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O! Curtsy

Adam Bernstein

Welcome to Friday the 13th.

Today we had the obituary of Leonore Annenberg, an arts patron and society hostess who served as President Ronald Reagan's first chief of protocol and was the widow of publisher, philanthropist and ambassador Walter Annenberg. The New York Times obituary amusingly described the chief of protocol as the "envoy for etiquette" in Washington's diplomatic community.

Mrs. Annenberg's tenure lasted briefly, apparently undone by the manner in which she dismissed a few staff members as well as her curtsying before Prince Charles of England after he landed at Andrews Air Force Base in 1981. Her act was considered too deferential, considering the Colonies had fought a war for independence against the royal institution. (Her defenders noted that she had merely been following a custom developed during her five years as the wife of the U.S. ambassador to Britain.)

She said she did not appreciate the unkind comments triggered by her curtsy and furthermore felt marginalized when she was denied a role in arranging the visit to Egypt for a U.S. delegation attending the funeral of President Anwar Sadat. She left her office after less than a year and returned to charitable giving.

And trivia for film-lovers: As a film buff, I was surprised to find that Leonore Annenberg's uncle was Harry Cohn, a founder of Columbia movie studios. Her father, Maxwell Cohn, was never as successful in business as the other Cohn brothers, and Harry gave him some production work before moving him to a desk job in the New York office.

Research shows Maxwell Cohn had one production credit: "Damaged Lives," the notoriously ridiculous 1933 warning film against the dangers of venereal disease.

By Adam Bernstein  |  March 13, 2009; 12:03 PM ET
Categories:  Adam Bernstein  
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