Gentlemen wear white or black ties at the dinners and dances that are now being held in connection with the Winter Olympics; visiting princes, ambassadors and ministers are seated in their proper places according to the protocol followed at state dinners; the correct flags are flying in the proper order against the wintry skies; and the favorite foods of visiting dignitaries are transported daily from the Bohemian and Pacific Union clubs in San Francisco and hurried to the tables of gourmets in Squaw Valley despite any threat of storm or avalanche. If Squaw Valley is to be a social success—and it now seems almost certain to become one—it will be in large part because of the attention to such detail that has been given by Dorothea Walker, a skier, linguist, author and San Francisco society figure, who is in charge of protocol at these VIII Winter Olympic Games.
Mrs. Walker bears the appalling responsibility of officially (and correctly) greeting, housing, entertaining and placating the various foreign visitors and spectators—cardinals, marquises, countesses, generals, professors and international adventurers—as well as the distinguished members of the International Olympic Committee and the 800 competing athletes. Soon after she was appointed to her post, she hurried to Lake Tahoe (her own ski lodge is in the Sugar Bowl, just over the mountains from Squaw Valley), where she had old friends she could count on to entertain the visiting aristocrats according to their rank, tastes and glamour. "Now Dorothea," said one of these friends, "don't think we intend to bring dinner jackets up here. The place is being ruined anyway. All the construction work. The charm of Tahoe has always been rustic...."
And a potential hostess experienced a sudden enthusiasm for the informality of old western hospitality. "Stop worrying, Dorothea," she said. "These people will be in our country. We'll give them hamburgers...."
GUARDIAN OF PROPRIETY
High among the triumphs, foreign and domestic, of Mrs. Walker is that hamburgers aren't being served, and the socialites have taken their black and white ties to Squaw Valley. Gentlemen can go back to rustic attire and cowboy boots next month. For the time being they are ruled by protocol, and as Mrs. Walker is director of entertainment and protocol, they are ruled by her. Protocol at the Olympic Games is no joke: it is perhaps regarded officially as just a shade less important than the conduct of foreign relations by Christian Herter, and the possibilities of a crisis are dangerous and dramatic. During the Winter Games in Oslo in 1952 there was one that diplomats still shudder about: a prominent foreign guest interpreted a social blunder as a deliberate affront, walked out and has since been an implacable foe of the nation to which his unfortunate and gauche host belonged. Part of Mrs. Walker's task at Squaw Valley is merely the negative one of seeing that nothing of the sort happens there to send outraged aristocrats streaming in wrath down the slopes of the Sierra.
But the more important part of her touchy task is positive. For five days, before the Winter Games opened, the International Olympic Committee met in San Francisco to decide on future Olympic policy. For 11 days the august emissaries to this solemn conclave—there are 66 International Olympics Committee members, from 50 countries—assemble in Squaw Valley, and while Mrs. Walker could readily arrange dinners, balls, symphony and opera programs, museum tours and educational entertainments in her native San Francisco, the proper kind of festivities for such people as the committee members is hard to drum up in the winter mountains. And the committee is, of course, like no other institution on earth. Baron de Coubertin set it up when he founded the modern Olympic Games, and members are elected for life, pay their own way and are representatives of the Olympics to their nations, not delegates of their nations to the Olympics. Since qualifications for election include an interest in amateur sport, a position of influence and a lot of money, membership is virtually limited to the international sporting set (circa 1910, in one case), and the committee sessions are traditionally great social events. The members include such formidable figures as the Marquess of Exeter and Lord Luke from England, Count de Beaumont from France, Prince François-Joseph from Liechtenstein, Count Paolo Thaon di Revel from Italy, Sheik Gabriel Gemayel from Lebanon, Raja Bhalindra Singh from India, Major-General C. F. Pahud de Mortanges from The Netherlands, Dr. Manfred Mautner Ritter von Markhof from Austria and others as eminent and with names and titles that are even harder to spell and remember. Not all these are at the Games, but Princess Eda Anhalt of Germany arrived with Monique de Beaumont, Prince Ferdinand and Baron von Falz-Fein of Liechtenstein and other nobility.
It's wrong, as Mrs. Walker quickly learned, to refer to the French Ambassador. The proper title is Ambassador of the French Republic. On the other hand, it is O.K. to speak of the German Ambassador, an important point since eight ambassadors are present. Place cards, as Mrs. Walker found out by sitting in on two-hour-a-day briefing sessions on protocol at the State Department in Washington, are written in black script ink, as simply as possible and should be legible from a distance—Prince Bertil of Sweden should be written Prince Bertil, not His Royal Highness Prince Bertil.
Mrs. Walker was born in San Francisco, where her grandfather arrived from England to find gold—but did not. Instead, he invented a new type of railway spike that was used to close the last gap on the first transcontinental railroad. Dorothea's own parents were in modest circumstances but an uncle had wealth and social position. Her education was in public schools, except for one post-graduate year at Miss Burke's, where many of the city's society girls went. Her career in society really began in 1927 with her marriage, at the age of 21, to Warren Hopkins Clark, a nephew of the most famous and perhaps the most statesmanlike of San Francisco's gold rush millionaires. After his death she was married in 1932 to Richard Walker, an insurance broker and expert amateur horticulturist; she has two sons. Small and chic, a linguist and traveler, with an acute sense of humor and a naturalness that the most ceremonious functions cannot altogether repress, she is, says her friend, the poet Marianne Moore, "a gem." She was picked for her Olympian task by Prentis Cobb Hale, the San Francisco businessman serving as president of the organizing committee of the Games, and demurred on the grounds that she had no time, no qualifications and as much work as she could do. But when he told her that she would be the first woman in the history of the Olympic Games to have the official job of director of entertainment and protocol, she accepted.
NOB HILL CRITICS
Her appointment may have passed unnoticed by the gods and goddesses on Mount Olympus, but among the ladies of Nob Hill there were a few whose attitude suggested sour grapes. Some of them felt they were better qualified for the post than Mrs. Walker. One of them said, "Dorothea's the biggest snob in San Francisco. Sometimes she treats you like dirt, but when she thinks you can do something for her, she's all over you like a blanket." Another grande dame of Nob Hill said with cold hauteur: "You can kick Dorothea out the front door and she'll show up with an armful of roses at the back." These uncharitable comments, however, were overbalanced by praise: she was said to be the obvious choice for the job, with social connections, considerable knowledge of business and a willingness to work hard.