The above picture is of Katharine Graham at one of her black and white balls. (She is not standing next to Adlai Stevenson in this photo — in fact, I can find no photos that picture the two together. Kay is standing next to Truman Capote, whom she almost assuredly did not bonk.)
Man, things are grim.
It’s going to be years before we can muster anything approaching prurient interest in the social lives of this administration (with several notable exceptions). That’s why I’ve been taking comfort in reading gossipy accounts about media influencers from decades past.
Here’s one: Gregg Herken’s “The Georgetown Set,” which profiles the group of DC journalists and politicians (Phil Graham! Joe Alsop! JFK!) who hobnobbed for a couple decades following WWII. The book leads you to believe that most Cold War policy was devised while completely toasted — and, as this NY Times review points out, there seem to be some fact-checking issues. (“If anyone ever referred to Mrs. Graham as “Krusty Kay” or “Our Lady of the Potomac,” I doubt it was a resident of Georgetown.”)
That’s fine, it’s fine, it’s a fun, juicy book. The main thing it makes me want to do is reread “Personal History,” Katharine Graham’s fantastic autobiography. This is what I really want to talk about right now. I’d been thinking about Kay Graham and the book a lot since watching “The Post,” which I did around 2 a.m. in London a couple months ago while jet-lagged.
It was enjoyable! I’m an easy mark! I will watch any movie with a scene where a female Style reporter holds a phone and breathlessly recites a verdict to a silent newsroom. Then all the men grin and grasp each other’s meaty forearms in triumph.
Aside from that, I’m tickled by how salty the current NY Times is about that movie, because they were sort of the Yuri Gagarin of the Pentagon Papers.
This is all to say I recommend “Personal History” heartily. The second half of the book covers Katharine Graham’s ascendancy to publisher of the Washington Post after her husband’s suicide. (Her father, Eugene Meyer, bought the paper in 1911 and handed it over to son-in-law Phillip Graham in the ’40s, about which much can be said. One of the things that can be said is: I don’t understand the many accounts, at the time and now, that describe Phil Graham as attractive, when all pictures show him to be kind of toothy and having a convex chest.)
Anyway, there’s a passage in this book that vexes me. It vexed Nora Ephron too, according to her 1997 NY Times review of it.
[Nora and I were old pals. I’ll never forget what she told me one time at the Connecticut Avenue Politics & Prose, at a signing for her book, “I Feel Bad About My Neck.”
“Lucy,” she said to me (she liked to call me “Lucy”). “Is that L-U-C-Y?”]
This is from Nora’s review of “Personal History”:
“Mrs. Graham is extremely circumspect about her romantic life in the years since her husband’s death. I had to read page 378 several times, and I’m still not sure, but I think she’s saying that she had sex with Adlai Stevenson the night before he dropped dead on the street in London.”
WHO IS TO SAY!
Here is the passage in question:
J’accuse! I have many straight male friends (this is a lie, but let’s bear it out), and they do not take off their ties and their glasses to hang out and shoot the shit platonically. What I do know is that something that happens before sex is stuff comes off. (Not to brag, but, *Italian voice* I know how-a da sex works.)
Katharine Graham also devotes many paragraphs in her book to her good friend (and ours), Warren Buffett, who was one of WaPo’s most influential investors, and she goes to great pains to indicate the friendship was only that.
[Side note, I once had to write a lead-gen article about the Myers Briggs types of various personal finance gurus, and so determined through a close reading of the annual Berkshire Hathaway letters to shareholders that Warren Buffett is an INTP.]
Anyway. Kay does not do these verbal acrobatics with Adlai, so I think they definitely did seck-soo-al acrobatics. Good for her and him, I hope his last night on earth was a happy one.