1970s Archive

An Evening at the Waldorf

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After Mr. Black left our table, I looked at Bud. I had made plans to come to see the Army-Navy game and to spend the weekend with him, and the plans had been exciting. I had finished college and was trying my wings as a “career girl,” but as I fell asleep on the Pullman on the way to Philadelphia, I wondered how I would feel about the dashing midshipman I had met so briefly last summer.

Here we were in The Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York. I had seen it from the street before and had listened to conversation about Peacock Alley and the Starlight Roof, but now we were really there! We had just talked with the famous Rene Black; we had been served a dinner to delight royalty and were sipping wine together. How wonderful. How wonderful. How wonderful!

A photographer came up to us and said, “Mr. Black has asked me to take your photograph with the compliments of The Waldorf.” The flash caught us, raising our glasses to each other, in perhaps the happiest instant ever recorded on film.

A few moments later Eddie Duchin left his bandstand and came to our table. The already legendary orchestra leader was warm and friendly as he talked about the great game Navy had played that afternoon. “I was cheering too,” he said, and went on to tell us about his own service in the Navy during World War II. When Jean’s attention was distracted for a moment, Mr. Duchin leaned over to me and whispered, “‘Navy Blue and Gold’ at midnight. Good luck!” He rose, grinning, and walked back to his piano.

He had hardly left when there was a stir and a buzz of conversation on the other side of the room. Jean and I looked for the source of the excitement, and then we saw it! Our dessert, La Friande Agrippina, carried triumphantly aloft across the dining room in a rainbow of colored spotlights. Great clouds of vapor billowed from silver cups filled with dry ice at each corner of the silver serving dish. In the center was a nest of ice cream within which rested two meringue lovebirds.

We had finished the delicious confection and were sipping a liqueur when the waiter told me that there was a telephone call for me in the lobby. I excused myself and followed him, wondering who in the world could be calling me, only to find the headwaiter waiting just outside the door. He handed me the bill and said, “We thought you might prefer not to have this brought to your table.” I turned the slip of paper over fearfully and looked at the total. It was thirty-three dollars—exactly one third of Mr. Black’s one hundred, and exactly what I had written Mr. Williams I could afford. It was clear to me that this amount couldn’t even begin to cover the cost of the evening to The Waldorf, and equally clear that the reason the bill was presented with such exquisite finesse was to save me embarrassment had I not had thirty-three dollars. I looked at the headwaiter in amazement and gratitude, and he smiled and said, “Everyone on the staff hopes that all goes well for you.”

Bud came back to the table gleaming, and, in answer to my curiosity about the telephone call, said, “It was nothing important. Shall we dance?” I felt his hand on my arm, guiding me gently to the floor.

Other couples danced about us chatting, and it seemed to me, smiling on us as they glided past. I saw only Bud. We were living a fairy-tale evening, and it was all real. Bud was real, the midshipman who had charmed me during the two evenings we had spent together last August and who had existed since only through letters. I had spun dreams about him during those three months of paper and ink, and now I looked into his face as we danced. “I’m in love!” I thought, “How wonderful. I’m in love.”

At five minutes till midnight we were sitting at our table in a glow of happiness. Suddenly the wine steward appeared at my side with a small bottle of chilled Champagne. He opened it with a subdued “pop” and filled two crystal goblets with the sparkling golden wine. I raised my glass to Jean, and at that moment the orchestra drummer ruffled his drums softly, as if in a command for silence. Eddie Duchin turned toward us, smiled, and bowed. He raised his hand and brought it down, and suddenly we heard the melody of that most beautiful and sentimental of all college alma maters. “…For sailormen in battle fair since fighting days of old have proved the sailor’s right to wear the Navy Blue and Gold.” It was the magic moment to which every other moment of the evening had led. I looked at Jean, my wonderful Jean, and with a lump in my throat said, “Will you marry me?”

Bud and I were married the following June. Now, thirty years later, with our five children grown and establishing their own lives and the Midshipman a Rear Admiral, we sometimes turn the pages of the lovely wedding gift we received from Mr. Williams—a handsomely bound limited edition of the history of The Waldorf-Astoria. In it one can read about the princes and potentates, presidents and kings, who have been guests of that glamorous hotel. But there is one evening that is not included there—an evening in which kind, warmhearted, gently romantic men opened a door of happiness for a young couple in love. That evening is ours, and its testimony is Mr. Black’s wedding gift. Framed and displayed in a place of honor on our dining room wall, it is a water color sketch of a little chef tending his spit in an ancient kitchen. Printed in his familiar hand across the top he has repeated the words

Si l’amour
ne demande que des baisers
à quoi bon
la gloire de cuisinier

Postscript: In 1998, on the occasion of their fiftieth wedding anniversary, Jean and Bud Ince returned to New York City. They invited former editor-in-chief Gail Zweigenthal to join them at The Waldorf, where together they raised a glass to the famous hotel, to the magazine that enabled them to share their story with so many, and to the magic of lasting love.

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