Ask just about anyone where they originally met their spouse, business partner or best friend, and seven replies out of 10 will be “at a party.” Dallas is a great party town because the legitimate-society society is hospitably structured to accept appropriately rich and ravishing new people. Likewise, members of the counterculture (or anti-society society) vigorously welcome fresh blood because they’ve already sold most of their own. With the polemic properties of this sort of setup and some exceptionally clever people in town capable of playing both sides, Dallas has a terrific party network running get-togethers year-round. So how does one get invited to the best, most delirious, sensually stimulating, mind-expanding and memorable extravaganzas of the hour? It’s easy if you’re in a truly interesting, high-paying or artistic line of work because you’re the kind of person everyone wants to see there. Pipe fitters, laundromat attendants and shipping clerks may meet some resistance unless they’ve done something acceptably outrageous, like setting themselves on fire or executing an impromptu striptease in a conspicuous place. But it’s important to remember the little maxims your mother thrust into your head when you were much younger: Don’t be too available, and don’t try too hard. You should also consider that while you can’t be too rich or too thin, you can be too drunk. The latter public service announcement is something you may or may not choose to heed. Please, just don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Party-pooped sources tell us that Dallas decorum falls into the following mindsets: Straight Money, Wild Money, Wild Money/Arts and Arts alone. You know you’ve pulled a real coup when you can be a cherished guest at all four types of parties within the same week.
Parties run in patterns, but all, it seems, begin with the same muffled car-door thrumpp, the sound of your own shoes clipping on hard pavement, and the scratchy feeling of a coat collar on your freshly-showered neck. Maybe there’s still some moisture in your ears. Perhaps the air flowing through your nose feels cold. You walk to the door. You hesitate. There’s always an edge of mystery in the air. You may think you’re going to a straight party and wind up surrounded by clouds of smoldering homegrown. You may think you’re going to a wild and crazy arty party and discover yourself surrounded by computer programmers and tiresome aviation engineers.
Parties are hard to predict but all are like sandcastles in that they’re going to wash away. The most notorious parties are etched in the memories of their participants. Here’s a rundown of some famous and infamous parties of the not-too-distant past.
First off, straight money parties are never spontaneous oh-let’s-have-some-people-in type of things. They’re scheduled well ahead of time so straight-money people can make sure they’re not going to be in Greece or Paris or Japan or West Texas when party time comes. The Crystal .Charity Ball and Dallas Museum of Fine Arts Beaux Arts Ball are the first two sizable gatherings that immediately come to most people’s minds. Then the debutante season keeps straight money well preoccupied from the Idlewild Ball in late October through the end of January. Most of these parties are ritualistic and unwaveringly stylish in the studied “couthness” of party-planner Ann Draper, Dallas’ pied piper of the party scene. The only major change occurring so far this year on the deb circuit has been the decision to serve New Zealand lamb chops for midnight breakfast at the Idlewild instead of the conventional eggs Benedict. For these people, that decision was a fairly big deal.
Among the most remembered of straight-money deb parties was one given during the Sixties for Hannah “Patches” Davis at Brook Hollow Golf Club by Mr. and Mrs. Wirt Davis II. Count Basie provided after-dinner entertainment. “It was a small group of a couple hundred old friends. It was simple and not for show like so many of the others,” says one Dallas society veteran.
“I don’t know what made it work so well,” Mrs. Wirt Davis says. “Some parties just have that kind of magic. Most don’t.”
Another that did was Waldo Stewart’s party for his debutante daughter. Because he is a Christian Scientist and wouldn’t be serving alcoholic drinks, he sent decorator Peter Wolf to Copenhagen so the Tivoli Gardens could be researched and recreated at the Sheraton-Dallas Hotel for the ball.
Mrs. B.F. Phillips Jr. of Fort Worth had a decorator transform the Ridglea Country Club into a miniature Versailles. For another memorable debut, she commissioned eight Maria Teresa crystal chandeliers to be made and shipped from Austria.
Wild money parties are sometimes held by the marijuana-using children of straight-money parents, but most wild-money parties start out straight and get wilder as the lavishness of the arrangements and refreshments push them over the brink. When Troy Post chartered a Braniff 747 and flew 300 guests to Acapulco for the weekend in honor of his debutante daughter Judy, people found that moderately wild. The Van Calvin Ellis parties are considered wild in that the family went to an almost absurd amount of trouble for Meredith’s and Monica’s debutante balls. Four German chefs who had experience at the Munich Royal Theater and Silver Rose Ball in Vienna were brought to Dallas. Decorator Peter Wolf and florist Pete Harris transformed the Sheraton-Dallas Hotel ballroom into the Vienna Opera House with velvet-lined opera boxes and arched entranceways. About 40,000 flowers, 25 pounds of smoked salmon and 75 pounds of lobster, among other things, were shipped in to lull the guests into a state of blissful pacification. Forty strolling violinists entertained.
Oilman Ed Cox hired decorator Bill Reed to turn the third floor of the Statler Hilton into an “undersea” world for his daughter’s ball. The Jackson Five and Skitch Henderson performed on the deck of a mock Spanish galleon rigged with silver Mylar sails and sparkling sequin ropes.
Former Foundation for Quality Education director James Bond is as well known for his parties as he is for his involvement in the DISD financing scandal. The year the Fairmont Hotel opened, Bond amazed the three other people in his party by staging a little scene on Ross Avenue in front of the hotel where the bellman (who was privy to the plan) refused to let Bond park his car. Bond pretended he was furious, drove his Cadillac around the block and into a freight elevator that catapulted them up to the Regency Ballroom where dinner was on the table and 15 musicians were waiting.
WILD MONEY/ ARTS
Taking an abrupt turn and venturing on to the Wild Money/Arts scene, we come to Lionel Bevan’s old “Arts and Agriculture” parties. Bevan, now a consultant for Bumper Shoot Productions, used to mastermind combination fine art/cattle auctions, the largest one of which was held in 1978 at the Live Stock Exchange Building. Bevan leased Fort Worth restaurant Joe T. Garcia’s for the art-preview party the night before the sale itself. “I should have had the auction that night,” Bevan says. “All my big buyers were hung over by auction time the next day, and I had to wait until some of them woke in order to start the auction.”
Nevertheless, Bevan considers his shin-digs great successes because they bring together people from widely different backgrounds. “We’d have nice-looking girls bring the weavings and tapestries out, and the cattle people weren’t used to that. There were lots of polyester-double-knit ring men in hats who’d never been to an art auction in their lives. Then, the art people had never seen cattle sold.”
Another Wild Money/Arts memory wasn’t a party in the literal sense because it was actually a business venture and entailed a lot of work for Showco co-founder Angus Wynne. It was the Lewis-ville Pop Festival held in a meadow near Lewisville in 1969. Thirty major musical groups performed over a period of several days, including Canned Heat, B.B. King, Spirit, Sly and the Family Stone, Janis Joplin, Herbie Mann, Chicago, Sam and Dave, and Santana. Wynne says there wasn’t a trace of the kind of unpleasantness ordinarily associated with enormous gatherings of this sort.
“That party changed my life,” says Stoneleigh P. restaurateur Tom Garrison. Liquor by the drink was voted into Dallas soon after that, and Garrison left investment banking to open the Stoneleigh P.
The P. then brought together an incredible network of “hip” people who’d been feeling a little left out of the Dallas party scene. The Maple Avenue bar’s community parties are, for many people in and outside the arts, among the most phenomenal the city has known. Garrison staged marathon dances, Tupperware parties, masquerades like “Come as your favorite revolutionary,” and a Czecho-Tex party where the musical accompaniment was provided by a Czechoslovakian plumber from Ennis. Renaissance man and self-annointed hedonist George Toomer used the Stoneleigh P. for some of his barnburners, always with a great deal of success. Toomer’s “Sin in Hawaii” party remains near and dear to every soul that attended. There were Vegematic demonstrations, talking robots stationed in the room, karate demos, Western Onion performances and movies being shown on the walls (one film on how to make shoes, the other about people who incessantly fall down stairs).
Office design consultant Mike Tatum, who estimates he spent 2,000 hours in the old Stoneleigh P., managed to leave it long enough to get married five years ago. Because most of his wife-to-be’s friends were gay men and because Tatum’s best friends were women, they opted for bridesmen in full drag and groomsmaids wearing T-shirts that said “Love, Honor, and Obey.” Tatum claims three cases of tequila were consumed by about 90 wedding guests, which were, he says, “a good Stoneleigh P.-Quiet Man mix.”
The Quiet Man, a bar that always seems on the edge of extinction, holds a number of special parties annually. The St. Patrick’s Day Motorized Barstool Races usually draw 400 to 500 bystanders. Then on the first Sunday after Valentine’s Day, Mike Carr organizes a party for about 250 people in honor of the Quiet Man’s old and apparently much-missed Lemmon Avenue location. Until this year, the party was held at the crossroads of Lemmon and Turtle Creek. But because condominiums are being built there now, Carr and company have collected old pieces of the sidewalk to bring to their next gathering, now known as the “Slab Party.”
There are many other groups and charismatic individuals in Dallas known for the outrageous quality of their fetes. There’s a group of old Highland Park High School graduates that prides itself upon giving wild parties in old abandoned buildings. For some unspecified reason, they call themselves the “Flykillers.” Reportedly, some people in East Dallas get together every year for an enormous “Rites of Spring” bash. Photographer Jeremy Green and his friend Mickey Stuart endeared themselves to many people when they gave a large and enormously successful “Sunglass” party (everyone had to wear sunglasses) that spilled out of the apartment and onto the street. Then there’s the annual gathering of Dallas and Fort Worth intelligentsia called Walk Tall American Nite, this year held at The Friendly Club, which has been called “the Studio 54 of Fort Worth.”
But as far as parties go, none can compare aesthetically with the Ashley Bellamy parties that were held in an old church called Moon Mansion. Bellamy, a painter, and his friends involved with Dallas theater, dance, and the visual arts, would spend up to three months planning the festivities, which he says were “never intended to be hedonistic things. They were very spiritual.” The Star Pilgrim’s Ball of 1973 was said to have been the loveliest. When paying guests (“we had to recoup our expenses”) came through the door, they were greeted by two actors dressed as angels who were distributing gladiolas. The party was conceived of as a play, the bulk of which was performed on a scaffold Bellamy still has inside the house. One dancer dressed as an Egyptian high priestess and others costumed as creatures from space did whirling-dervish dances for the seated guests.
Before and after the major play was presented, the actors and dancers would perform amid the crowd, staying in character. Bellamy’s Cloud Party of 1974 revolved around the same scaffold, this time supporting dancers dressed completely in white and undulating like diaphanous vapors.
But the parties became so popular that Bellamy became disillusioned and chose to give up the elaborate projects. The closely knit artistic underground seemed to be dispersing, and Bellamy didn’t like what he saw. The consciousness, he says, was supposed to be cosmic, not alcoholic, and some people apparently were coming to the mansion just to see the show and get drunk. That wasn’t the way it was supposed to be.
But all in all, the prognosis for continued prosperity, good times and evengreater parties in Dallas is excellent -atleast for another 10 years. If what ourfriends in New York tell us is true, everybody’s out of money up there (gasp!) andthe East Coast parties are few and far between. Here the problems seem to be morealong the line of how to get to all the holiday parties without having to wear thesame outfit twice or tell the same jokethree time.