Where else but Dallas do men drag in from work and ask their wives, “Which disease are we dancing for tonight?” Where else but Dallas are four parties held to announce an upcoming party and two thrown afterward to celebrate its success? Nancy Brinker, the well-known society hostess and fundraiser for cancer research, holds a big social dinner at the Fairmont to promote her big social lunch at the Registry. The lunch is an elegant event in which the ticket sales go to the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Yet it costs more to go to the dinner ($1,000 a couple) than it does to go to the lunch ($170 a couple). It’s impossible to escape the Dallas party. Since the day the first Dallas man was hired to work as a bartender at someone’s home (March 23,1832-soon to be a national holiday), we have taken note of almost every major event in life-and most of the minor ones-by throwing a party. We throw parties to watch meaningless pre-season football games and we throw parties to celebrate obscure holidays that seem to exist only as an excuse to throw a party. Bill Reed, who has been the decorator of elite Dallas parties for more than 25 years, says, “Dallas has an ’I owe you one’ mentality about parties. If you go to a good party, then it is expected of you to give one yourself.” Yes, if you want to be a success here, you’d better know how to party. Your evenings will shimmer with ambiguities and half-truths as you converse with people you don’t really know. You will banter politely with others whom you would scarcely tolerate during the day. You will accept the fact that behavior seen as completely idiotic in an ordinary situation becomes a charming eccentricity at a Dallas party. You will try to invest your life with a weight and dimension it normally lacks when you’re busy trying to live it. Bring forth the maidens! Call out all good men! With our deft little social scalpel, we peel away the party life of Dallas. A party will not mend a broken heart or reassemble the fragments of a dream. A single party cannot repair an unhappy home. But hey, two parties might.

Universally, the office party is hated or feared. Hated, because the event inevitably deteriorates into a mass of bodies drinking self-consciously and exchanging the same chitchat they trade every day at the coffee machine. Feared because those same bodies see the spectre of careers ruined, marriages in jeopardy and almost everyone embarrassed the next morning.

“I admit that a bunch of us end up sneaking out of our office party early,” says a young executive with the established downtown accounting firm of Arthur Andersen & Co. “After a couple of drinks, we start talking about what’s wrong with our company, and then after two more, we start looking around for the boss to tell him all about it. I don’t find that very prudent.”

It is doubtful that even the boss is pleased with the prospect of the annual office party. He must smile benevolently as a junior vice-president, on his fourth glass of wine, does what all ladder-climbing hopefuls do at office parties-holds a drink in one hand while ranting about his preposterous hopes for the future with a wave of the other.

In Dallas, office parties go one of two ways: stuffy or sophomoric. The conservative downtown law firm of Strasburger and Price holds its annual office party in a big hotel ballroom where everyone sits down to a fancy dinner. It is, frankly, insufferable, as lawyers who don’t know each other well sit politely, their brains working like buzz saws as they try to think of anything-my God, anything!-to talk about. “This is a very posh event, so you don’t talk about anything as mundane as the cases you’re working on,” says one of the firm’s attorneys. “As a result, you look at the guy across the table and wonder what the hell he does with his life.” Says another: “It’s basically a party for the wives of all the law partners. I think it’s a nice way for us to tell them that we’re accomplishing something.”

On the other hand, the well-known criminal defense firm of Burleson, Pate and Gibson throws an office party that staggers right to the precipice of social anarchy. Kegs of beer are stashed up and down the hallways like torpedoes. Guests include the firm’s most notorious clients who have been saved from potential jail sentences. The attorneys invite female court reporters and law clerks. Dozens of other lawyers crash the party. Soon, the plastic beer cups are getting knocked off desk tops, and the eloquence associated with the legal profession takes on a sharp edge of cussedness. In one corner, lawyers quietly begin a discussion on how to pick a jury. Thirty seconds later, they are angrily throwing pens at one another, and just as rapidly dissolving into hysterical laughter as they decide to sneak into Phil Burleson’s office and tear up all the papers on his desk. There is the obligatory fistfight when one of the junior partners is accused of squeezing the bottom of the wife of one of the senior partners. A young couple sneaks out to thrash around in the underbrush by the building, completely unaware that they are being watched by half the party. More beer is poured. More is spilled. One lawyer, as he stumbles out the door, shouts merrily, “Drunken drivers don’t kill people. Cars kill people.” Another annual office party has ended. The next morning, everyone wakes up and tries to figure out whom to apologize to first.

As Mary Kay Ash set the standard for motivational sales parties (Mary Kay carried on stage by Mediterranean weight lifters, thunderous applause, fleets of pink Cadillacs twinkling under the spotlights) and Neiman-Marcus led the pack of department store openings with its Fortnight, so has the local real estate community set the standard for the party of the Eighties.

What is a party of the Eighties? It’s one where you try to make a half-million dollars standing next to the hors d’oeuvres table. The commercial real estate industry has taught us that you have a party to conduct business, rather than conducting business in order to be able to have a party. That’s why real estate salesmen have more parties than any other profession in the city; they believe a business deal isn’t a business deal unless it’s hammered out under the soft track lighting of a good cocktail party.

Try to imagine it: At a title company’s monthly cocktail party, held in that hour between day and night that provides what the poets call “the lifeward turn,” you (a vice-president for a local real estate development company) approach the hors d’oeuvres table, stare at the table loaded with acres of cheese (surrounded by the inevitable plates of boiled shrimp) and happen to come across a land broker for, say, Cushman Wakefield. After the obligatory small talk (“What kind of car phone do you have?” “What’s the latest golf resort you’ve been to?” “Who are you seeing on the side?”), you pull him away from the crowd and ask what’s really going on. The broker lets it slip that he knows about a piece of property that might be for sale north of Addison. Biting into one of those horrible hard-boiled egg halves with curried yolk, you ask how much. Gnawing on another shrimp, he says, “$1.6 million.”

“Sort of high,” you say, as if you’re not interested anyway.

You amble across the room to the other hors d’oeuvres table, where the main treat is roast beef served in a biscuit. Getting in line, you happen to notice the man in front of you is a high-powered investor who puts together syndications. Nonchalantly, you wolf down a roast beef biscuit and go through the obligatory small talk (“Going to Vail at Christmas?” “Did you hear Frank’s getting a divorce?” “Who are you seeing on the side?”). Then you ask if he’s looking for any deals.

“Well, what do you know about up north?” asks the investor.

“Oh, there’s a little something near Addison. It isn’t much. Couple of million.”

The investor sighs. “Are you sure about that? I’ve got some investors who are so hungry to buy out there they’d jump at that.”

“Call me in the morning,” you say.

“Friend, I’ll be at your office in the morning.”

You hustle back to the other hors d’oeuvres table. The broker is on his 22nd boiled shrimp. You get the feeling he hasn’t made a deal in a long time. “I’ve a proposition,” you say, after going through the obligatory small talk (“Been fishing on the coast this year?” “Seen the 1986 Mercedes line?” “Who are you seeing on the side?”). “I’ll take that property at $1.5.”

Very slowly, the broker swallows shrimp number 23. “Can’t do it.”

“I’d sign the papers in the morning.”


“You want a drink?”


“Think about $1.4 a little longer. I gotta stick with it, buddy. We could all make some money off of that.”

“I’ll have a scotch and water. Make that double scotch.”

Five minutes pass. You watch him eat three more shrimp.

“Listen,” you say, handing him his drink. “I’m going to be as honest as I know how. I crunched some numbers in my head over there by the bar, and I’ve come to a decision. I can’t even offer you $1.4 million.”



“Dammit. Do you know how much I need this deal?”

“Take it or leave it.”

“I can only go as far as $1.5 and that’s it.”

“Well, okay. Shake my hand. I’ll take it. Great party, isn’t it?”

There is one name to remember here: David Davidson, a household word on the party trail since 1983, when he began to throw a string of spectacular parties. Davidson was just another curly-haired North Dallas young high roller, dating a Kim Dawson model, driving a Porsche, making millions on his real estate deals, and then-wham! In the phantom way that people become famous around here, Davidson suddenly stood as a symbol of what you can turn into if you just know how to throw a good party.

He rented out the Starck Club to celebrate the success of an auto racing team that he partially owned. To celebrate his 40th birthday, he rented out Union Station and told everyone to wear expensive leather. He threw cocktail receptions at his big home. He gave catered dinner parties. He held his wedding at the Mansion. It was a phenomenal performance. His photograph made all the newspapers, and fete set hopefuls began dropping lines like, “I was at David Davidson’s party the other night when…”

There are hundreds of potential David Davidsons out there under the midnight sky, throwing money into the great enterprise of becoming a part of the new rich. They lease 747s and fly everyone to Vegas. Then, when they realize that’s middle-aged, they lease 747s and fly everyone to Martinique. When they realize that’s too ostentatious, they rent out a ballroom at the Hyatt Regency and throw a party for 1,000 close friends-parties where they can be overheard saying things to their friends like, “Oh, my wife and I never lie to one another. We never even speak to each other.”

The new rich have a way of getting the press to write about their lives (“Flash! Jorge Miguel has Lunch at the Mansion.” “News Bulletin: Oilman Bob Franklin Learns to Play Polo!”). They zip through the pre-dawn hours dreaming up affectations, like putting “de la” between their first and last names.

Who will be the next new rich figure to emerge? Gaze around the Rio Room, that exclusive private club, where on any given night you will find Ed Sigel, the lawyer who defended Lenell Geter, or Richard Corbitt, the lawyer who defended Ron Springs. You can find Gino Hernandez, the professional wrestler, or Mike Powers, the professional host at Hoffbrau, former race car driver Richard Tharp or any number of minor Arabian sheiks, followed by women with blonde-streaked hair coiffed and rolled and poufed. And the women in turn are followed by more men-men with glazed eyes, men whose dancing resembles an amphibian reproduction ritual.

Yet the beautiful people never sleep. Their restless minds come whirling out of the Rio Room and on to the next party. Along the way they stop to invest in a computer company or hear from their secretary that another oil well came in or open a new restaurant with a veal cleverly named in their honor (Veal Dave). They fly to Hollywood to go to premiere parties for new films. Then they fly people in from Hollywood to have dinner with them. It is all so exciting. We hardly know where to stop. Oh, of course, we can stop over there at our friend Wilhelm’s home. He’s throwing the latest B.P. party. It’s a charming little margarita reception, proceeds of which go to Mexican earthquake relief. Oh, look! What a fabulous idea! Wilhelm has hung a pinata down from his chandelier.

Why do Dallas political| parties seem to last until two minutes shy III of eternity? We posit five theories:

A. One of the oldest political customs-pre-dating even entrenched habits such as saying you’ll be damned if you’re going to see one more criminal go free-is to drink other people’s booze. Thus, the politician not only sees it as a privilege, but an overriding obligation, to go to parties.

B. A political party is the only avenue available to maintain a politician’s self-worth. Now think about this. Very few friendly people talk to a politician during the day. Most of the people he confronts at the office fear he can totter but a few steps in any mental direction. People at night don’t care how he totters, as long as he doesn’t get in their way.

C. A political party is the only place you can feel comfortable swirling a marshmallow daiquiri and sighing, “I don’t know what to think of Charles Murray’s denunciation of the welfare state in Losing Ground.” Anywhere else you would feel like a silly ass saying that, as well you should.

D. The political party is the best place to practice these arbitrary responses: “Too soon to tell.” “Privately, I agree.” “You’re absolutely right, of course, in a way.”

E. The political party is a tax write-off.

All of this is a long-winded way of saying that political parties are the most boring parties in Dallas. Something happened on the way to optimum government-we forgot how to celebrate. Political parties are intended, more or less, to ponder events of consequence, and because of that, they are invested with a certain seriousness. So we sit corpse-like through testimonial dinners; banquets where everyone at the head table gets to add his two cents; and “meet the candidate” cocktail parties where politicians take innocent questions like “Want me to freshen up your drink?” and turn them into forums on South American deficits. Says Carol Reed, a well-known local political consultant who specializes in such black arts as the organization of political fundraisers: “The only political parties you remember with any fondness at all are those that turn out to be complete disasters.”

And we’ve had them: Former U.S. Congressman Jim Collins, a man known for his ability to pass unnoticed through almost all phases of public life, unintentionally ended up with the most talked-about political party of the 1982 election season. At an Anatole Hotel fundraiser during his Senate campaign, the featured speaker was then-Treasury Secretary Donald Regan. An elephant was waiting in the wings to signal triumphant applause. But as soon as Regan began his speech, the elephant, bored, began to trumpet madly. His blares drowned out Regan’s speech, especially the passages describing how Ronald Reagan would wipe out the deficit. No kidding. When the elephant was finally led out, he (the elephant, not Regan) went to the bathroom in front of the crowd.

In 1984, another Senate hopeful, Phil Gramm, hit the campaign’s party heights with a $l,000-a-plate benefit during the Republican Convention. Scheduled headliners were Jimmy Stewart and Helen Hayes. Neither showed, of course, so party organizers began running around to find a celebrity in town. They came up with a perfect one-two punch-Wayne Newton and Arnold Schwarzenegger. What a coup for Gramm! Newton left before it was his time to speak because he wanted to go see the president, and Schwarzenegger got mad and wanted to leave when told he would have to go through the buffet line himself to get his food.

We have suffered since through numerous attempts to make the political party an art form. Remember Max Goldblatt’s mayoral campaign parties where he stood up and told rather peculiar jokes about dogs, psychiatry patients and women of ill repute? Or the annual Rock Creek Barbecues where male Democrats gather, sans women, to drink themselves silly and laugh uproariously at 10-year-old jokes? Alas, there is no end. As long as scotch and water encourage politicians to stand on chairs and announce solutions to crises of the bureaucracy, we will endure the political party- because for a politician, the only thing worse than making a ridiculous spectacle of himself is making no spectacle at all.

In civilization’s glorious march forward, there are a precious few rituals that will never change: television game shows, junior miss beauty pageants and the western theme party.

You would think that someone would at least come up with new table decorations. But no. Every western party has as its centerpiece the obligatory miniature oil derrick surrounded by a little tiny bale of hay and a plastic cow. There is, always, the margarita machine. There is the country/western band in which the lead singer, at the beginning of every song, says, “Here’s an old favorite,” and at the end says, “We thank ya. That was a song for real Tex-ans.” There are men banging around the dance floor in new cowboy boots, attempting to move effortlessly as they try to remember whether to lead with the right foot or left. And there are women beaming proudly in their own western costumes, unaware of the time-honored dictum that excess pounds are rarely more evident than in the creases of tight blue jeans.

If you plan to live for at least a week in Texas, chances are good that you’ll turn up sooner or later at a western party. With that in mind, we offer these guidelines.

1. Never venture the opinion that, if truth be known, you’d really prefer something other thana cold beer.

2. Never admit that you bought your western duds especially for the occasion. Make it appear that the ridiculous bandana you’re wearing is something you wear to work at least threedays a week.

3. Never utter a conversational simile borne of city life. If, for example, you’re dancing witha tall woman, don’t say, “Honey, you’re taller than InterFirst Plaza.” Instead, say: “Honey, youcould throw shade on my Daddy’s oil wells.”

4. Fake familiarity when you hear the opening strains of the “Cotton-Eyed Joe.” This songhas, for reasons unfathomable to the sophisticated mind, a mesmerizing appeal to people atwestern parties. When the band launches into this song, leap to your feet as if your chair hasexploded underneath you and rush out to the dance floor to link arms with the first person youfind so you can approximate the Hully-Gully, punctuating your steps with the “Bull—-.”

5. Memorize a few good country music lyrics beforehand, a painless effort that will dowonders for your party chitchat, as you wander around making clever comments. “Here I goagain, mixing misery and gin,” you can say with a big ol’ smile as you order a drink from thebartender. “He’s sleeping single in a double bed,” you can whisper about someone at the party who’s getting a divorce, or should be.

5. Don’t try to appear intelligent. The western party Uncle Goober persona has been honed to a fine art. This doesn’t mean you must make yourself out to look stupid. Rather, you have to come across as a rustic sage, a Will Rogers-type character with wisdom acquired simply by growing up on a farm in West Texas and watching the pigs wallow. You see this all the time. An otherwise everyday person (downtown bank president, Harvard MBA, aficionado of symphonic music) shows up at a western party and pretends he can’t understand any concept of life unless it is seen through the eyes of an ol’ boy he once knew back in Puddville, Texas, who was as big as a skinned mule and twice as ugly. At this year’s Cattle Baron’s Ball, where guests dress up in $1,000 Cutter Bill outfits so they can act like country people, one man was overheard describing his socially active wife to another man as “a hard dog to keep under the porch.”

The ultimate importance of the western party is, after all, to push back the creeping notion, that Texas at times can be a strikingly commonplace experience. Hen apples! We can’t let that happen. Thicken up your accent and get out there and two-step.

But here’s the really bothersome question: Does your entrance into Dallas’ high-rolled party life depend on your joining the Junior League or the | Symphony League? Should you make your mark with TACA or with the Women’s Guild of the Dallas Historical Society?

Surprise! It doesn’t matter where you grew up, which college you went to, what sorority you joined or what you majored in. It doesn’t matter where you buy your home. It doesn’t matter who your father is. God love it, what a land of opportunity we live in! All that matters is which table you buy.

Sit down in your chair (I do hope the chair is Baker) and take notes. High society in Dallas revolves around one type of party: the charity ball. That’s right. There’s no time for anything else. Like a herd of stallions seeking water holes, Dallas society moves from one charity gala to another. Though each of the some 40 balls offers the same agenda (drinks before dancing, dancing, drinks after dancing, buffet table against the back wall), no one is deterred. The key to being considered a major high society figure (M.H.S.F.) is whether you sit up close or sit in the back of the ballroom; whether the sum of the digits in your table number is less than 10. Those are the expensive tables; the cheap ones are where they put those tacky writers from the daily press and junior retail executives from stores on the poor side of NorthPark. Pay for a good table and people will consider you a pivotal member of the group.

And what fun! If we could look upon the ball scene with a Sky Cam, or better yet, from the Goodlife Blimp, we would see the great pageant of human life: husbands who bankroll the evening and endure it with a dark scowl, old-money women gazing distantly as if posing for a photograph, youngish couples whose attempts at ballroom dancing bring into question the belief that Man is nature’s last work, worried women wiping the brows of their stuporous escorts with Moet champagne.

Which ball to go to? We admit the scene is a bit intimidating to an outsider, especially when you’re contronted with such odd names as the TACA Ball or the Piaget Polo Ball or the Eye Ball, a local fundraiser for eye disease research. (If the local podiatrists throw a ball, will it be called the Foot Ball?) To help you fit into the ball scene, here’s a keyhole view:

Most Peculiar. The PAWS Ball. Though proceeds from PAWS go to things like shelters for homeless kittens, guests are asked to come dressed in weird hats that look like animals. Here’s where you see high society bouncing around on the dance floor in hats made to resemble octopuses or penguins.

Most Boring: Mayor’s International Ball. Designed to bring dignitaries from around the world (most of whom send their regrets) to the International City, attending this ball carries the hazard of finding yourself caught in a corner for 55 minutes discussing grain exports with the second assistant secretary from the Republic of Urd.

Most Obscure Cause: The Northwood Institute Benefit Ball, where the top echelon of society raises money for a little right-wing two-year college in far south Dallas that few of the upper crust have ever seen.

Most Interesting Combination of Causes: Wildlife Heritage Ball Benefiting the Swiss Avenue Counseling Center.

Hardest Ticket to Get: Crystal Charity Ball.

There is a certain argument, advanced by SMU film professors and newspaper movie critics, that the only reason Dallas has embraced the idea of movies being made in Dallas is because it gives us the opportunity to attend movie star parties. In other words, we, the uncultured Dallas masses, don’t particularly care about the quality of the work, as long as there is some kind of black-tie opening that goes with it.

This, of course, is utterly ridiculous, an invention of the same minds who knocked Rambo, Sylvester Stallone’s tender documentary of peasant life in Vietnam, as being a touch exaggerated. Just the other day, for example, while attending the delightful champagne reception for the Fred McMurray film retrospective, we came across our friend Wilhelm, who confided that he would be going that next evening to a small cocktail party honoring the contribution of Meryl Streep to the U.S. film industry.

“Meryl Streep in person?” we exclaimed, knees buckling.

“Not quite. Last-minute cancellation. But some of the technicians who worked with her on Silkwood have been invited to relate juicy anecdotes of Meryl behind the scenes.”

To which we replied, “How simply wonderful! Doesn’t that prove the great support we have for the film movement?”

“Of course, of course,” replied Wilhelm with a casual wave of his cigarette. “Say, would you know how I could get an extra ticket to the upcoming benefit dinner for Greer Garson?”

Yes, well, we must admit that at times it looks as though movie stars are invited here to be honored at parties rather than to star in movies. But who can dispute the breathless glamour of the Dallas film party?

We can picture it now-the chilled wine, the happy buzz of conversation, the cute profile of local film mogul Sam Grogg nodding thoughtfully as a potential investor says to him, “Sure, it was a violent movie, but hey! Life is violent!” The rumor mills are churning, as people bustle about to learn if it’s true that a certain you-know-who is showing his script to a certain you-know-who. A second assistant to the producer of a local film company is in the corner, actively demonstrating an apparently inexhaustible interest in the justifiably unknown career of an attractive young woman. Female talent agents are, of course, everywhere, racing from director to director, the slap of their spiked heels reminiscent of a Spanish castanet dancing troupe as they announce, “Listen, I’ve got a girl for you. She’s fabulous. Absolutely fabulous-and you know that’s a word I don’t use too often.” And then there is the spine-tingling, cathedral hush that descends over the melee when one of the minor movie stars who occasionally visits Dallas, like Buddy Hackett, comes strutting in.

Truly, the Dallas film party contributes mightily to the local party scene. For the first time we can use combinations of words that we have never been able to use before, like “the East Coast,” “points on the gross,” “pre-production” and “the West Coast.” Here abbreviated language is king. No one, for instance, says “perfect’-they say “perf.” Not wine and cheese-but “wine and c.” And the most fascinating tidbits can be gleaned at those parties thrown by the USA Film Festival for premieres of obscure movies made in Bangladesh or somewhere. At one, a reception celebrating an East Hungarian movie about a primitive family of dwarfs (a movie sure to send a message of hope to the universe), we saw the woman who stars in all those “Sleep Country” television commercials. As we said to a foreign-looking man in a long beard standing near us, “Isn’t she that special kind of woman who can say with her eyes, ’I’m wonderful, so love me?’”

He didn’t say anything, but we already had our answer. The film party is like a great dream that gleams, flickers and then vanishes. It speaks of a great new life to come in Dallas, where we can pick up our glass of chilled wine and toast all of life’s great visionaries.

Now, it’s crucial that you pay close attention to this one, for the artsy party has significantly changed in the last decade. At artsy parties of old, you could talk about bluebonnet-and-cowboy paintings. If you were into name-dropping you might mention that you once saw Dallas portrait painter Dmitri Vail walking around NorthPark mall. Back then, no one noticed if you got Jasper Johns’ name turned around, and if you were feeling really creative, you might admire a potato chip covered in dip and say it reminded you of a Picasso.

Back then, artsy people played jazz records endlessly, frequently interrupting conversations to allow everyone to listen to a 20-minute-long bass pizzicato solo. The hosts invariably served those little homemade finger sandwiches that, when bitten, would shoot meat out the side, running down the front of your peasant shirt.

Those were the good old days. Today the finger sandwich remains, but the simple jazz-talk-eat formula has become clouded with complications. Artsy parties today are riddled with the kind of dynamics and inner pressures that cause a psychoanalyst to sigh with happiness.

First off, getting invited to an artsy party is about as easy as crashing the pearly gates of Heaven. The artistic community has, for the most part, moved to the Deep Ellum area near downtown, and all communication is by word of mouth. “So if you just hear about a party,” says Gregory Marcy, whose restaurant/bar, the 500 Cafe, serves as a gathering place for the Deep Ellum artists, “then you can figure you’re part of the crowd.”

And even if you do “get invited,” how can you know what to wear? This generation of artists-the same group that came up with the notion that a couple of black dots on a white canvas is a painting-views clothes as art objects. And there are times, frankly, when their clothes look ten times more interesting than their art. Have you noticed, for example, how artists always wear interesting shoes? Marcy says the right kind of avant-garde look is essential, “otherwise no one will talk to you. You should see the competition among the artists who spend hours trying to find the perfect combination of clothing for a party. And the clothing must cost less than $10, or it doesn’t really count as being artistic. Anybody can create an image for a lot of money.”

Don’t you love the way artists talk? Which brings up the next problem-what to say to an artist once you put on the right clothes and you’re inside the party. What you will soon discover is that everyone there is an artist of one guise or another: There are your average number of painters and sculptors, most of whose works are completely incomprehensible, but you’ll also come across video artists, fashion artists, wrought-iron gate artists, floral artists, lingerie artists, manicurist artists, furniture restoration artists and (our favorite) “performance artists.” These are the people who do such odd things as arrange themselves in geometric, positions and pretend to be a city park playground. All of these artists, admirably, maintain a deep belief in the integrity of their work, no matter how bizarre it might sound to you. “And all of them are always working on some big project,” adds Marcy. “So entire parties are devoted to people discussing one another’s projects. If you’re not working on a project, you might as well not even come to the party, because no one will know what to say to you.”

Doesn’t sound very encouraging, does it? Well, we have the perfect solution. If you really want to become one with the artsy crowd but have none of the credentials, why not open a gallery in Deep Ellum and fill the exhibit room with absolutely nothing? When others ask what it means, explain thoughtfully that you wanted to provide an artistic environment that would allow the viewer’s most intimate feelings about art to emerge without having to be burdened by the necessity of having to look at an actual painting. The artistic community will be awed. You’ll get your first party invitation by the end of the week.

Okay, so you aren’t invited to any of the galas heretofore dissected. What to do? Throw a party yourself, of course. But don’t try to go it alone. If one of life’s great truisms is “you are what you eat,” then on the Dallas party scene, you are what you serve. A soirée featuring Coors à la Beer Barn (on a sparkling bed of Frostee Ice from Stop ’n Go) may be grins, but it won’t be In.

If, on the other hand, your wine is from Marty’s, your goodies from Goodman, your flowers by Kendall and your guest list from Ann Draper, you’ll probably make next Sunday’s society columns . . . your fleet-footed fete set tripping the light fantastic across the pages of “High Profile” and “Unique.”

To reach the social Super Bowl, you need the right players: the perfect combination of quarter-backing caterers, party-planning coaches and an impressive front line of valet parkers, bartenders, musicians, florists, chocolatiers, decorators, tentmakers, photographers and hairdressers . . . all assembled with the care of Gil Brandt planning his ’86 NFL draft picks.

You need, in other words, a great team to host great parties: chic and creative, haute without getting haughty; party producers who combine the tasteful with the tasty, mixing one part each of glitz, glamour and grandeur with three parts of good, old-fashioned good times.

To throw the perfect Dallas party, here’s what you need-and where to find it.


Parties do not live by food and drink alone.

Great fetes are more than the sum of their parts. They have style, wit, theme, concept: a brief fantasy of existence that begins the day you get the invitation and ends when the last guest staggers out the door.

A professional party planner is an accomplished maestro who composes the party theme and conducts a vast symphony of guest lists, invitations, decorations, entertainment, activities, costumery and refreshment, all in perfect harmony with the basic motif of the event. The caterer handles the heart of the party, but the party planner is responsible for its soul.

The grande dame of Dallas party planners is Ann Draper, for decades the mastermind behind the debutante balls, glamorous weddings and charity events of The Dallas Establishment.

It is Ann Draper who supervises the Dallas Social Register and creates guest lists for Dallas’ inner-inner circle. A former society editor of The Dallas Morning News, Draper has reigned over the tribal rituals of the Dallas elite since she bought The Party Service 21 years ago.

With famed set designer Peter Wolf, Draper can turn a Dallas hotel ballroom into the Vienna Opera House or Versailles, complete with chefs flown in from Munich or Paris. She once helped re-create an entire circus for Brooke Stollenwerck’s coming-out party.

Another star on the Dallas party-planning scene is Wendy Moss Seal, whose company, An Affair To Remember, has produced some of the most dazzling party spectacles Dallas has ever witnessed.

Like Draper, Seal does it all, “from conception to clean-up.” Using two full-time designers and a downtown warehouse full of props and sets, Seal is the George Lucas of Dallas parties, creating vast new worlds of fantasy and imagination that last only as long as it takes an ice sculpture to drip into the rumaki.

The company has re-created a high-tech Christmas party on a snow-covered futuristic planet abounding with spaceships and fuzzy little creatures. For Halloween, they’ll bring fortune tellers, gypsies and astrologers into a huge hall with an entry shaped like a crystal ball, walk you through an Oriental room containing a life-size dragon, then let you dance the night away in an elaborate Egyptian-tomb disco.

They’ve built Italian villas in the middle of Dallas for May weddings, produced dozens of murder mysteries and brought entertainers like the Commodores and James Brown to local country club soirees. Past successes include the Cattle Barons’ Ball, a party for President Reagan’s Cabinet at Newport News, Rhode Island, and an “Arabian Nights” fantasy for Nancy Reagan’s favorite charity.

Perhaps their most spectacular success was the time Wendy & Co. turned Las Vegas’ Desert Inn into a Moroccan marketplace for a “Murder In Marrakesh”: servants in sultans’ garb, belly dancers and Arab cuisine, plus two live camels, a giant boa constrictor and two dozen squawking chickens.

For smaller events, party planner Catherine Bull gets rave reviews. So does Bill Reed Party Decorators and, for the big corporate and convention events, Dallas’ well-established Freeman Decorating Co.


If party planners are the conductors of Dallas’ social concertos, the florists are their virtuoso violinists, their arpeggios of seasonal color a breathtaking counterpoint to a party’s theme.

Kendall Baily is the current doyenne of the charity matrons and event planners. An effusive freelance florist who specializes in bedecking Dallas’ biggest events, Kendall’s eccentric behavior is as much a part of his appeal as his blossoming creativity: He shows up at elegant black-tie balls in white kimonos or drab-green surgical scrubs; throws bizarre “Pink Parties” where everything and everybody must be dressed in pink; tells outrageous stories that have won him distinction as Dallas’ own Truman Capote.

Bailey’s exotic floral creations have set a whole new standard for the city’s charity balls, corporate events and weddings. He’ll use weeds from his backyard with orchids to create extraordinary natural beauty, or wild, high-tech flowers to jar the guests into another world. For PepsiCo’s “Peach Party” at last year’s GOP Convention, Kendall wired 15,000 fresh peaches to trees to produce an indoor peach orchard.

Another society favorite is Zen Florist. Founded by Judy Cook and Rick Duren as part of Caroline Hunt Schoellkopf’s Rosewood Hotel empire, Zen was the florist Victoria Principal tapped last summer for her elegant wedding at the Mansion.


The best way to society’s heart is through its stomach; Dallas hosts are judged not only by the company they keep, but by the hash they sling.

Oddly enough, catering to the culinary whims of Dallas’ predominantly white social elite is one business where blacks have traditionally led the way. And foremost among the city’s master caterers is Captain White. Fifteen years ago, White left Neiman-Marcus, where he had been ensconced for years as captain of the Zodiac Room, to form his own catering business with partner Jean Moore. He has become the favorite of the old-line rich, adroitly engineering the complicated rituals of traditional debutante balls and showy-but-proper society weddings.

White is famous for great food, impeccable service and the legendary touch of elegance he brings to the most trying of circumstances. When Neiman-Marcus ferried jeeploads of guests to the muddy, barren marshlands of the Trinity River bottoms, the Captain’s waiters dressed in fatigues and cooked rations on generators, serving on white linen and fancy china while an actor ranted and raved his impression of General Patton.

More recently, the Captain has been challenged by Chow, the hottest new entry into the Dallas social scene in decades. Founded by Mike Hearn, Chow has risen rapidly to become the choice of today’s chic set. Famous for creative, dazzling food displays and legions of clean-cut servers (most of whom look like SMU students moonlighting as male models), upstart Chow has presided at many of the flashiest party successes in Dallas over the past couple of years, including Neiman-Marcus’ 1985 Fortnight, much of the 1984 GOP Convention business, the Dallas Grand Prix and the recent Macy’s opening, to name a few.

When Rosewood Corp. held a “bottom-ing-out party” on a freezing day in the bottom of a deep hole that was to become The Crescent, they sent for Chow, who rigged generators and served take-out Chinese food to help guests “dig their way to China.”

Honorable mentions in the catering-only category go to Ethel Macintosh, Chateau Caterers, Mattie Moore and Carr’s, all popular and reliable choices who definitely qualify for the In list.


One of Dallas’ best-kept secrets is Goodies From Goodman, the city’s top choice for gourmet food, gift baskets and assorted chocolates, fruits, meats and cheese. A family-owned operation dating back to 1916, Goodies caters gourmet lunches to the city’s best-known board rooms. Ross Perot, Starke Taylor, Henry S. Miller, W.O. Bankston and Trammell Crow are all Goodies fans.

Chuck and Bobby Goodman, brothers who founded Goodies’ North Dallas walk-in stores at Preston Center, Medical City and Inwood Road, love to tell of a party they catered for the Library Association in front of Dallas City Hall a few years back. Several thousand guests surged to the food tables, wolfing down the exotic snacks for which Goodies is famous. Especially popular were hundreds of large, spongy, white peanut-shaped morsels the guests munched with glee-never realizing they were styro-foam packing materials used to prop up the food display.


You don’t wash down your pate de fois gras with Sigel’s Wine of the Week. Since 1943, Dallas’ In liquor store has been Marty’s on Oak Lawn Avenue, long the place to go for fine wines and liquor.

Over the past 10 years, Marty’s has also expanded its gourmet food section, offering busy Dallas partygivers a valuable middle ground between the expense of a master caterer and the difficulties of preparing dinner for eight in that tiny little hour between the time you get home from work on Friday and the dreaded first knock on the door at 7:30 p.m. Marty’s offers complete dinners, planned and cooked that day by its master French chef, and sells them at reasonable prices, complete with recommended wines, liqueurs and coffees: a pre-fab gourmet shop that guarantees flawless food and effortless entertaining at prices starting between $5 and $10 per person.


The dedicated Dallas partygoer is measured not by the condition of his liver, but by the number of Jack Boles parking tickets stuffed into the inside pocket of his dinner jacket.

Any party large enough to require valet parkers automatically goes to Boles parking for a squad of trustworthy, white-shirted youths. They sprint back and forth energetically, talk politely and drive everything from Rolls-Royces to Broncos very carefully for guests at Neiman-Marcus’ Fortnight galas, Idlewilde and the Crystal Charity Balls, country club parties, charity events, the Cattle Baron’s Ball, private dinner parties and company Christmas parties.

For Scottish Fortnight, they wore kilts; for a recent Crystal Charity fashion show, they dressed as Parisian gendarmes. Boles’ Brigade is efficient without being stuffy: For the late Herman Lay’s Caribbean-themed 70th birthday bash, the valets danced a Jamaican shuffle for delighted guests.

Boles is also surprisingly affordable; the parkers make their real money from tips.

“The new rich in far North Dallas are the best tippers,” one longtime Boles manager told us, “but the old rich in Highland Park treat you the nicest.”

Boles’ only real competition comes from ex-Boles parker Ernie Buice, whose Perfect Parking does a good business just by picking up the crumbs his ex-employer leaves behind.


Before attacking the social scene, most dedicated socialites reconnoiter with a key strategist: their hairdresser. Together, they plot a skillful campaign of hairdo, makeup and manicure designed to help the partygoer in the trenches of social combat.

The greatest warlord of Dallas party coiffeurs is Paul Neinast, whose jet-set salon at Snider Plaza has created “the look” for celebs like Olivia Newton-John, Susan Howard and Barbara Bel Geddes.

The smartest socialites bring their glad rags to Neinast weeks before a major event like Crystal Charity or the Opera Ball so they can plan the hairstyle and match nail polish, lipstick and eye-shadow to their gowns, selecting hair adornments ranging from flowers, feathers, sequins, gold stardust and combs to Madonna-style rags tied around their locks.

Then, on the morning of the ball, the women bathe, gather up their duds and go to Neinast’s shop, where he and his staff spend the day primping and buffing and blowing dry. As the cocktail hour approaches, they emerge one by one from Neinast’s, step into waiting limousines, pick up their husbands and hit the party before their mascara has a chance to run.

One woman came into Neinast’s several hours before a Big Event and had her hairdresser affix a $200,000 diamond clip to her coif. “She called her husband to have him send a bodyguard to escort her to the car,” Neinast says, “so she could make sure we knew it was real.”

Other top pre-party picks include the Alan Stone Salon, the Very In high-fashion salon at Preston Center; the low-key Joseph at the Lou Lattimore Salon and Scott Morris at the posh Marie Leavell boutique.


For those of us who don’t have our own stretch limos (after all, just think how hard they’d be to park!), Texas Limousines is a popular place in town to play Millionaire For A Day. They supply Dallas’ glitterati- and regular folks, too-with everything from limousines and Rolls-Royces to Ma-seratis and pickup trucks.

Their discreet, see-no-evil-repeat-no-evil chauffeurs have transported everyone from Mary Kay Ash to Larry Flynt, including Andy Williams, Clint Eastwood, Willie Nelson, Bum Bright, Lee Marvin and Bob Hope.

One wealthy matron always insists on being picked up in a chauffeured ’85 Ford truck. Another Dallas millionaire likes to hire a limo just to drive him around and around the city all night while he sleeps in the back-alone-because “he has nowhere else to go and doesn’t want to go home.”

Surprisingly, limo service doesn’t cost much more than cab fare in Dallas, and lots of non-rich partygoers have started renting limos, often with two or three couples chipping in. It’s a great idea for a little “limo party” of your own-or a very private party for two to celebrate a birthday or anniversary.

Another In place for limos is the huge Carey Limousine Service, popular with socialites and the glitter rock set. Town and Country Limousine Service, a Dallas favorite, also rakes in a sizable share of party-goers.


Outdoor parties are big in Dallas, and that means tents: big tents, little tents, gaily colored tents, plastic see-through tents; all necessary to beat the odds against sudden thundershowers, icy winter winds or blistering Texas summer heat.

The undisputed party-tent king of Dallas is HDO Tent Co., which has erected lean-tos for picnics everywhere from the White House lawn to Bunker Hunt’s ranch.

If you’re having a few fireworks for your guests, HDO will build a transparent tent so your guests can see the show; if it’s January, they’ll install portable heaters. For nighttime shindigs, they’ll light your backyard and cover your swimming pool with a dance floor.

Their service is a surprisingly reasonable alternative to cramming too many guests into your home, and HDO’s reliable, creative tentmanship has made them a favorite of Dallas’ most experienced partythrowers.


The best walk-in, full-service party invitation store we could find was The Write Selection at Preston Royal Shopping Center, where they specialize in clever, creative and affordable invitations for every conceivable occasion.

The best printed party invitations in Dallas, year in and year out, are the ones Nei-man-Marcus sends out for its own events. But they cheat-they have some of the best graphic artists in town on the payroll. Neiman’s is a good choice too for simple, elegant invitations to weddings and other formal events.


It has become de rigueur at Dallas parties to have company names, dates, event themes or hosts’ initials printed on paper napkins, cups, plates and other tableware. If you can’t feed paper napkins through your office Xerox machine, we suggest The Paper Place in the Quadrangle, where they’ll immortalize your choice of words or letters on a wide range of party utensils in a variety of colors, at a price well-suited to the average party budget. One tip: Never dab perspiration off your brow with a printed napkin, or you’ll end up wearing your host’s logo on your forehead for the rest of the night. Trust me.


When Dallas biggies throw a party their own butler can’t handle, they call L.G. Foster, a longtime Dallas fixture whose trustworthy bartenders, waiters and busboys have served up some of the most memorable events in the city’s history.

Another favorite major domo is Howdy Hardin, one of Chow’s top party managers, who supervises the undisputed efficiency of the city’s most popular catering outfit.


The old saying holds true: “You can get in the papers, but you can’t get in.” Still, for some people, getting their face into “Fete Set” is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.

The best bet for publicity hounds is to locate Andy Hanson of the Times Herald or the Morning News’ Joe Laird, society photogs for the “Unique” and “High Profile” sections. Then wedge yourself in between, say, Nancy Brinker and anyone whose first name is “Twinkle.” Smile brightly and hide your drink behind your back-newspapers don’t like to show the glitter folk imbibing (sets a bad example for the masses). Oh, and never, ever talk while the flashbulbs are popping, or you’ll look like Mr. Ed in Sunday’s paper.

A favorite Dallas party guest is a charming man named Hector Izquierdo, who snaps party pics of couples with his automatic camera, writes down names and addresses, and mails the photos to guests later-for no reward beyond the happy smiles he captures on film. Nobody can figure out quite what Hector does, but no one seems to care.


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