Review

The Georgetown Ladies' Social Club: Power, Passion, and Politics in the Nation's Capital

by C. David Heymann



C. David Heymann, a quintessential New Yorker, has written a book
about some quintessential Washingtonians --- five women who through
their marriages, friendships, and careers set the scene of
mid-to-late twentieth-century D.C. The women are Katharine Graham,
Evangeline Bruce, Lorraine Cooper, Pamela Harriman and Sally Quinn
(the only one of the quintet still living), along with dashes of
Jacqueline Kennedy and Elizabeth Taylor (presumably Heymann
couldn't help himself, having written biographies of those two in
the past).

Heymann is an entertainment writer (several of his books have been
TV miniseries), and this book does not try to act as history ---
instead, it's a fast-moving mix of interviews, hearsay, anecdotes,
quotes and fact. New York Post gossip columnist Liz Smith
said the book is "one juicy story after another." However juicy
they may be, most of the stories in THE GEORGETOWN LADIES' SOCIAL
CLUB have been told before: Phil Graham's mental illness and
suicide, Joe and Susan Mary Alsops's sham marriage, Jackie
Kennedy's distraught widowhood, Mary Pinchot Meyer's still-unsolved
murder, Pamela Harriman's easy-to-bed, easy-to-wed persona,
Elizabeth Taylor's gluttonous time in Virginia --- these have all
been fodder for Smith and her ilk for decades.

What hasn't been told before is how these women were
interconnected. One of the most fascinating things Heymann shows
readers is just how small Georgetown is, and therefore just how
amazing it is that all of these women had residences within minutes
of each other. However, between all of the marriages, affairs,
divorces, births, deaths, scandals, elections and parties, it is
sometimes difficult to keep track of who knew whom when and why. A
timeline would not have been a bad addition to the book, along with
some kind of historical exegesis, especially considering that there
are huge gaps of more than years between the English Pamela Digby's
wartime wedding to Winston Churchill's son and Smith graduate Sally
Quinn's seventies marriage to recently divorced Ben Bradlee.

Despite the sometimes breathless and rushed pace, Heymann's writing
is entertaining and --- when it comes to the two women whose
stories have rarely been told --- informative as well. Evangeline
("Vangie") Bruce, wife of Ambassador David Bruce, and Lorraine
Cooper, wife of Kentucky Senator John Sherman Cooper, were very
powerful women in their own right, although the general public did
not hear their names with the same frequency as Graham's or
Harriman's or Quinn's. After all, neither Bruce nor Cooper had a
spouse who killed himself, a string of wealthy lovers, or a career
as a sharp-nibbed reporter.

The work of these women was behind the scenes, as they carefully
crafted dinner parties and cocktail hours with all of the cunning
and cleverness of four-star generals. Both had high standards for
themselves and others, going so far as to tell members of Congress
where to find a good tailor and providing safe havens for
presidential misbehavior. It was Ronald Reagan who coined the term
"the Georgetown Ladies' Social Club," and no wonder --- the
politician from Hollywood recognized others who were involved in
acting.

If the world of the Georgetown Ladies no longer exists, then this
book is an intriguing look at an underrated part of American
history. If the world of the Georgetown Ladies still exists, albeit
in another guise, then this book is an intriguing
let-the-players-beware...

Reviewed by Bethanne Kelly Patrick on January 22, 2011

The Georgetown Ladies' Social Club: Power, Passion, and Politics in the Nation's Capital
by C. David Heymann

  • Publication Date: October 1, 2003
  • Genres: Biography, History, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Atria
  • ISBN-10: 0743428560
  • ISBN-13: 9780743428569