Pieces of Silver
Betty Ford reviewed the table settings in the State Dining Room as preparations for the state dinner honoring the President of Liberia were underway.
For the centerpieces the White House borrowed 19th century silver presentation pieces from the Museum of the City of New York. These pieces, which had been given to individuals in recognition of service or accomplishment, had all be manufactured in America.
The decorations also featured arrangements of flowers and greenery that included Boston ivy, pink cabbage roses, eucalyptus, Gerber daisies, and mums. A pink lily was tucked in each napkin, which rested on the wildflower-patterned Johnson china.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin of Israel arrived in Washington, D.C., on September 10, 1974. The state dinner in his honor was held on September 12.
Maria Downs, Mrs. Ford’s Social Secretary, provides a description of the welcoming ceremony for visiting heads of state:
This official greeting by the President and the First Lady was a very impressive occasion which included the herald trumpet greeting, honors to the President, Ruffles and Flourishes, both national anthems, a 21 gun salute, reviewing of the troops, the welcoming remarks of our President and the honored guest’s response….In their homeland, millions of our guest’s countrymen would be scrutinizing the manner in which their leader is received – the respect shown – the guests present – all these details and many others are looked upon as significant symbols.
Reviews of a Revue
The Fords invited actress-singer-dancer Ann-Margret to entertain guests after the dinner honoring the Shahanshah and Empress of Iran. Known for her work in musicals and movies including Bye Bye Birdie and Tommy, she had also traveled to Southeast Asia on a USO tour to entertain troops stationed there.
Ann-Margret’s debut White House performance was based on her night club act. Her musical numbers included “I Won’t Last a Day Without You,” “Swedish Lullaby,” and a “Salute to the Bicentennial.”
Press reaction to the entertainment was mixed to negative. The Fords took it in stride. “We certainly didn’t please all of the people all of the time. We thought it was great, for instance, to ask Ann-Margret,” Betty Ford wrote in her memoirs. “Well, Betty Beale came out with a column in the Washington Star that ripped us up and down for having made that choice.” Other commentators called the Vegas-style revue tasteless and deemed it too low-brow for the White House and its royal guests.
All In the Planning
Selecting dishes to serve at this state dinner was trickier than usual, as President and Mrs. Kaunda both had significant dietary restrictions. The final menu featured filet of sole to start and capon as the main course.
For centerpieces, Mrs. Ford borrowed porcelain made by Cybis Studio, America’s oldest existing porcelain arts studio, from Blair House. The sculptures represented major North American Indian tribes of the United States.
The Fords also continued to invite people representing wide and varied backgrounds. Guests at this dinner included recently appointed Secretary of Transportation William T. Coleman, sportscaster Howard Cosell, choreographer Jerome Robbins, fashion designer Gloria Sachs, and architect Gordon Bunshaft, who designed the Hirshorn Museum.
Time Flies When You’re Having Fun
It’s hard to believe, but we’ve made it through all of the state dinners hosted by President and Mrs. Ford. We hoped you’ve enjoyed going behind the scenes at these White House events.
Although we’re saying goodbye to our state dinner focus, don’t worry! We’ll be back soon with even more great items from our collections.
President and Mrs. Ford wave goodbye to Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti as he departs the White House following a state dinner held in his honor on December 6, 1976.
We loved the State Dinner series and we’ll be reblogging those over the next few months. Looking forward to seeing what else our colleagues at fordlibrarymuseum have planned!
On the Menu: Suprême of Royal Squab
Chefs in the White House kitchen begin preparing the squab that will be the main course at the state dinner for Prime Minister Harold Wilson of Great Britain.
One of the first steps in planning what to serve at a state dinner involved contacting the State Department to inquire about dietary restrictions and likes or dislikes of the visiting guests. In this case, they were informed Prime Minister Wilson didn’t like oysters.
White House executive chef Henry Haller would prepare sample menus that were sent to the First Lady’s staff. Mrs. Ford approved this menu on January 23, a week before the actual dinner.
President Ford hosted a working stag dinner for Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau on December 4, 1974.
The event outline illustrates how streamlined the evening would be. All of the guests were high-ranking U.S. and Canadian government officials. Unlike other state dinners spouses were not invited, and there was no after-dinner entertainment.
King Hussein, President Ford, Queen Alia, and Mrs. Ford pause at the base of the Grand Staircase before proceeding to the East Room to receive their guests.
Having attended White House functions before, President Ford felt that this first state dinner “would also give Betty and me an opportunity to put our personal imprint on White House social occasions.” He observed that during the previous administration after dinner entertainment had been formal and the Nixons usually left just after the show. The Fords wanted their dinners to be “more relaxed” and included after-dinner dancing as part of the evening.