Party Power Why society loves Ann Draper

She calls herself “the social secretary of Dallas,” admittedly a self-appointed title, but one that seems fitting for Ann Draper, who makes her living off the social elite. As she has each year for more than a decade, Draper will coordinate this fall’s social season, allowing Dallas’ young socialites to waltz with minimal effort through 135 debutante parties in less than four months.

From her first floor Party Service in Preston Tower, Draper will arrange for anything a party – giver might want, short of picking up the guests and driving them to the scene of the soiree. She’ll arrange for a suitable ballroom, perhaps Brook Hollow Golf Club or the Fairmont’s Regency Room. She’ll provide for catering, music, bartenders, waitresses, decorations and car parkers. Through her husband Jim, who deals with these vendors, Draper’s power or patronage gives her considerable clout. The vendors are not likely to talk about their relationships with the Drapers, which are conducted very much on the Drapers’ terms. The real mainstay of Party Service, though, is its invitation service.

Almost any bigtime Dallas socialite is likely to hire Draper’s Party Service to handle invitations. That means providing the printed invitations of course, as well as addressing them (you can always tell a Draper envelope – the handwritten lines are flush right), mailing the invitations and keeping track of RSVPs. Draper also might consult with a hostess on whom she’s inviting to the party, to ensure that no one important has been overlooked, and that the right mixture of personalities will be present, an ingredient essential for success. If necessary, she might even do some matchmaking. Draper has lists of acceptable young men and women who want to attend the fall social events, and will match dates from her lists, notifying a young man of his date for a given evening.

In short, Draper makes her living doing what well-heeled hostesses don’t want to fiddle with – handling the arrangements. She provides a good service at a reasonable price, and because of this, has turned what once was a part-time business, operating out of her predecessors’ homes, into a full-time occupation. Along the way, she has built up a near monopoly in the local party planning business, which may explain why Ann Draper is adamantly opposed to any publicity about her business.

For years Draper hasn’t had to dodge publicity. Somehow it was impolitic at the newspapers to write about Party Service. It remains so at the News, but the Times Herald’s attitude has changed. About a year ago Herald society writer Wanda McDaniel telephoned Draper to announce that she intended to write a Sunday story about Draper’s matchmaking service. Draper exploded, then began calling Herald executives, including publisher Tom Johnson. Although she failed to get the story killed, her angry telephone calls aided the Herald, whose executives took notes from their conversations with Draper, which wound up in the Sunday story. Things haven’t changed in the last year either – when asked if she’d talk to D Magazine about Party Service, Draper responded with a resounding “No!”

The truth is that Ann Draper doesn’t need any publicity. She has a firm grip on the local party business, which has allowed her to rise to a position of considerable influence, from humble beginnings in Ovilla, Texas, a few miles south, of Dallas. She spent several years at Bethel College in McKenzie, Tennessee, before dropping out to marry Dallasite Jim Draper. She later became the society reporter for the Gastonia, North Carolina, Gazette, and in 1955, society writer for the News. Draper left the News after nine years to take over Party Service, a business which has been owned for many years by a series of Dallas socialites, operating part-time out of their homes. Draper, who was not a socialite, turned it into a full-time business, and has skillfully built it up ever since.

Technically, Draper is a hired hand, but attends Draper-planned parties to keep an eye on things. Once a prominent host caused quite a scene by reminding Draper of her status, when he suggested that once everything was in order, she shouldn’t stick around for his party – Draper left fuming. Hired hand or not though, Ann Draper does exert considerable influence in society. Besides her background as a former society writer, which was a nice entree to the party business, her current influence stems from three sources. The basic source is her social calendar. If you want to throw any sort of major party during the debutante season, you’d better check with Draper to ensure that the chosen night is open, and that your party is placed on her calendar, lest another party be scheduled for the same date. Naturally the calendar gives Draper a convenient exposure to potential business.

Draper’s close association with the city’s four men’s social clubs furnishes her most valuable tie to the debutante business. Her Party Service office is the mailing address for the clubs, and depending upon the arrangement with a club’s officers in a given year, she might keep the club’s roll, bill its dues, collect the money and keep the books – all for a nominal fee. Naturally she is hired to handle practically all of their parties.

Her most valuable connection is with Idlewild, the oldest and most prestigious men’s club. Each year Idlewild officers visit prominent local families in search of young ladies willing to become debutantes. Ann Draper serves as an adviser to this process, guiding the young men toward families which might want their daughters to make their debuts, and steering them away from families who for one reason or another, shouldn’t be approached. (At times her role in steering them away from certain families has proved invaluable. More than once she’s saved the young men from venturing into embarrassing situations.)

Her third source of influence comes directly from Idlewild’s selection of debutantes. Draper automatically becomes den mother to the debs, holding meetings of the girls and their mothers, advising them on topics ranging from what clothing will be needed for the social season, to cautioning them about talking to reporters. This den mother role leads much of the debutante party business to Draper’s doorstep.

What Draper really does for Dallas society is to provide continuity from year to year, in which traditions, the rock upon which society is built, are honored. For the stars of the season, the debutantes themselves, the deb season is a one-time voyage, which Draper can make a smooth and safe passage, year in and year out. For the deb’s parents, who are likely to spend $25,000 or more for their daughter’s ball, Draper can ensure a social success – that their party will be the equal of other similar parties that season. And for the hundreds of young people who don’t throw parties but merely attend them, Draper’s escort list provides a ticket to social affairs.

Ann Draper has one other sideline – publishing a directory of Dallas’ social elite. The Dallas Social Directory contains individual listings of more than 2,000 prominent Dallasites, who somehow are chosen by Draper and an invisible “advisory committee.” The directory’s listings include Ann and Jim Draper (occupation – “public relations”). She’s come a long way from Ovilla.

Fifty No-Nos for Social Climbers

Living in Oak Cliff

Wearing a leisure suit

Misspelling Erik Jonsson’s name

Serving rosé wine

Leaving an “I Found It” bumper sticker on your car

Collecting Terry & Garry styrofoam cups

Shopping at Titche’s for your underwear

Moving to Abilene so you can become a member of Junior League and transfer it back to Dallas

Asking for seconds at the Woman’s Club

Driving a Rolls with a burned-outheadlight

Jogging in public

Joining Brookhaven Country Club

Throwing too big a party to celebrate getting your child in Trinity Christian Academy

Shopping at Big Town

Calling it Brook Hollow CountryClub

Being a trustee at Texas Tech

Displaying an unautographed copy of Minding the Store

Calling Charlie Bob

Calling BobCharlie

Not knowing who Charlie and Bob are

Tipping the car parkers in change (use bills)

Running for public office and losing

Talking about your debut in Wichita Falls

Being spotted shopping at Margie’s

Using a rolled up dollar bill to snort coke

Collecting Depression glass

Taking someone to eat at DAC downtown

Not knowing who “Lord Byron” is Hosting a party for Ben Barnes Grocery shopping in a fresh tennis dress

Being a Headliner at the Press Club Gridiron Show

Saying “tacky” and “the pits” Wearing fake Guccis or Guccis that look like fake Guccis

Flying first class to Houston (it’s tack

Wearing an epaulet shirt

Having pix of yourself and famo people in your den (Bob Strauss and Barbara Jordan are okay; Wes Wise isn’t)

Shopping Simon David in person

Having diet reminders stuck on your frig door with ladybug magnets (the absolute pits!)

Announcing plans to be buried in Laurel Land

Calling Jasper Johns John Jaspers Having your late father’s portrait done by Dmitri Vail

Taking your wife to a 10 a.m. showing of Behind the Green Door

Using Neiman-Marcus labels so long they go out of style

Carrying a gold Amex card

Displaying a life-size photo of your wife as a deb, 23 years later

Wearing an elephant hair bracelet made of elephant hair

Being on a bowling team

Playing backgammon in a singles bar

Having personalized license plates saying “UT” anything

Saying you helped with this list


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