HERE’S ONE FOR MISS MANNERS: WHAT happens when a social used-to-be begins crashing (he very parties he once attended as a welcomed guest?
In thai corner of Dallas Society in which everyone is believed to be of equal means (key word: believed), no one has determined the proper etiquette for dealing with that common threat to a good time otherwise known as the party crasher.
Dallas’ most prolific big-time party crasher. Charles Smith-possibly the only limo driver-slash-real estate broker-slash-movie producer in all of Dallas-knows what we’ve secretly suspected for a long time: The big-ticket, black-tie society galas that fill the social calendar like fleas on the back of a dog’s ear are the easiest events to attend-gratis. Last year alone. Smith scammed his way into Crystal Charity Ball, the TACA Ball, Cattle Baron’s Ball, and the opening of Lone Star Park at Grand Prairie through the delicate execution of a highly complicated and elaborate scheme that involves-and this is key-showing up.
That’s right. Smith-well aware of Dallas Society’s abiding reluctance to break the social code that says One mustn’t cause a scene-dresses the part, assumes the profile, and then bluffs his way through the door using one of several tacks, including (but not limited to):
‧ The You must’ve misplaced my reservations approach. This scheme is most effective when the woman at the check-in table-searching in vain for “Smith, Charles” on the reservations list-tells Smith she is sorry sir, but she has no record of his reservations. Face it: A 25-year-old social aspirant paying her own dues by manning the check-in table at one of the big five-Junior League, Beaux Arts. Cattle Baron’s, TAC A, and Crystal Charity balls-doesn’t have the temerity to call Smith’s bluff. Imagine, for a moment, the consequences of the aspirant who actually tells the well-dressed attendee claiming to be Someone that she is sorry he has misplaced his tickets, but that she cannot allow him to enter without them. One doesn’t question rich people. Especially rich people who patronize black-tie fund-raisers. Better to let in the random Charles Smith than to run the risk of alienating a true Someone.
‧ The / am the chauffeur approach. In this plan. Smith uses his limo to deliver a paying fare and then sneaks in on the fare’s tuxedo tails.
Smith’s white stretch limo with “Triumph Pictures” across the side is a handy device for picking up women (“You should be in movies!”), but it also comes in handy as a means of scam-ming his way into, for instance. Cattle Baron’s Ball. Last year’s fund-raiser for the American Cancer Society was held at Baxter Brinkmann’s ranch outside Frisco. A certain socialite, one of the founding members of Cattle Baron’s, booked Smith to transport her to the event, but when he picked her up she was surprised to see her driver dressed as a member of a posse. Clearly, he was planning to attend the Westem-themed gala himself. Which he did. For free.
The I am Charles Smith approach. Smith used this line at the Willow Bend Polo & Hunt Club when, as very good luck would have it, two tickets were reserved at Will Call under the name of Charles Smith, the polo player. Name-shares are serendipity to party crashers like Smith. On this particular occasion, he was given instant entrée to the exclusive sky-box seating at Willow Bend-and not in spite of the name on his ID, but because of it.
The Don’t You Know Who I Am? approach. Smith’s reputation was very well-known when organizers of the TACA Ball refused him tickets to the 1997 ball. He responded by faxing a copy of his family history, which included a copy of a letter from his mother. (“Always remember that you are descended from royalty and there’s no better blood anywhere than in you. Hold high your head.”) Smith crashed the ball anyway. Just as he began to lose himself in the crowd at the Anatole, he was spotted and asked to promptly pay the price of admission for two ($600)-or leave. Short on cash, he agreed to leave but (hen lingered at the bar outside the ballroom. “At that point,” says a TACA official, “we got the security people.”
OK, let’s get this straight. Virtually every socialite in Dallas knows about Charles Smith, the heavyset, 60-something, suspender-wearing used-to-be in the white stretch limo. Yet he continues to bluff his way into Dallas’ good times’?
“I’m embarrassed to tell you this.” says Randi Halsell, chairman of the 1996 Crystal Charity Ball, “but it is so easy to do.” She is talking about party crashing, but the tone in her voice suggests she is revealing information of a highly sensitive nature. “We send out tickets to the ball and we have a check-in table, but there’s no one checking them. So at the Anatole, if someone looks halfway decent, they can come in and drink our liquor.”
Smith certainly looks halfway decent. In fact, his generic looks and affable nature have a lot to do with his success as a party crasher. He says he received an invitation to the December 1996 Crystal Charity Ball but was subsequently sent a note saying there were no seats available. “A day or two before the ball, I called and asked if there were any cancellations and they said, ’Yes,’” says Smith. “The night of the ball, I went to pick up my tickets at Will Call and they didn’t have me on the list.” (You must’ve misplaced my reservations.) “It was very embarrassing.”
“We told him before the ball, ’You have not paid, you may not come, we do not have a seat for you,”’ says Halsell. “He came anyway-with a date. She was mortified.”
When Smith was offered the seats of two no-shows, he charged two $350 tickets, and he and his date were seated. It was only later that ball planners discovered his credit card was, as Halsell says, “no good.” Nine months later, Crystal Charity received a check from Smith (for $700) but soon discovered the account had been closed. Crystal Charity policy is to send three notices for nonpayment. “And the third one isn’t even nice- ’You promised us….’But in a million years you aren’t going to have a nonprofit suing for nonpayment,” Halsell says.
Of course not. That would be impolite.
Smith says he refused to pay because he and his date were seated “at a table in back, behind the palm tree, with everyone who’d worked on the ball.” To his way of thinking. “If you’re sitting behind a palm tree and your date is mad at you, you don’t want to pay.”
More to the point, Smith, who was once enough of an insider, knows of the reluctance to break the Dallas social code.
Introduced to the black-tie world of society fund-raisers by his wife of 17 years, one-time deb Ann Lingo, he quit the society circuit after she died in 1975 but then began attending events again even as the funds began to dwindle.
“I don’t sneak into balls,” he says. “There might be an occasion where a check bounces, but I make up for it.”
In any case, there are clues that his crashing ways are catching up with him. He was wearing his chauffeur’s cap when he arrived for the opening of Lone Star Park last year. He delivered his fare, and the next thing she knew, he was inside mingling with the paying guests. Afterward, when she and her group asked Smith to take them to The Mansion bar, he explained that he’d have to drop them off at the curb because he’d been banned from setting foot in The Mansion.
“Nevermind,” she told Smith. “Take us to Sipango, instead.”
There, of course, the doors open wide for the guy in the big white limo.
1. Look swell. Observing the dress code is essential to losing yourself in the crowd.
2. Accessorize. Nothing lends instant credibility like arriving with an attractive date on your arm.
3. Act like Someone. Rich people are loath to make small talk with the coat check, the valet, the bar tender, To converse with peripheral figures at society balls is to reveal your real station in life. Don’t.
4. Surround yourself. The only thing more certain than death and taxes and Charles Smith crashing your party is this: Ball organizers will not cause a scene-if there are other guests within earshot.
5. Credit cards and or checkbook. Don’t worry if neither is any good. No one’s going to check your credit rating and/or bank balance at 8 on a Saturday night in the lobby outside the Chantilly Ballroom of the Wyndham Anatole.