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Republican entertaining, however, is not always polished to a high gloss of sophistication. For example, Interior Secretary Walter J. Hickel and his Alaska-born wife Ermalee gave a dinner for some of the stars who performed last week in the invitation-only gala at Ford's Theater. The piece de resistance was a rack of lamb, cooked by Wally Hickel himself on his indoor gas grill. When the grill developed a small but intractable fire, a discreet call was made to the fire department, asking for the help of just one fireman, who was to be smuggled quietly into the kitchen. Instead, seven fire engines roared up and fire fighters pounded into the house from all directions, routing the astonished guests. "I've been to some wild parties," observed Actor Jimmy Stewart, "but Wally, you've topped them all."
Informal parties are also the rule at the Cleveland Park home of Wisconsin Senator William Proxmire, where Ellen, his bright, vibrant wife, cooks and serves sit-down dinners for as many as 14. While her husband is campaigning or lecturing on weekends, Ellen plays tennis, oversees her own small business (Wonderful Weddings, a wedding planning service) and has written a book (One Foot in Washington).
The sphere of Washington wives with secure social standing is very different from that of the young single girls around the capital. Inevitably, though, the two worlds sometimes touch. Among young single professionals, the male-to-female ratio is favorable, and a bright, attractive girl finds the cityscape stippled with graduate students, military officers, fledgling diplomats, congressional assistants, Foreign Service officers and acres of young lawyers. Among these groups, Washington's divorce rate is high—but not among the officeholders, who regard Splitsville as a state that can hinder their careers.
The irregular hours that are the city's normal working conditions provide built-in alibis for determined politicos. Some congressional wives elect to stay home rather than live in Washington at all—giving the capital a contingent of permanent "summer bachelors." But the motivated men of Government cannot afford to take three-hour lunches, and the traditional cinq-a-sept is out of the question for a 12-to 15-hour-day man. By all accounts, the sexual quotient of Republican Washington is low. The Democrats of the Kennedy and Johnson years—relaxed, open, pleased with themselves—were more insouciant about sex, as about everything else. They drank more and stayed up later and talked more about sex, and very likely did more about it than the Nixonians do. But compared with other capitals of the world, official Washington—Democrat or Republican—is outstandingly unswinging.