Of course, the future is always before you. But during no other period of life is the future as fully and as fantastically before a young woman as when she makes her debut.
Dallas’ debutante party season is longer than the similarly ritualistic festivities in other cities. And no where are the Cinderella-style balls as relentlessly pleasurable, as tastefully and thoughtfully planned. And while some parents wouldn’t wince if the tab for their daughter’s ball ran more than $100,000, tales of Dallas extravagance have probably been exaggerated. A girl can “come out” for a lot less, if she’s careful; chances are, though, that the dollars Dad shells out will be three or four times what his little darlin’ can earn during her first year out of school.
Fun and frivolity are not all that money buys. A debut can be immeasurably valuable to a woman with business hopes and entrepreneurial plans. And even though a debut involves only four months, its essence assumes the form of a perennial calling card, an ongoing introduction that reads “I’m proud of who I am.”
We asked a dozen debs if they’d go through it again, and the reply was a resounding “yes.” All were realistic about what a debut can and cannot do. It cannot, for instance, guarantee happiness. It can, however, expose a girl to happiness, enabling her to recognize it when she sees it again. Here’s what our group of debutantes has to say about life after the season in the spotlight. In short, they’re saying that they’ll always have glittering memories of their debut, memories that will never leave them alone, or in the dark.
Mary Ann Smith (1952-’53 season).
At home on a sprawling ranch snuggled next to Lake Ray Hubbard, Mary Ann Smith confesses that acting “was my first love.” She studied it for seven years at the Cocke School of Drama in Dallas and almost went to New York City to pursue a stage career. She met her husband, cotton executive and cattle rancher Eugene Bragg Smith, and stayed on in Dallas, busying herself with a family instead. When the youngest of her three children started school, she returned to her first love: the theater.
Mary Ann does one-woman revues for clubs and conventions. She takes current Broadway and London plays, cuts them to one hour with transitions and plays all the parts. She likes to work mostly with appealing domestic comedies such as Barefoot in the Park, Mary, Mary and Cactus Flower. Jean Kerr’s comedies are her special favorites-sometimes Mary Ann’s own life sounds like a scene lifted from one of Kerr’s plays. She used to memorize her lines while driving her children to school. Once, just before a performance, when she completely blanked out on a crucial scene, she called her son at school. He unhesitatingly supplied the missing lines.
She says in her well-modulated voice, “I met so many people during my debut. They knew of my interest, so I expect I got more engagements starting out than most people.” Her revues are so popular that she is sometimes booked to do as many as 100 performances a year.
Sese Campbell (1959-’60 season).
“As a debutante, I was entertained continually in beau-tiful homes,” says Sese Campbell, “and I do think that’s helped quite a little bit with what I do.” Sese renovates old houses, making them more livable without changing their looks.
Sese started out on her own turf when she bought an old house in Preston Hollow and employed a contractor. But she soon found that she could do what he was doing, and do it equally well, so she started her own contracting business.
For the last 10 years, she has worked with a team of carpenters, plumbers, mechanics and plasterers, all dedicated to the task of updating houses rather than uprooting them.
With a degree in Italian literature from Wellesley, Sese calls herself “a generalist by education and experience,” claiming that “the whole point of a liberal arts education is that you can do anything with it.” She should know. She was an editorial researcher for National Geographic for two years, then worked briefly at Neiman-Marcus and did a stint as a television producer for fund raising at KERA-TV.
Sese is grateful for her opportunity to debut. “I think there were a lot of things during the season that really helped me with what I have done since,” she says. “Organization, for one. We had many, many obligations, and our responsibility was to be there on time, dressed and cheerful. You must admit those are all assets in the business world.”
Lisa P. Little (1970-’71 season).
“I adore my job, and it’s wonderful that I’m being paid for what 1 love to do,” says Lisa Little, a perky brunette. She loves it so much that for two years she did it for free.
Lisa is director of volunteers at Parkland Memorial Hospital. She started working as a volunteer because a weekend and evening real-estate job left her days free. Soon, she was at the hospital all day, every day. Aware of Parkland’s reputation as the “Friday-night gun and knife club,” she says, “I feel so blessed at being able to work there. Seeing the problems others have, you realize how insignificant your own are.”
As director, she utilizes a growing force of volunteers, scheduling their beats in various departments and handling public relations and public speaking for the hospital. Volunteers provide a personal link between the doctors and patients. Among other things, they translate Spanish, French and Vietnamese.
And what does a debut have to do with a career at Parkland? After being away at college in New Mexico for two years, Lisa found her debut a wonderful way of getting reintroduced to Dallas. As a debutante, she came in contact with a lot of people who had the leisure time and the inclination to do volunteer work. “When I started this job, we had 70 volunteers,” she says proudly, “and in the two years since, we’re up to 500.” What are her plans for five years from now? “I hope to have a thousand volunteers,” she says.
Polly Lou Moore (1963-’64 season).
It’s somewhat surprising to see a former debutante in faded jeans and a cotton smock, but then Polly Lou Moore is full of surprises. As mellow as a good Chablis, Polly describes herself as “board member and chief hand-holder” for various local arts organizations.
Shortly after her debut, Polly Lou founded the 500 Inc. to help arts groups stay afloat. The performing arts are her passion, and she is committed to producing quality theater. She runs her father’s oil and gas investment business for money; she works with the arts for love. The worlds of commerce and art according to Polly Lou Moore are very much alike because they are both high-risk endeavors.
Polly Lou has taken risks with theatrical ventures such as Key Exchange, Art Ventures and The Manhattan Clearing House, which is rebuilding the Plaza Theater in University Park. She has also worked with City Center, producing Hair and The 1940s Radio Hour.
As an arts activist, Polly Lou discovered that “the deb circuit is a fast way of getting hold of a couple of hundred people in an evening. With some of us out working on it,” she says, “we found recruiting very rapid and very smooth.” She enjoyed her debut and hopes that her 10-year-old daughter will choose to be a debutante, too. As a single parent, Polly Lou tries to juggle her meetings so that she can spend as much time as possible with her daughter.
Mary Heller Sasser (1970-’71 season).
She sits in her office, surrounded by jewels -pearls, gold, sapphires, amethysts and rubies -sparkling as brightly as any of them. A couple of years ago, when she decided to go into business for herself, Mary Heller Sasser realized that the oil business and the estate jewelry business are key areas of growth, given the uncertainty of the economy. She invested in both, while continuing to teach ballet on the side.
In fact, people probably know her better for her involvement in the arts; she was general manager of the Dallas Ballet, and later director of marketing for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.
Mary considers herself an instinctive businesswoman. She doesn’t have a business degree, but she learned through hands-on experience. At present, she divides her time between an oil-investment firm and Collective Jewels, where she sells estate jewelry. She is studying to become a registered gemologist. “I’ve always loved jewelry, and I’ve always liked a good value,” she says.
Mary thinks women have to work harder than men in the business world, but she says, “If you’re worthy, you’ll achieve, no matter what.”
About being a debutante in the business world, Mary says, “People tend to think that if you’re from a wealthy family, you don’t need to be paid. I explain to them that I have a master’s degree, and I’m prepared to put in 20 hours a day. It’s a matter of time and commitment. I want to get paid for it.”
Pam Caldwell (1970-’71 season).
Looking at Pam Caldwell’s daintily manicured hands, it is difficult to imagine mud under her fingernails. But she insists, “I love to get out there and play in the dirt.” As a landscape designer, she gets to do just that. People are somewhat startled to see this pretty woman jump out of her dad’s Mercedes and start grubbing in other people’s yards.
Pam did a lot of different things before settling on landscape design as a career. She worked in retailing and fashion for a while before coming to the conclusion that what she enjoyed most was working in her garden. So she enrolled for classes in landscape design at Richland Community College and started her own landscaping business.
Although very feminine, Pam dons jeans and a work-shirt when on the job. She is divorced and says candidly, “I work because somebody has to pay the bills. The electric company doesn’t care that my family is wealthy or that I made my debut.” That leads to reflections on how her debut affected her career: “When 1 started working, 1 got hired because I knew the right people. At first, I felt defensive about being a deb, then 1 decided to make the most of the advantage and work very, very hard. You can get in if you know someone; you can’t stay in unless you really work.”
Laurie Schmidt (1970-71 season).
Tall, slender and attractive, Laurie Schmidt looks like a model. It comes as no surprise to learn that she recently signed with Kim Dawson. She had always wanted to act and sing but lacked the courage to go into it earlier because making a living on stage is a fairly risky proposition.
Instead, she studied interior design at Texas Christian University. After making her debut and making a match, Laurie started her own interior-design company. She maintains that her debut was a definite asset, saying, “If you are a deb, it means you’ve been raised with taste… you’ve been afforded the opportunities to learn niceties. That helps. You don’t have to prove yourself as much.”
Although the interior-design business was working out very well, Laurie yearned to get back to what she had wanted to do all along. Early this year, she started taking acting and singing lessons. Then she signed up with Dawson’s modeling firm.
That led to a part in a Broadway revue in Dallas called Starting Here, Starting Now. Laurie thinks she has a flair for comedy and is excited about a new musical called Dating Blind in Dallas, which is her next big project. “I’m getting on a roll,” she says with her fingers crossed.
Her husband, real-estate developer Don Schmidt, is proud of her accomplishments. He cheerfully shares in the task of bringing up their 4-year-old son.
Sue Semos (1970-’71 season).
Sue Semos has the ability to throw herself wholeheartedly into anything that interests her. She loves flying, sky diving, scuba diving and gourmet cooking, and has a master’s in accounting as well as a real-estate license. Sue realized early that with her adventurous spirit, “a 9-to-5 job is not for me.”
She also has a knack for recognizing an opportunity when she sees it. Sue went into catering as a lark because everyone praised her dinners. Her fledgling business, Dallas Party Specialist, which she started in partnership with Barbara Brown last year, is flying high. Sue’s husband, Charles Semos, is a tea and coffee distributor. She says, “He backs me 100 percent in everything I do.”
Besides the catering business, she has her fingers in a lot of other pies. She is a partner in a firm that organizes special events and promotions, she handles several bookkeeping accounts and manages for landlords who are absentee. Somehow, she also finds time to do volunteer work as a docent at Old City Park.
Sue believes her debut gave her the confidence to do all the things she is doing now.
“My debut offered me a chance to appreciate the nicer things in life,” she says. “I also saw that not all the wealth around is inherited; a lot of it is earned. When you see someone else has made it, it encourages you to think you will, too.”
Chris Jonsson (1973-’74 season).
Soft-spoken Chris Jonsson calls her debut a crash course in meeting people -a very welcome one -because she had recently moved to Dallas from Midland. Her roots are very much in Dallas, though. Her father is well-known Dal-lasite Philip Jonsson, and she is the granddaughter of former Dallas mayor Erik Jonsson.
Always intrigued by the restaurant and catering business, Chris took courses at the Cordon Bleu, London; La Varenne, Paris; and El Centro, Dallas. She taught cooking for a while and ran a catering business. Now, after months of preparation, Chris has opened Mirabelle, a gourmet takeout food store in Highland Park Village. “This kind of place has been popular in New York and Paris for so long,” she says. “I’m hoping it will catch on here as well.”
Making her debut helped with contacts and name recognition, but being a debutante had its flip side, says Chris. People kept asking her why she wanted to work. She responds firmly, “I’m in this business because I enjoy it first. But I like to make money at it, also. People take me seriously now that the shop has gone up.”
Chris admires Jean Claude Prévot, from whom she took some cooking lessons. She hopes to open a restaurant eventually, but that is about five years down the road.
Linda Perryman (1973-’74 season).
In 1976, Linda went to Washington, D.C., for a vacation. On the spur of the moment, she decided to move there. She didn’t have a job but hoped something would open up. Something did.
She is now a staff assistant at the White House, working in the Office of Media Relations and Planning, which is under Director of Communications David Gergen. Linda was hired by Jim Brady, with whom she had earlier worked on John Connally’s presidential campaign.
She “fell into politics” while in college, when Texas State Senator Ralph Hall (now a congressman) offered her a part-time job. She took it. Since then, she has worked for former President Ford’s campaign, for Senator John Heinz of Pennsylvania and briefly for the American Enterprise Institute.
Linda believes her debut made her “more open to all types of people, more comfortable being able to interact with them.” She stays in touch with the Texas scene as a board member of the Meadows Foundation, which approves grants for the arts, education and health in Texas. Linda is no stranger to local politics: Her stepfather, Joel T. Williams, is mayor of University Park.
She enjoys the fast pace of life in Washington. “The people here are much more concerned with politics,” she says. “You run into a different kind of cocktail conversation.”
Barbara Paschall (1982-’83 season).
At this very moment, 10 young women are caught up in whirlwind preparations for their debut at the Idlewild Ball this month. Among them is Barbara Paschall. She enjoyed her sister’s debut vicariously several years ago. Now she’s thrilled about making her own.
“I’m so looking forward to Idlewild, to meeting all those people and wearing my new dress,” she says. “Most of all, I’m looking forward to my ball.” She is taking time out from her studies to make her debut, but when she returns to SMU next semester, she will have something else to look forward to: graduating in the summer with a B.S. in chemistry and in sociology.
About the future, she says, “the possibilities are endless.” One of them is medical school, but Barbara is torn between medicine and engineering; choosing a career will be a tough decision for her. In the meantime, she is caught up in the heady excitement of being a deb. She is living her own fairy tale. And all tumultuous decisions connected to the future have. been suspended. Her life will be waiting for her, though, when she connects back.
Brooke Stollenwerck Frampton (1976-77 season).
Brooke Stollenwerck Frampton is almost a fanatic about exercise. She claims it helped her maintain her sanity and stamina during her deb season. Her ball, she says, was literally a three-ring circus.
After that, she was faced with the decision of whether or not to work. “I’m not a woman’s woman,” she says. “You know, having my morning coffee with my neighbors, and tea parties and luncheons. I just thought that there was something else to satisfy me.” That “something else” turned out to be a job in public relations and customer development with Neiman-Marcus.
The day after her divorce, she transferred to Neiman’s in Beverly Hills, eager to get away and sort things out on her own. After a year, she was ready to move back to Dallas. The impetus was provided by an offer from Hockaday to be alumnae director. Brooke worked there for a year and a half.
Recently remarried, she has left that position and is busy making plans for the future. At one point, she wanted to be a professional race-car driver, but has settled for racing her 911 Porsche on the amateur circuit. She plans to attend a racing school in California this year and business school in Dallas next year. The latter is in preparation for a specialty service store she and her husband, Jack Frampton, propose to start together.