Hostess with mostes' left mark on state, D.C.
By Brandy McDonnell
Leading up to Oklahoma's Centennial
, The Oklahoman will profile Oklahomans who significantly contributed to the state's success.
'Call Me Madam' film screening
The Mesta Park Neighborhood Association will sponsor a screening of the film "Call Me Madam" at 6 p.m. July 29 in Kerr-McGee Auditorium at the Meinders School of Business at Oklahoma City University, 2501 N Blackwelder.
The film, a 1954 Oscar winner, is the screen adaptation of Irving Berlin's hit musical of the same name. Berlin based the musical on the life of Oklahoma resident Perle Mesta, for whom the Mesta Park neighborhood is named.
Movie tickets are $25 per person and $20 for Mesta Park Neighborhood Association members. The screening is a benefit for the association.
Attendees are invited to wear '50s finery and compete for costume prizes.
After the movie, Tom and Jerry's
Steak and Fish Grille, 1501 NW 23, will offer a three-course dinner. The dinner will cost $25 per person, excluding beverages, tax and gratuity. A portion of the dinner proceeds also will benefit the association.
Dinner reservations can be made at the same time tickets are reserved.
For more information or to buy tickets, call Ken Lindquist at 236-8133, ext. 209, on weekdays or at 602-6874 on evenings and weekends.
Famed for her lavish Washington, D.C., parties, Oklahoman Perle Mesta became the original "hostess with the mostes'" and earned a place in Broadway and film history.
But her business acumen, political savvy and support of women's rights also set her apart.
"I think she is a little overlooked (in Oklahoma history)," said Ken Lindquist, board member of the Mesta Park Neighborhood Association. "She was a woman ahead of her time in some ways."
Born Oct. 12, 1889, in Sturgis, Mich., Mesta moved with her parents to Oklahoma City in 1906. Her childhood home in the Mesta Park neighborhood, which is named for her, still stands at 700 NW 16. She gave her first party in the family home, according to The Oklahoman archives.
She was the daughter of affluent oilman William Skirvin, who built the Skirvin Hotel. She learned the art of hospitality playing host to guests at the hotel, which is being renovated and scheduled to reopen next year.
After attending music school in the East, she married in 1917 over her father's objections. Her husband was George Mesta, a prosperous engineer who founded Mesta Machine Co. in Pittsburgh.
She became involved in her first social work in her husband's mills, helping to start nursery care centers for children of employees.
When her husband became a wartime consultant for President Woodrow Wilson, the couple moved to Washington, D.C. There, she was active in children's welfare projects and received her first introduction into Beltway politics and society.
The couple traveled across Europe after World War I, according to Encyclopaedia Britannica. The travels helped Perle Mesta gain a far-reaching knowledge of world business and politics.
After her husband died of a heart attack in 1925, she took an active role in managing his vast
steel and manufacturing business. She didn't resign as director of the company until 1949, when President Harry Truman named her ambassador to Luxembourg. She kept stock in the firm until her death, according to The Oklahoman archives.
She also engaged in business ventures ranging from a dairy business to a cattle ranch with her brother and sister.
She moved back to Oklahoma City for a time after she was widowed. In 1929, she settled in Newport, R.I., and became a well-known hostess there, according to Encyclopaedia Britannica.
In the 1930s, she became involved in the National Woman's Party. She lobbied for the Equal Rights Amendment, first as a Republican and then, after changing party affiliation in 1940, as a Democrat.
She moved back to Washington, D.C., about 1940 and quickly became one of the capital's premier party hostesses. The guest list for her extravagant soirees included senators and congressmen of both parties, world leaders, Supreme Court justices, movie stars, foreign ambassadors, military leaders and White House personnel.
A Christian Scientist, Mesta didn't drink alcohol, but claimed her parties gave her the same elation liquor gave other people.
She was an early supporter of Truman, serving on the Democrats' finance committee during his 1948 campaign and then acting as co-chairman of his inaugural ball. In 1949, Truman named her minister to Luxembourg. She was the first to hold the post -- diplomatic relations with the country were previously handled by the U.S. ambassador to Belgium -- and the third woman appointed to a foreign diplomatic post.
She served until 1953, becoming the first woman to receive Luxembourg's highest honor, the Grand Cross of the Crown of Oak.
As minister, she became famed again for her hostess skills. She threw "GI parties" for servicemen and women stationed in Europe.
She also became well known for her title. When asked how she wanted to be addressed, she replied, "Call me Madam Minister." The line was shortened to "Call Me Madam," which became the name of Irving Berlin's musical inspired by her life. The musical featured the song "The Hostess with the Mostes'," and Mesta was amused when the nickname stuck to her.
Starring Ethel Merman, the show was a 1950-52 Broadway hit and was adapted into a 1954 Academy Award-winning film. The Mesta Park Neighborhood Association will sponsor a fund-raising screening of the film at 6 p.m. July 29 at Oklahoma City University.
After leaving Luxembourg, Mesta spent much of the next decade traveling the world. She met with the heads of 19 different governments, even touring Soviet Russia. She narrowly escaped death in 1955 after getting caught up in a riot between Communist and anti-Communist factions in Saigon, Vietnam.
In 1960, she published her biography, "Perle: My Story." She continued to give lavish parties into the early 1970s.
A broken hip in 1973 prompted her to move back to Oklahoma City to be close to her brother, O.W. Skirvin. She died of hemolytic anemia March 16, 1975, at age 85. She is buried in Pittsburgh.
CONTRIBUTING: News researcher Mary Phillips.