Washington Society Pie's Upper Crust Is Never Stale

By Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts
Sunday, September 17, 2006

"Washington society" is one of those vague, slightly snobby terms: Socialites, tuxedos, engraved invitations. It's more complicated, of course, and always changing to reflect the moment -- as two gatherings last week demonstrated.

"Washington society is dominated by the search for power and the desire to bask in its glow," said social columnist Betty Beale, who died in June at age 94. Beale spent 40 years covering every party -- she went to 15,000 in her career -- and every president from Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan . She knew everyone. Lucky Roosevelt , Lynda and Chuck Robb, Diana McLellan, and Bill Webster came to her memorial service Wednesday at National Presbyterian Church, where they celebrated her life and times. Beale defined Washington social life as a pie divided into slices of the White House, cabinet, Congress, diplomats, military, media, and cultural -- with the president in the center (and Beale alongside, furiously scribbling notes). She danced with kings. She fell madly in love with Adlai Stevenson . In 1982, she invited Reagan to dinner in her home -- then into her air-conditioned boudoir for a chat with her friends. "Mr. President, wouldn't you like to come into my bedroom? It's much cooler in there." Reagan sat on the edge of the bed, telling stories for 45 minutes before Nancy Reagan dragged him back to the White House.

That moment probably marked the apogee of social intimacy with political power. Beale's world slipped away: Women didn't have time to be merely hostesses, politicians didn't drink as much, diplomats didn't entertain as often, and presidents and reporters stopped being bedfellows. Parties moved from private homes to public ballrooms, where cameras captured every move.

Fast forward to Tuesday's bash for Washington Life magazine, which celebrated its 15th anniversary at Cafe Milano (this generation's Jockey Club). The magazine started with pretty party pictures of politicians, diplomats, and old money; through the years, it added players from Washington's business, high-tech, real estate, sports and entertainment worlds. Today, Washington society is less like a pie and more like a Venn diagram, with intersecting circles.

In the last year, three other lifestyle glossies (Capitol File, DC and DC Style) arrived in town. "What makes us unique is that people actually read our magazine," says Editor-in-Chief Nancy Bagley. Washington Life quickly ramped up its expansion plans and quadrupled in size, added more lists (Social! A! Junior!) and landed VIP cover girls ( Laura Bush, Queen Rania, Condi Rice )-- and remains the monthly guide to who's in, out, or treading water.

"Competition focuses the mind," said CEO Soroush Shehabi . In magazines and social life.

Philippe Cousteau, Immersed in His Work

Philippe Cousteau had made a name for himself as an ocean environmentalist and was launching a TV career in the footsteps of grandfather Jacques Cousteau when he was thrust into an unwanted spotlight two weeks ago.Cousteau, 26, was at the scene of crocodile hunter Steve Irwin's fatal attack by a stingray and assisted in resuscitation efforts.

Days later, he returned to the Great Barrier Reef to finish shooting the Animal Planet documentary they had been working on together -- it will likely air next spring, the first in a series of projects Cousteau is doing with the cable channel. It was a hard decision, but a quick one: "We've grown up with the understanding that what we do is dangerous," said Cousteau, who lives near Pentagon City. "But crossing the street is dangerous."

Cousteau moved here from Florida two years ago with the nonprofit he and sister Alexandra launched to honor their father, who died in a seaplane accident before his birth. Originally called the Philippe Cousteau Foundation, it was renamed EarthEcho International after a legal dispute with their late grandfather's second wife. The photogenic and articulate siblings lecture around the country while working on pop-culture-friendly initiatives -- children's books, video games -- with a conservation message. You'll probably be seeing a lot of them soon.

Now for the obvious questions: No, he doesn't have his grandfather's famously rich Gallic accent (the siblings grew up mostly in the United States), which he said disappoints some audiences. And no, he doesn't have a significant other at the moment. "I travel so much," he said. "It just makes it all very difficult."

Readers Tell Us

Cincinnati writes: Don't care if Tom and Katie showed up anywhere to attend anything[Sept. 12].Cover stuff that's IMPORTANT. Tom and Kate are important ONLY to themselves and even at that, they're pretty mediocre. What a waste of good journalistic real estate.

Tracy writes: Who gives a rat's [derriere] about Tom Cruise attending a Redskins game????!!!!

Central Kentucky writes: WHO CARES?

Exactly! Why should anyone care? All we know is that, for whatever reason, our item about Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes's surprise giddy romp through the Largo Six Flags and the VIP areas of FedEx Field was one of the most-read stories on Washingtonpost.com that day, a jumping-off point for dozens of bloggers, and virtually the only story anyone wanted to talk to us about last week. Can't believe none of you accused us of just trying to sell newspapers. 'Cause you know what? -- we are !

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