Twist At The Kennedys’
No one who was at the White House denies having heard it. It was Twist music all right. Definitely! Primitive, bouncey, jouncey, it couldn’t be anything else but an open invitation to swing your hips. And an invitation at the White House is like a command performance, isn’t it? Yet in what may be the greatest case of mass myopia in the history of social gatherings, no one can recall actually seeing anyone dance the Twist.
The mood was right for it—one of President and Mrs. Kennedy’s most informal parties in honor of the First Lady’s sister, Princess Lee Radziwill. And the music was right for it, too—Lester Lanin’s romping, stomping beat. And the news stories—could they be all wrong?
Therein lies the social mystery of the year, which Photoplay set out to solve. While we were busily at it. Presidential Press Secretary Pierre Salinger was nursing the social headache of the year. He had the task of explaining—or trying to—what did or didn’t happen. In a party postmortem, he firmly and unequivocally denied that President Kennedy or anyone else had danced the dance which has virtually hypnotized the rest of the nation—from the bluebloods of society to the fuzzy-cheeked teenagers with the duck-tailed hairdos.
This denial was indeed a surprise because the story originally came out of Washington, ostensibly from the very staid and proper precincts of the White House itself. And this is why it attracted so much interest in the first place. People believed the story was official.
It started with a newspaper article, datelined Washington.
“President Kennedy’s guests are doing ‘The Twist’ and other new dance steps at a White House party tonight,” the account began on the United Press International teletype machines in newspaper offices all over the country.
“The President and Mrs. Kennedy, setting protocol aside for tonight,” continued the story, “invited close relatives and friends to the kind of party they like to give.”
After explaining that the part) was to honor Mrs. Kennedy’s sister, the story went on to say that Lester Lanin’s orchestra “is providing the music to accompany the guests’ attempt at ‘The Twist.’ ”
An added note to the announcement indicated that the Marine band would provide music to “greet arriving guests.” Perhaps the Marine musicians were brought in to still the savage breasts of those who took the news accounts literally and came with the idea of twisting their way into the Blue Room to make an impression on the Chief Executive and the First Lady.
The soft chamber music rendered by the Marine group made such an entrance impossible. But it wasn’t long before the sedate and subdued symphonic strains of the service band were supplanted by the syncopated heel-kicking stomp stuff which Lester Lanin and his lads had come to play.
The black tie gathering of ninety quickly glided into the groove with such peripatetic numbers as “Never on Sunday,” “Mac the Knife,” “Sound of Music,” “Hey, Look Me Over,” “Hey, I Ain’t Down Yet” and “Make Someone Happy.”
But gliding into the groove is one thing, doing The Twist is quite another. One simply must study the circumstances before plunging recklessly into hasty conclusions. Consider, if you will, the guests.
There was, to begin with, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson and Mrs. Johnson. Certainly it’s hard to conceive of Mr. Johnson doing The Twist.
It’s true enough that Mr. Johnson hails from Texas. And no doubt he had ridden a bronc before he could walk. (Don’t all Texans? ) However, while some movements may seem the same, there is a difference between riding a bronc and dancing The Twist. Riding a bronc just isn’t done to music.
Another guest was Averill W. Harriman, former Governor of New York and one-time Ambassador to Moscow, who is currently a roving Ambassador for the Kennedy Administration.
Certainly his many globe-girdling junkets keep Mr. Harriman hopping. But we can hardly reconcile his gyrations in the diplomatic arena as a training regimen for The Twist.
Let’s twist away from Mr. Harriman and continue with the guest list.
Peter Lawford. Now there’s a candidate!
Petah (as The Clan would say), being the President’s brother-in-law, was very much a guest at the affair. And as a theatrical personality, a movie star at that, he could readily have done The Twist and not incurred the slightest criticism for it. After all, Petah might be called on in his very next movie to twist!
But did anyone see Petah do it? Not a soul professed to have been witness to such a phenomenon.
Well, let’s move on. Oleg Cassini was there. Oleg, as you no doubt know, is the man who shapes Jacqueline Kennedy’s wardrobe.
One could surmise that Cassini was invited not especially to do The Twist—if indeed the dance was done at all—but to provide his views on the latest rage in fashions: a girdle designed especially for The Twist.
But the truth of it is—and this is gospel—no one saw Oleg so much as take out a tape measure. Not once.
So. we move on to another guest—Franklin Roosevelt. Jr., the former Congressman from New York and son of the late F.D.R.
The White House was hardly a strange surrounding for Roosevelt. He practically grew up there. If no one noticed whether he had done The Twist it was probably because his long residency in the Presidential mansion had made him a fixture there.
And who notices the fixtures at a gathering like this? Though we imagine that if the chandelier had suddenly started to dance—not The Twist, but just a simple Fox Trot—the guests would have noticed it . . . and talked about it.
Now, what about President Kennedy?
Did he do The Twist?
No, he did not. That’s what the President’s own press secretary said, making certain in the process to explain that Mr. Kennedy’s restraint was not induced by his troublesome back. The President’s back, Mr. Salinger said, is just “fine” now.
That, of course, was quite evident to one and all the night of the party, for the President did dance.
“He danced a minute or two with one partner, then went on to another,” an authoritative source reported, adding quickly that “Mr. Kennedy always held his partners at a discreet distance.”
The President was relaxed and smiling from the start of the evening until the wee hours of the next morning when the party broke up.
“Everyone seemed to take the cue from him, and the result was that every guest appeared to have had a wonderful time,” the source related.
A White House steward, who had seen more than forty years of service there, was overheard remarking to Lanin: “We’ve never had a party like this one . . . this has dignity, spirit and gaiety.”
But what about The Twist?
Did anyone—anyone at all—do it?
“Well,” remarked another guest who would not allow identification, “I heard it was done by someone—but only for a few seconds, like a kind of gag.”
“I don’t really know,” the guest hastened to clarify. “I didn’t see the dance done myself … I was out of the room at the time it was supposed to have happened.”
We cross-examined the guest for more details.
“All I know is that Lester Lanin struck it up with one particularly fast number that had a jungle-like beat. and someone said, ‘That’s twist music.’
“But I didn’t see anyone do the dance.”
This evidence, as the court would rule, is inadmissible. It falls in the realm of hearsay.
We wish to emphasize what Mr. Salinger has said: “There were no twists danced that night.”
Again, we quote Mr. Salinger: “I was there until 3 A.M. and nobody did The Twist.”
Oh, by the way, one of our informants who stayed until the party broke up—at 4 A.M.—told us that President Kennedy danced with his sister-in-law, Princess Radziwill, after all the guests from the Saturday night party had left.
The tune to which they danced was “Never on Sunday.”
It was Sunday though, and the dawn was coming up like thunder.
She danced, too.
Moreover, indications were that Jackie enjoyed the party tremendously. One guest told us of overhearing Jackie say to Lanin: “You’re a darling. You were sweet to come.”
And that’s the story of the Kennedy party for Princess Radziwill.
Lots of music to dance The Twist.
But not a twist on the White House dance floor—or so they tell us.
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE FEBRUARY 1962