Elsa Maxwell (1883-1963) was a multi-talented, stout little woman from Keokuk, Iowa, who left school at age fourteen and eventually became world-renowned for her incredible skills as a hostess. Fans of Suspense know Elsa because she usually appeared in the first commercial break of episodes from the 1940's, when the show was sponsored by Roma wines.
So, it is enlightening to read her book How to Do It: or The Lively Art of Entertaining. In it, Elsa discusses how she really felt about alcohol consumption at parties.
First, Elsa Maxwell stated that: "except for an occasional glass of wine or beer, I do not drink."
Elsa became famous for introducing the scavenger hunt and the treasure hunt as adult party games. She did this at the height of the anything-goes 1920's because she wanted guests to be able to break out of their adult routines and enjoy themselves as freely as children. She also knew that playing games reduced the amount of drinking at her parties.
She pointed out that people should know their limit, but that parties can often be so stimulating that people don't realize when they have gone past theirs. To avoid that, Elsa recommended that people drink less at parties than they would at home.
Elsa also shared her tips on what to do when guests drink too much and get unruly. She suggested that the host/hostess shouldn't let this happen, but if it did, they should immediately get tough with the excessive drinker because being polite and gentle doesn't work. If necessary, kick them out, but make sure they get home safely.
If Elsa noticed a party guest drinking beyond his limit, she would take him aside and tell him to "lay off" because he was ruining the party for everyone else. She would then say, "You can have as much drink as you can hold, so long as you can hold it. But no more." That experience alone was enough to sober a guest.
If the excessive drinker was a woman, her method was "more direct and more painful." She would come up behind the woman "and give her pearls a twist." She claimed that this method worked most of the time, but if it didn't, she would follow it up with a talking-to.
So, if anyone gets drunk and unruly at one of your holiday parties, take 'em down, Elsa-style. She didn't get to the top of her game by putting up with guests who ruined the ambiance of her gracious hospitality!
And there you have it from the authority herself!
Image of Elsa Maxwell with William Rhinelander Stuart (left) and Cole Porter (right) in 1934 from Wikimedia Commons.