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.
Late Night at the White House
After Italian Prime Minister Andreotti departed at 12:20 a.m. the party warmed up. The Marine Band kept a crowd on the dance floor, with President and Mrs. Ford joining in to do the Hustle.
Some guests provided extra entertainment. Actor Peter Graves of Mission: Impossible fame played the clarinet and poet Rod McKuen and baseball player Johnny Bench both sang. Pearl Bailey once again ended the night on a high note, this time with a medley that included “I’ll Be Seeing You” and “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” topped off with the Battle Hymn of the Republic.
The Fords didn’t leave the party until at 2:00 a.m.
Gonna Boogie Tonight
Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti of Italy and the guests at the Fords’ final state dinner enjoyed after dinner entertainment provided by the musical group Tony Orlando and Dawn.
Orlando and Dawn, singers Telma Hopkins and Joyce Vincent Wilson, had a string of hits in the early 1970s, including “Knock Three Times” and “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree.” During this performance Orlando also serenaded President and Mrs. Ford with the song “You Are So Beautiful,” drawing a standing ovation from the crowd.
“Your enthusiastic performance brought much joy to the evening and generated a warmth and spirit that permeated the audience,” President Ford wrote in a thank you letter to Orlando. “We want you to know that your loyalty and friendship mean a great deal to both of us.”
State Dinner Styling
Betty Ford wore this chiffon gown at the state dinner honoring President Kekkonen of Finland. Designed by Albert Capraro, the floor-length dress features a two layered sandstone-stripe design.
Mrs. Ford paired the gown with the “Collar of St. Arsene,” which First Lady Jehan Sadat of Egypt had given to her as a state gift on October 27, 1975. The necklace, made of gold-plated silver and cut glass, dates to the pre-Arabic Roman period.
Albert Capraro was one of Betty Ford’s favorite designers during her time in the White House. Capraro previously had worked for Oscar de la Renta before striking out as an independent designer. Mrs. Ford admired his clothing and also appreciated that it was designed and made in the United States.
Capraro described working with Mrs. Ford as a joy. “She is warm and charming, and she knows what she wants,” he said. Here he adjusts her collar during a consultation at the White House on February 21, 1975.
As part of her visit Queen Elizabeth II presented a number of state gifts to the Fords. These included an ornate Bicentennial Commemorative tureen painted with red, blue, and gold. An image of the White House is painted on one side, while the other shows a side view of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. For display the tureen came with a specially designed wooden base with an engraved plaque.
Queen Elizabeth also gave gifts to individual family members. Betty Ford received a custom designed gold and diamond star burst brooch, while Jack Ford was given a set of four gold-tone cuff links. The jewelry featured Her Majesty’s cipher “E II R.”
In return the Fords presented Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip with the bronze statue “Two Champs” by Henry Jackson, which depicted a rider on a bucking horse.
Today marks the 90th anniversary of the first time the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was introduced in Congress in 1923. Both Gerald and Betty Ford were strong supporters of this constitutional amendment that stated, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”
When the ERA was again introduced in the early 1970s, Congressman Ford voted in favor of it. Just over 30 states had ratified the amendment by the time he entered the White House. As President, Ford urged “those States who have not ratified the Equal Rights Amendment to give serious consideration to its ratification and the upholding of our Nation’s heritage.” He hoped that the requisite goal of ratification by 38 states would be reached in the Bicentennial year of 1976.
First Lady Betty Ford staunchly and vocally supported the ERA. “It is my personal opinion that ratification of the ERA is the single most important step that our nation can take to extend equal opportunity to all Americans,” she said.
Here is one of her statements explaining why she was firmly in favor of this amendment.
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.
Betty Ford enlisted the aid of David Jones, a floral designer and interior decorator from Los Angeles, to put together decorations for this dinner honoring the Shahahshah and Empress of Iran. It was a white tie event, and one of the more formal dinners that the Fords would host.
The garden-themed decor featured bronze sculptures on loan from the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Dating from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, they were designed by American artists Robert Ingersoll Aitken, Abstenia St. Leger Eberle, Janet Scudder, and Bessie Potter Vonnoh. Each sculpture was placed on a low platform surrounded by greenery and candles.
Garlands draped on the back of the chairs and around the room finished the decor. The garden theme carried outside of the State Dining Room as well with the addition of trees and planters in the Cross Hall.
Although the Johnson china with its wildflower pattern was often used at state dinners, for this one the meal was served on the Truman china with its green border. The Kennedy crystal and Monroe vermeil completed the table settings.