Washington party-goers have become blase' with getting those glossy receiving-line photographs of themselves being greeted by someone richer, thinner and/or better known. So billionaire Dr. Armand Hammer has found a way to impress them -- and make other hosts look like Instamatic pikers.
He has sent those fortunate few who attended a dinner at the National Gallery of Art last April 23 a beautifully bound blue picture book with parchmentlike pages. The title, embossed in gold: "Dr. and Mrs. Armand Hammer Attend a Dinner at the National Gallery of Art. Washington, D.C."
Inside are 70 color photographs, tipped in, two to a page, for most of the 36, with printed captions. Pat Willits, by appointment to Hammer the photographer for his collection, worked hard. Franklin Murphy, chairman of the board of trustees of the National Gallery and chairman of the Times Mirror executive committee; J. Carter Brown, director of the National Gallery of Art; and, of course, Hammer, chairman and chief executive officer, Occidental Petroleum Corp. (among other things) greeted guests.
The book provides a useful party-spotters guide to who's who on the West Building guest list.
The hosts stand in their black ties, trying, according to their natures, to look at the birdie and the guests.
Hammer -- despite his almost 90 years, his coast-to-coast daily life, the cares of the world on his shoulder -- looks as cheerful in the last picture as in the first. One wonders who makes his shoes.
Brown, the star of the party-circuit photo, works hard to present a different pose or expression for each camera click, a casebook study in how to look alive while in a receiving line. (Full face smiling. Full face serious. Three-quarter face ... )
Murphy wears an expression that will be familiar to all those who have to stand on marble floors in receiving lines and think of something pleasant to say to the untold multitudes. But he brightens up considerably when standing with the full-maned blond Catherine (Mrs. Ted) Stevens. (Hammer has his arm linked with hers.)
Most of the women have on blue dresses of various hues, including Pauline (Mrs. Albert Sr.) Gore; the Hungarian ambassador's wife, Judit (Mrs. Vencel) Hazi; and the Marquise de Brantes. This being Washington, most wear long sleeves and demure de'colletage, with the exception of Nancy Dickerson's one-shoulder, both-arms-bare gown and Joan Tobin's off-both-shoulders.
The album beats any senior yearbook. It escapes the receiving line for eight pages at the back. There Ambassador Yuri Dubinin looks apprehensively at the camera while Hammer talks to Jayne Ikard. Frances Hammer, in a picture-perfect white lace gown with diamond necklace, keeps a happy face, while Jennings Randolph listens to a witty remark by Hammer. Pamela Brown, a great beauty, is in a serious conversation with the great man. Dorothy Hebner and Dorothy McSweeny glitter on either side of Paul Hebner. Two experts at raising money for art and antiques, Clement Conger and Wilhelmina Holladay, discuss ploys over dinner.
Modestly, the book doesn't say that the occasion opened the show of "Master Drawings from the Armand Hammer Collection." The permanent exhibition on the West Building's ground floor rotates 109 drawings by such familiar names around Hammer's household as Albrecht Dur er, Leonardo da Vinci and Paul Gauguin.
Hammer hasn't exactly given the collection to the National Gallery yet, but he's promised it in his will.
The album was prepared by the Special Projects Department of Hammer's Occidental Petroleum Corp., Los Angeles. William McSweeny, Occidental vice president and head of the company's Washington office, estimates the edition numbered fewer than 100, one for each couple immortalized.
This is, by Hammer's standards, a very limited edition. His new autobiography has a first printing of more than 200,000 hardback copies. Full-page ads tout "Hammer" as just published in 13 languages in hardback by G.P. Putnam's Sons. (Coming soon, the paperback. So far, no mini-series, though don't bet against it.)
Moreover, the dinner book is considerably lighter than the five-pound "The World of Armand Hammer," full of photographs of Hammer in search of world peace, published in 1985.
Hammer said the albums (the third in a series) didn't cost much -- about $25 each -- but then the photographer, the printer and the bindery are all part of his full-time staff. He has his own movie company, too. Perhaps next time he'll send each guest a film of dinner.
McSweeney explains: "Having a hundred books of dinner photographs made is no more to Doctor Hammer than having the Safeway make double prints of your vacation snapshots.