Ambassador.

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