So Steven A. Schwarzman throws himself a 70th birthday party complete with camels, a gondolier, a 12-minute fireworks display and a performance by Gwen Stefani — with an estimated cost ranging from an improbable $20 million to a more likely $7 million to $9 million — and the tsk-tsking can be heard from coast to coast, as it is cited as one more example of the wretched, over-the-top excess of the new Trumpian era.
Does no one remember the Reagan years?
These kind of multimillion bashes seemed to be almost a monthly occurrence during the mid-and late-1980s (except for a brief blip following the Black Monday crash of 1987), with one mogul after another raising the party stakes for their Champagne-swilling, caviar-supping, Lacroix-wearing guests.
Perhaps the most visible couple during the latter stages of the Reagan era was Saul and Gayfryd Steinberg, with the second Mrs. Steinberg often referred to in the news media as “the queen of nouvelle society.”
In 1988, the Steinbergs were said to have spent $3 million (or roughly $6.1 million in today’s dollars) on the wedding of Saul’s daughter Laura to the real-estate heir Jonathan Tisch — a candlelight ceremony at the Central Synagogue on Lexington Avenue, with the bride and her 10 attendants dressed in gowns by Arnold Scaasi, followed by a sit-down dinner for 500 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that featured centerpieces of gilded magnolia leaves and spring branches. It was covered by the Metro Section of The New York Times, which stated simply, “It was a power wedding.”
A year later, in August, 1989, Gayfryd spent $1 million on Saul’s 50th birthday party, held at their estate in Quogue, on Long Island, in a tent decorated as a Flemish drinking hall with 10 tableaux vivants of Saul’s favorite old masters and about 250 of their best friends in attendance, including the commerce secretary Robert A. Mosbacher and his wife Georgette, Barbara Walters, Larry Tisch, Steve and Courtney Ross, the fashion designer Carolyne Roehm and her then-husband Henry Kravis, Robert and Blaine Trump, and Tina Brown and Harry Evans.
Martha Sherrill, writing in The Washington Post, wondered what kind of party that sum of money could buy. And here was her answer: “You get Oriental rugs thrown over the grass so people won’t get their feet wet. You get 10 huge tableaux vivants of Old Masters paintings — one actress posing naked for a living re-creation of Rembrandt’s ‘Danae.’ You get heavy brocade tablecloths fringed in gold. You get centerpieces of treasure chests flooded with pearls. You get birds in antique cages. You get dripping candles. You get a dance band so good that people get blisters and a party that society columnist James Revson will be a little snide about and gossip columnist Liz Smith will write about using party of the decade terminology.”
“Yes, it was gross,” Ms. Sherrill quoted one of the “stunned and appreciative guests,” the author and TV journalist Barbara Howar, saying afterward. “But it was fun and wonderful.”
That same month, the publisher Malcolm Forbes, a man described so often as “flamboyant” that you would think it was part of the official name recorded on his birth certificate, decided to throw himself a 70th birthday party in Tangier, Morocco, where he owned a home named the Palais Mendoub. Roughly 800 guests, among them Henry Kissinger, Oscar de la Renta, Walter Cronkite, Ms. Walters and Elizabeth Taylor, were flown in on chartered flights for the several-day affair.
The party entertainment featured 600 drummers, acrobats and dancers — and even a cavalry charge that ended with the firing of muskets into the air by 300 Berber horsemen. Lavish meals, including a whole broiled lamb, were delivered on gigantic silver trays by streams of waiters in white jackets and maroon fezzes. (Not all went off without a hitch, however. “I stood in line for over an hour just to get my tent assignment,” one disgruntled guest griped to a reporter afterward.)
The cost of the whole affair was estimated at more than $2.5 million, or roughly $5.2 million in today’s dollars.
“Malcolm had a lot of money, and he loved spending it,” said Helen Gurley Brown, then the editor of Cosmopolitan, who attended with her husband, the Hollywood producer David Brown.
And so, apparently, does Mr. Schwarzman.