Social Notes: When Washington after dark still made the news

Sam Smith 1975 – Among the social notes of last month is an item from Texas telling of the meeting between John B. Connally and our president.” Asked by reporters how he justified conferring privately for forty-five minutes with Connally, who is under indictment on charges of bribery and perjury, the ever ingenuous Ford replied, “He is a very knowledgable public servant.” To some a meeting between the indictee and he who presumably runs the Justice Department that got him indicted may seem surprising, even a bit shocking. But not to me. I read Betty Beale.

Betty Beale is the most enjoyable bad writer in town; apparently the only person in the country to remain unaffected by the events or implications of Watergate. Reading her in today’s US is like browsing through “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm” in the midst of a Led Zeppelin concert. I wouldn’t miss her. Some days before the Connally-Ford exchange, I had become aware, thanks to Betty Beale’s Star-News column, that things were looking up for the Connallys. .She reported: “’John Connally never looked better. He’s trimmed down and he’s relaxed,’ said Ken Crosby upon returning from a weekend in Houston. The Connallys and the Alan Shepards — he is now in the banking business there — were among those invited to the Robert Herrings’ dinner at the Petroleum Club for Swedish Ambassador and Countess Wachtmeister. Nellie Connally also looked wonderful, according to Crosby who said, in fact they were the life of the party. Everybody down there still loves them and supports them, he added.”

The item is classic Beale. But before you laugh — scratch out the cliches, pass over her unflagging loyalty to ancien regimes of every variety, and you’ll find a unique piece of reportage. Miss Beale writes about the people in power for people in power with the assurance that a sizable number of others will eavesdrop. Half courtier, half correspondent, she does openly what the better part of the Washington press corps does covertly — she fawns over power. The rest of the press may ignore Connally as one more politician down on his luck, but Betty Beale knows better. She knows how power works and who still rates a presidential visit. Her journalistic peers can continue to file broad tales. about the impact of Watergate on the nation’s capital, but for her story Miss Beale trots over to a small dinner dance “at Dan Hofgren’s –  “who quit the White House while things were still rosy and is now at Goldman Sachs § Co.” –  given for former White House social secretary Nancy Lammerding and “her betrothed, Nicholas Ruwe, scion of a wealthy Grosse Pointe family,” where she finds life truckin’ along despite late indiscretions..

Among the guests were “Dwight Chapin, who now works for Clement Stone and will hear this Friday the results of his perjury appeal. . .”‘And speaking of Clem and Dwight, whatever happened to old Pat? Betty Beale found him there – “Pat Buchanan, the speechwriter, who wrote a memo to his boss to burn the tapes when he learned about them. If he had known what was in them he would have kept after Nixon to destroy them, he said. Pat, who has lost about 20 pounds, begins his syndicated column March 1.” Apparently, Watergate has been wonderful for the diet. Then there was “Ronald Walker, Nixon’s chief advance man who became director of the National Park Service and who said he and his wife were just back from a vacation in Florida where they saw something of Bebe Rebozo. Walker is now in the process of deciding on a new job.” And there was Rose Mary Woods, “the devoted Nixon secretary.” And Henry Leslie, Cashen, another socialite from Grosse Pointe: “Cashen, one of the young White House lawyers who was untainted by Watergate, left the administration before the second term to go into law practice with Chuck Colson.” Untainted and unenlightened it would seem.

Until 330 am, there was dancing to the “mad, marvelous rhythms of Mike Carney. . .Watergate was a thing of the past. The fun and the Hofgrens’s Georgetown house had simply become a part of the regular Washington scene.” Betty Beale is not making this stuff up. She may be Rebecca but there really is a  Sunnybrook Farm, aka federal Washington. The daylight charades that obscure the attitude and philosophy of the official city fade with a couple of highballs and Miss Beale faithfully takes you where Peter Lisagor’s press pass won’t get him —, into the hearts and minds of the people who run our country. It’s not a pretty picture in aggregate, but after viewing it one quickly loses any astonishment over the official placidity in the face of depression-level unemployment. Try to find in one of Miss Beale’s columns a person expressing concern over any human problem and you’ll be disappointed. The serious is trivialized, the improper is excused, the critics are turned aside. At the center of power, as Miss Beale dutifully records, are individuals incredibly insensitive to the traumas of the rest of America, resolute in their prejudices, arrogant, isolated and indifferent. Drawing their black limos in a line around the embassy of the evening, they hoist a toast to themselves knowing that when whatever is happening is over, they will still be running things.

Some years ago, the local papers did away with their society pages. The hack social writers were dropped. Maxine Cheshire moved away from writing such things as “Tammy Grimes, wearing the only short dress of the evening and sans stockings came with mouth open and tongue in cheek” to doing more serious gos sip coverage that still only gets her occasionally into the Washington Post. And headlines like that wonderful Times medical bulletin: “Kidney Patients To Be Assisted by Dec. 29 Ball” dropped from sight. But Miss Beale remained and with her our one sure link to the .Washington society that refused to die simply because the papers chose to turn their probes towards the society of movie stars and cult leaders rather than that of local matrons.

The papers may have overreacted.  Ignoring the parties didn’t make them go away or make them any less a source on how federal Washington works. Knowing John Brademas’s ADA voting record is one thing; reading Betty Beale describe his reaction to “Chic to Sheik,” the Public Broadcasting docunentary on Washington social life, is another: “John Brademas, the bachelor congressman who was shown in the “Chic to Sheik” segment. . .was as disgusted as anyone with the obvious intent of that segment — a put-down of social Washington. He was familiar, he said, with the ‘counter-cultural approach of the San Francisco group which produced the show.”

It helps to know what disgusts our liberal congressmen. Fortunately, Betty Beale cares. Beale, who appeared on the show, complained that the TV program missed “catching the essence of the big scene here — i.e. the nightly mingling in a handsome setting of the people with the power.” ‘Betty is on the scene because mad, marvelous Betty Beale knows that power doesn’t quit at sunset and that to much of official Washington, happiness is an ex parte conversation. How right she is.

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