This is the season of Christmas parties and, of course, New Year’s Eve parties. Thinking about parties reminds me of the Hollywood parties hosted by Ouida and Basil Rathbone. Ouida was in fact known as “The Hostess of Hollywood.” Here’s a magazine article about one such party that took place in April 1930:
by Grace Kingsley
Read about the Party that Had all Hollywood Talking!
“I’ll just bet that man over there, dressed as an army cadet, is Irving Thalberg!” exclaimed Patsy the Party Hound in an inspired tone. “But who can the other one, dressed the same way, be? It just can’t be Norma Shearer!”
But it was! Billy Haines, that terror of social functions in Hollywood, went over and pinched Irving on the arm, and said, “Oh, excuse me! I thought it was Norma!”
Then Norma laughed an embarrassed and astonished little laugh, and we knew her.
“But isn’t it just too gorgeous!” exclaimed Patsy, catching her breath at the beauty of it as we looked around.
Basil Rathbone and his wife, Ouida Bergere, were giving quite the most gorgeous masquerade party that has ever been held in Hollywood. Or rather this one took place at the Beverly Hills Hotel, just outside Hollywood. The whole lower floor was given over to the Rathbones’ guests, and the Venetian ballroom in particular was aglow with lights and flowers, while even the great terrace was softly lighted and furnished with easy chairs, little sofas and small tables; and the guests in all sorts of gorgeous and picturesque costumes were dancing to the music of the Spanish and colored orchestras which played alternately or were chatting in groups, trying to guess each other’s identity.
Our hostess, beautiful Ouida Bergere, just had to unmask beforehand, because otherwise her guests were rather bewildered, and besides she was dashing about so hard, seeing to it that everybody was happy, that she confided to us she was just smothering behind her mask. She looked stunning in a Spanish grand dame costume, while Basil Rathbone looked just too sheikishly handsome in a sort of Russian peasant costume. We saw the beginning of a romance, too, though we didn’t know it at the time. Jack Gilbert and Ina Claire were meeting almost for the first time. Indeed, they didn’t know each other behind the masks, but Jack pursued a small feminine figure clad as Oliver Twist.
“What’s Oliver ‘asking for more’ of?” inquired Patsy.
“Why, Jack Gilbert, of course!” answered John Davidson, who was our escort, and who had come dressed as Romeo.
Jack danced with Ina several times before he discovered who she was.
Greta Garbo was there, but we didn’t see her dancing or talking with Jack at all. Indeed, I believer there was a distant coolness between them, or at least on Greta’s part. I don’t know whether Jack even noticed it. Of course Jack and Greta’s romance has been cooling for some time anyway. Greta was clad as Hamlet, and maintained to a big extent the aloofness and somberness of the unsociable prince, who, as John remarked, “never gave a party but once so far as known and that was when he wanted to get something on somebody.”
“That’s quite too hard-boiled a remark for gentle Romeo to make!” chided Gertrude Olmstead, who was looking very cunning as the rabbit which Bob Leonard, her husband, as the Nimrod, was gunning for. These two put on a funny act, by the way, with Bob chasing Gertrude. Nobody knew either one of them until they had taken off their masks.
. . .
We walked out under the cherry trees, covered with blossoms, which our hostess had brought to the terrace as decorations, and found–whom do you think?–our host and hostess embracing under a cherry tree!
They explained to us quite composedly that this was really the celebration of their fourth wedding anniversary, and that they had just purposely waited four years before saying it with a party, because people were always so ready to say caustic things about wedding anniversaries, especially first ones.
Here’s a link to the entire article: starrymasquerade1929
Other stars who attended that party included: Ralph Forbes, Ruth Chatterton, Joan Bennett, Lily Damita, Gloria Swanson, Ivan Lebedeff, Fred burt, Helen Ware, Jetta Goudal, Blanche Sweet, Micky Neilan, Marion Davies, Lilyan Tashman, Florence Vidor, Jascha Heifitz, Eddie Lowe, Adrian, Billy Haines, King Vidor, Eleanor Boardman, Rene Adoree, Larry Gray, Fay Compton, Sidney Howard, George K. Arthur, Jack Conway, John Cromwell, and Kay Johnson.
The Rathbones seemed to be fond of themed costume parties. For their eleventh wedding anniversary (April 1937), they invited 250 guests to a costume party they held at the Victor Hugo Restaurant in Beverly Hills. The guests were to dress as famous couples. Basil and Ouida were dressed as Emperor Franz Josef and Empress Elizabeth of Austria.
Here is a photo of Clifton Webb, Marlene Dietrich and Elizabeth Allen from another Rathbone costume party held in 1935. The theme for that party was “the person you admire most.” Clifton Webb was dressed as Fu Manchu; Marlene as Leda and the Swan (from Greek mythology); and Elizabeth Allen as Marlene Dietrich (in her trademark top hat and tuxedo).
Want to read more about Rathbone parties? This earlier post describes a charity ball hosted by the Rathbones in December 1939:
May your costume parties be as stylish as the Rathbone parties! Happy Holidays from The Baz!