Gentlemen wear white or black ties at the dinners and dances that are now being held in connection with the Winter Olympics; visiting princes, ambassadors and ministers are seated in their proper places according to the protocol followed at state dinners; the correct flags are flying in the proper order against the wintry skies; and the favorite foods of visiting dignitaries are transported daily from the Bohemian and Pacific Union clubs in San Francisco and hurried to the tables of gourmets in Squaw Valley despite any threat of storm or avalanche. If Squaw Valley is to be a social success—and it now seems almost certain to become one—it will be in large part because of the attention to such detail that has been given by Dorothea Walker, a skier, linguist, author and San Francisco society figure, who is in charge of protocol at these VIII Winter Olympic Games.
Mrs. Walker bears the appalling responsibility of officially (and correctly) greeting, housing, entertaining and placating the various foreign visitors and spectators—cardinals, marquises, countesses, generals, professors and international adventurers—as well as the distinguished members of the International Olympic Committee and the 800 competing athletes. Soon after she was appointed to her post, she hurried to Lake Tahoe (her own ski lodge is in the Sugar Bowl, just over the mountains from Squaw Valley), where she had old friends she could count on to entertain the visiting aristocrats according to their rank, tastes and glamour. "Now Dorothea," said one of these friends, "don't think we intend to bring dinner jackets up here. The place is being ruined anyway. All the construction work. The charm of Tahoe has always been rustic...."
And a potential hostess experienced a sudden enthusiasm for the informality of old western hospitality. "Stop worrying, Dorothea," she said. "These people will be in our country. We'll give them hamburgers...."
GUARDIAN OF PROPRIETY
February 22, 1960
High among the triumphs, foreign and domestic, of Mrs. Walker is that hamburgers aren't being served, and the socialites have taken their black and white ties to Squaw Valley. Gentlemen can go back to rustic attire and cowboy boots next month. For the time being they are ruled by protocol, and as Mrs. Walker is director of entertainment and protocol, they are ruled by her. Protocol at the Olympic Games is no joke: it is perhaps regarded officially as just a shade less important than the conduct of foreign relations by Christian Herter, and the possibilities of a crisis are dangerous and dramatic. During the Winter Games in Oslo in 1952 there was one that diplomats still shudder about: a prominent foreign guest interpreted a social blunder as a deliberate affront, walked out and has since been an implacable foe of the nation to which his unfortunate and gauche host belonged. Part of Mrs. Walker's task at Squaw Valley is merely the negative one of seeing that nothing of the sort happens there to send outraged aristocrats streaming in wrath down the slopes of the Sierra.
But the more important part of her touchy task is positive. For five days, before the Winter Games opened, the International Olympic Committee met in San Francisco to decide on future Olympic policy. For 11 days the august emissaries to this solemn conclave—there are 66 International Olympics Committee members, from 50 countries—assemble in Squaw Valley, and while Mrs. Walker could readily arrange dinners, balls, symphony and opera programs, museum tours and educational entertainments in her native San Francisco, the proper kind of festivities for such people as the committee members is hard to drum up in the winter mountains. And the committee is, of course, like no other institution on earth. Baron de Coubertin set it up when he founded the modern Olympic Games, and members are elected for life, pay their own way and are representatives of the Olympics to their nations, not delegates of their nations to the Olympics. Since qualifications for election include an interest in amateur sport, a position of influence and a lot of money, membership is virtually limited to the international sporting set (circa 1910, in one case), and the committee sessions are traditionally great social events. The members include such formidable figures as the Marquess of Exeter and Lord Luke from England, Count de Beaumont from France, Prince Fran√ßois-Joseph from Liechtenstein, Count Paolo Thaon di Revel from Italy, Sheik Gabriel Gemayel from Lebanon, Raja Bhalindra Singh from India, Major-General C. F. Pahud de Mortanges from The Netherlands, Dr. Manfred Mautner Ritter von Markhof from Austria and others as eminent and with names and titles that are even harder to spell and remember. Not all these are at the Games, but Princess Eda Anhalt of Germany arrived with Monique de Beaumont, Prince Ferdinand and Baron von Falz-Fein of Liechtenstein and other nobility.
It's wrong, as Mrs. Walker quickly learned, to refer to the French Ambassador. The proper title is Ambassador of the French Republic. On the other hand, it is O.K. to speak of the German Ambassador, an important point since eight ambassadors are present. Place cards, as Mrs. Walker found out by sitting in on two-hour-a-day briefing sessions on protocol at the State Department in Washington, are written in black script ink, as simply as possible and should be legible from a distance—Prince Bertil of Sweden should be written Prince Bertil, not His Royal Highness Prince Bertil.
Mrs. Walker was born in San Francisco, where her grandfather arrived from England to find gold—but did not. Instead, he invented a new type of railway spike that was used to close the last gap on the first transcontinental railroad. Dorothea's own parents were in modest circumstances but an uncle had wealth and social position. Her education was in public schools, except for one post-graduate year at Miss Burke's, where many of the city's society girls went. Her career in society really began in 1927 with her marriage, at the age of 21, to Warren Hopkins Clark, a nephew of the most famous and perhaps the most statesmanlike of San Francisco's gold rush millionaires. After his death she was married in 1932 to Richard Walker, an insurance broker and expert amateur horticulturist; she has two sons. Small and chic, a linguist and traveler, with an acute sense of humor and a naturalness that the most ceremonious functions cannot altogether repress, she is, says her friend, the poet Marianne Moore, "a gem." She was picked for her Olympian task by Prentis Cobb Hale, the San Francisco businessman serving as president of the organizing committee of the Games, and demurred on the grounds that she had no time, no qualifications and as much work as she could do. But when he told her that she would be the first woman in the history of the Olympic Games to have the official job of director of entertainment and protocol, she accepted.
NOB HILL CRITICS
Her appointment may have passed unnoticed by the gods and goddesses on Mount Olympus, but among the ladies of Nob Hill there were a few whose attitude suggested sour grapes. Some of them felt they were better qualified for the post than Mrs. Walker. One of them said, "Dorothea's the biggest snob in San Francisco. Sometimes she treats you like dirt, but when she thinks you can do something for her, she's all over you like a blanket." Another grande dame of Nob Hill said with cold hauteur: "You can kick Dorothea out the front door and she'll show up with an armful of roses at the back." These uncharitable comments, however, were overbalanced by praise: she was said to be the obvious choice for the job, with social connections, considerable knowledge of business and a willingness to work hard.
Mrs. Walker was aided by a volunteer organization she created herself, made up of 90 socially prominent San Francisco women, and by a book called Etiquette and Protocol, written by a man named I. Monte Radlovic. Her aides, most of them experienced hostesses in early middle age, simplified the problem of the small dinner parties, for 10 to 30 committee members and celebrities, before the large social functions. These were worked out partly in terms of protocol, partly through mutual interests: socialites Betty and James Flood had spent a lot of time in England and had many British friends; Dr. Ralph Soto-Hall, who was born in Costa Rica, and Mrs. Nion Tucker combined to entertain Spanish-speaking delegates. Some of Mrs. Walker's top assistants, including Diana Burgess and Georgie Meyer, became sufficiently experienced in foreign protocol to help western governors with counsel on food, seating arrangements, glassware, silverware and other problems.
Mrs. Walker herself journeyed to Washington for State Department lectures on how foreign dignitaries should be received. She also began to collect from ancient volumes of The International Who's Who, and miscellaneous gossip, information about the celebrities she would be entertaining, all of which she filed away in a notebook. Her note on General Gustav Dyrssen, the delegate from Sweden, for instance, reads: "Olympic pentathlon champion 1920, fencing champion 1936, put him with people who know sports and like to talk about them." Invariably tactful and discreet, Mrs. Walker would not identify some of the people in her file, but one note says "dull, dull, dull," another says "drip," and another says "pompous esthete." These are all in her own handwriting, but there is no clue as to which world-famous guest she is describing. In an unidentified handwriting, some informant has written by the name of Colonel General Vladimir Stoitchev: "former royalist, now a Communist, always rides the winning horse."
Another comment, probably too frank to be the writing of the director of protocol herself, is by the name of Count de Beaumont, the delegate from France, whose ancestry is no less than awesome: "dashing fellow, likes attractive women, wife not coming along. Put him with charmers." There follow some charming notations about San Francisco glamour girls who might be entertaining dinner companions.
Now all these august, dashing, sports-loving, mysterious or otherwise glamorous figures were scheduled to spend 11 nights in the fastness of Squaw Valley, and Mrs. Walker's problem became one of breaking the monotony, for which visits to nearby Reno seemed logical. Mrs. Walker found prospective hosts and hostesses in Nevada happy to entertain foreign visitors but a little uncertain as to what was expected of them. "Honey, if you just want a limousine, or any other little old thing," said one of the potential Reno hosts, "you just let me know."
NO COWBOYS AT DINNER
After her first meeting with these generous and hospitable folks, Mrs. Walker retreated to her hotel lobby to think. She was shaken by the steady thunder of slot machines, the clank of silver dollars and the noise of canned jazz and further dismayed by the apparition of a number of pretty girls who wandered by with their midriffs bare, accompanied by a woman with a frivolous Mary Pickford hairdo and escorted by a man wearing a magenta dinner jacket. It was then 11 in the morning.
Fortunately, she met other Nevada socialites, notably Mrs. Thayer Bigelow, who knew how foreign dignitaries and visiting royalty should be entertained. Now the climax of the committee's stay at Squaw Valley is a dinner at the governor's mansion at Carson City, given by Nevada's young, first-term Governor Grant Sawyer. In all, five nights of Nevada entertainment break the stay of the members in Squaw Valley, and they are to spend one of these on a merry-go-round tour of Reno nightspots that should provide ample western informality for them. At the last moment, someone seriously proposed that it might be fun to have the-waiters and waitresses at the governor's dinner dressed as cowboys and Indians, but Mrs. Walker managed to persuade the enthusiasts for western local color that it wouldn't do. In fact, the international propriety and correct protocol of the Nevada nights represents one of Mrs. Walker's biggest victories over informal hostesses. "They all wanted to get everybody drunk," she says, "and lead them up to a buffet table. They kept saying, 'That's the way we do it in the West!' "