#ThrowbackThursday: Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball in 1966 Was One of the Best Parties Ever

Lorein Abenhaim

Truman's PartyWe love a good party. But how many parties have you been to or heard about that you would actually consider legendary? It’s a tough call, but we can think of a few.
For starters, there’s Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball, held at the Grand Ball Room of the Plaza Hotel. Capote aspired to make the party beyond glamorous and highly talked about, so it was only fitting he invited some of the most famous people in the world, as well as intentionally excluded many.
The event was held in November in 1966 right after Capote published the haunting masterpiece, In Cold Blood. So in a way, this masquerade ball was a serious publicity move for the book. Likely to mask his true intention, he threw the party in honor of Katherine Graham, the president of The Washington Post and Newsweek magazine.
Imagine an elegant ballroom decorated like My Fair Lady’s ascot scene, about 500 of the most famous and powerful people of that time in masks, drinking champagne and dancing until the wee hours of the morning. So as far as legendary parties go, we’ll comfortably give top honors to Capote’s Black and White Ball. How many parties are so famous that they inspire a book, in this case Deborah Davis’ Party of the Century: The Fabulous Story of Truman Capote and His Black and White Ball.
Find out who made the guest list, how many bottles of champagne were served, and how much the extravaganza cost.
The Guest List: Among the 500 guests were Lynda Bird Johnson, Maharaja and Maharani of Jaipur, Leo Lerman, Frank Sinatra, Joan Fontaine, Norman Mailer, Penelope Tree, Cecil Beaton and Leland Hayward. The party also had a handful of respectful no-shows, including Edward Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy, Mayor John Lindsay, Nelson Rockefeller, and Robert McNamara (the Secretary of Defense at the time). And than there are the big names that Capote purposely excluded, such as Kenneth Tynan, writer for London’s The Observer who trashed In Cold Blood in a review, Walter Hoving, the chairman of Tiffany & Co. because according to Capote he fell short in acknowledging the publicity he generated for the brand with Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and George Hamilton, who was reportedly dating Lynda Bird Johnson at the time.
What They Ate and Drank: Guests enjoyed a heavy calorie intake of scrambled eggs, sausage, biscuits, pastries, spaghetti and meatballs, The Plaza’s well-known chicken hash, and 450 bottles of Taittinger champagne.
What They Wore: The dress code was black and white (hence the name of the party). The men donned black ties and black masks, while the women were either in black or white dresses and white masks. In preparation for the ball the millinery department of Bergdorf’s was completely raided of masks, so several women took on the task of making their own. Some of the more lavish women had theirs custom created for the event, like Benedetta Barzini, who got Kenneth Jay Lane to transform a chrysoprase, diamond, and pearl necklace into a mask.
Fun Fact: The New York Times published Capote’s list of invites. No other time prior did the publication print a guest list for a party, except for White House state dinners.
The Cost: The entire soiree cost Capote $16,000, but when you figure in inflation it comes out to a whopping $144,649.88. Hey, planning the perfect party isn’t priceless.

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