SFlashback: Dede’s Peppermint Lounge

Dede Wilsey in Town & Country, June 1962
Dede Wilsey on the cover of Town & Country, June 1962

According to Time Magazine’s December 29th issue, 1961, it was “Washington’s party-of-the-week” when Diane (“Dede”) Buchanan, 18, made her debut in the stately gold-and-white Washington headquarters of the Organization of American States. Meyer Davis wrote a special song for the occasion, which began “Dede loves to travel and dance all night . . .” and included the catchy line “Dede – Dede – loves to twirl as she does the twist.”

Under the supervision of the renowned designer Valerian Rybar, the stately Pan American Union had been decorated to resemble New York’s Peppermint Lounge, with big cardboard peppermint sticks and a neon sign flashing “Dede’s Peppermint Lounge.”

Included among the 600 guests was future husband John A. Traina.

The party not only became national news, but was also a slight “international incident.” Here’s how the UPI described the party the day after:

“Washington UPI (December 22, 1961) —

The Pan American Union, usually a regal place of gold and white, had a different twist for Diane Dow Buchanan’s coming out party.

Last night it became a pink palace with pink plumes and giant peppermint sticks, and a sign that read “Dede’s Peppermint Lounge.”

Not everyone was pleased with the transformation – some Latin American diplomats whispered disapproval.

But Diane, better known as Dede, was pleased. She is fond of dancing the twist – a dance that has gone high hat after being ‘discovered’ among the rock and roll set at a New York cafe called the Peppermint Lounge.

Dede, a pretty 18-year-old blonde, is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Wiley T. Buchanan Jr. He was protocol chief for the State Department during the Eisenhower administration.

A few diplomats privately expressed indignation at the way the Union, where Western Hemisphere issues are debated, was being used.

But other took the view this was just sour grapes – or peppermint.

Paul W. Murphy, the Pan American Union’s protocol chief said he had not received any criticism. He suggested that if there was any, it might come from persons miffed because they weren’t invited.

And Ambassador Guillermo Sevilla-Sacasa of Nicaragua, the dean of the diplomatic corps, said he couldn’t understand why anyone could protest ‘such a perfectly beautiful party.’

Dr. Jose A Mora, secretary general of the Organization of American States, gave Buchanan permission to use the Union for the affair. It has never been used before for a coming out party. But it has been the site for other functions, including a wedding and a funeral. It is never rented, only loaned. And Buchanan gave ‘more than a generous’ donation to Latin American charity in appreciation.

Meanwhile, the band played on. There was even a theme song – written by orchestra leader Meyer Davis and Ted Zahn – with the lyrics: ‘Dede-Dede – loves to twirl as she does the twist.’

There was more sedate dancing too, for the 600 guests.”

But by the following week, some “pro-Communist” Castro supporters were up in arms. Washington columnist Drew Pearson reported:

“The Castroites are contrasting the expensive trimmings on ‘Dede’s Peppermint Lounge’ with the abject poverty of Latin America. Just as President Kennedy made speeches promising to help end that poverty, it’s pointed out his mother-in-law attended the lavish ball in the dignified Pan American Union, never before desecrated by such a frivolous function.

In addition, resentment inside the Latin American diplomatic corps is intense against Uruguayan Jose Mora, inept secretary general of the American Union, for okaying the debutante fol-de-rol. At first, a resolution of censure was proposed against him. This has been sidetracked, but it’s a safe bet Mora will never be re-elected.

What burns up the Latin American ambassadors is first that the room right next to where they debate matters of state was dolled up to look like New York’s famous Peppermint Lounge where Bo Diddley’s twist trio first initiated the famous dance craze. Second, ex-Protocol Officer Buchanan never had any connection with the Pan American Union and has no connection with the government now. Finally, no debutante party or private party has ever been held in the building before.

NOTE—When the deb’s father heard about the proposed resolution of censure by Latin diplomats he remarked ‘There’s a pro-Communist hidden somewhere in the employee group who is trying to discredit the OAS.’ This riled the ambassadors even more.”

Making national headlines, stirring international political tensions, and twirling to Bo Didley in a ballroom of pink decor and giant peppermint candy sticks– when Dede came out, she came a-roarin!

* I do not know who designed the dresses that Ruth and Dede Buchanan are wearing, but there’s a strong likelihood that it was Arnold Scaasi. It was because of Ruth Buchanan, in fact, the Mamie Eisenhower became a Scaasi customer.