25 November 2009

Etiquette Wednesday -- Elsa Maxwell

Since it is the day before Thanksgiving and also Wednesday, we thought we would provide you with etiquette and entertaining as you approach the holiday. Actually, it might be more “entertainment” than entertaining. If you are facing a family fiasco or “your” friends are bringing “their” friends, just close your eyes and think, “What would Elsa Maxwell be doing…”

Simon Doonan wrote of Elsa Maxwell:
"Even if you took Martha Stewart, Julia Child, Two Fat Ladies, Regine, Suzanne Bartsch, Nigella Lawson, Diane Brill, Carmen D’Allessio, Pat Buckley, Amy Sacco, and Phyllis Diller and threw them all into a gigantic blender, you would still fall short of producing anyone as compelling and scrumptious as the late, great, über-hostess Elsa Maxwell."

While Miss Maxwell is no longer with us, she has left us with the blueprint in How To Do It.

Here is a typical seating arrangement at one of Miss Maxwell's parties.

It seems Stavros Niarchos wasn't invited to the above party, but he did make it to her Tiara Ball.

Here are just a few party pointers from Miss Maxwell that I have translated for Thanksgiving:

Avoid people with causes to boost or grievances to air.

(Since it’s Thanksgiving and you are probably having the family in, rest assured there are grievances and at least one PETA pushing adolescent. Sorry)

Avoid the very shy, uncertain, introverted types.

(Seat them at the kids table.)

I always make it a point, for instance, even in a predominantly eggheaded group, to have a smattering of beautiful women regardless of whether they are dumbbells or not (and
most beautiful women are not very bright.)

(Remember, Elsa Maxwell tipped the scale at about 300 pounds, so she might be bitter, still when you tell this story and your brother’s girlfriend asks, “Who is Elsa Maxwell? “, feel free to move them to the kids table.)

As for the limits of age, there are none.

(Bravo Elsa. Feel free to move two young folk from the kids table to the big table. Pick the boy who laughed when the girlfriend asked “Who’s Elsa” and the overweight niece who can program your Blackberry.)

Miss Maxwell called on some of her friends to provide the recipe selections in How to Do It. The ever-emaciated Mrs. T. Reed Vreeland (Deeeahhna to her friends) actually stole this recipe from Elsie de Wolfe.

Consomme Vért-Pré

Make a very good rich bouillon. Add enough spinach to color it green, and just before serving add finely chopped fines herbes. Serve hot or cold.

(This is the perfect dish for PETA lovers and super-models. In a pinch, add one vegetable bouillon cube to a quart of hot water. When it is dissolved, add 1 oz. of green food coloring. Voilà, Consomme Vért-Pré. Don’t worry what people think. You know in your heart the model will dump your brother before Christmas.)

Now get out there and entertain!


  1. Fantastic! EM is a constant source of fascination and amusement. My book on 'Camp' by Philip Core cites her as having 'a long career of introducing the rich to the rich at their expense'. And of being 'recognisably one of the most disliked and indispensable ladies of her time'. I wonder if that last part is fair?

  2. Oh, to be seated at that table!


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