A Leaked Sneak Peek at Spielberg’s Black & White Ball

by AVENUE insider Photographed by Alfred G. Knickerbocker
Monday, July 24, 2017

A spy in the house of Steven Spielberg, actually someone working on the set of The Papers, his upcoming film about the Pentagon Papers, featuring The Washington Post’s great leader, Katherine Graham, snuck this report on the great director’s recreation of Truman Capote’s epic Black and White Ball at the Plaza, honoring Graham, out of the ballroom and into AVENUE’s in-box. Our crotchety correspondent asked to go by the pseudonym Alfred G. Knickerbocker. So…what’s it all about Alfie?

One can say I was a wall-fly named Eloise this past week at the Plaza Hotel.

The scene: November 28, 1966, in the hotel’s main ballroom at Truman Capote’s famous Black and White Ball. As the late Aileen ‘Suzy’ Mehle, who was there, put it, “The Plaza Hotel jumped six feet in the air the night of the party, because the guest list was so exciting.” Think Frank Sinatra and Mia Farrow, Candice Bergen and Lauren Bacall, Norman Mailer, Gloria Steinem, Henry Fonda and a host of Kennedys at what was called the Party of the Century. How do you redux that?

Meryl Streep, who’s playing Katherine Graham, looked rather more like a drag queen than the head of the Georgetown Ladies Club, in a tunic you could pitch in the yard with a gray wig the width of Montana. Broadway actor Jefferson Mays, as Capote, made him even more over-the-top than he was if that’s possible, or necessary.

Was he humming show tunes, or was that my imagination? But hey, that’s show biz.

As he swirled Streep around the dance floor it had a Hanna-Barbera feel to it. I was expecting Tom and Jerry to dash from the wings.

Tom Hanks, playing Ben Bradlee, Graham’s legendary editor, stayed in character, scowling at all the extras. I actually think he made one girl, with a swan on her head, cry.

Spielberg, dressed like a J. Crew ad, a scarf tied around his neck that making him look like a cub scout, shot so quickly one had to wonder if they were all expected at dinner someplace. This is a major film, not a home movie, yet it felt as if any minute they’d wheel Grandma out for the martini shot.

“It’s like working for royalty,” a young man said, sweating in his rented tux as the air was switched on and off. “I’d do just about anything for him, including wash his car.” But would you Turtle Wax it?

Dancers swirled around to a replicated Peter Duchin Orchestra, while Ann Roth, the doyenne of costumers (Midnight Cowboy, The English Patient, Marathon Man) in her eighty-sixth year, whipped the extras into shape like well-dressed circus animals.

Speaking of martinis, if only they’d had an open bar for the 300 extras in masks and enough d├ęcolletage to stop a train.

Think Ben Hur, in black tie.


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