WHCD: The Garden Brunch History

How a Back Yard Get-Together Turned into a Tradition

By Tammy Haddad

Washington, D.C. has its own Oscar Night… the White House Correspondents Dinner in May of each year. It doesn’t give out awards but everyone attends… politicians, reporters, news bosses and celebrities from New York to Hollywood. Ronald Reagan called it “Washington’s Spring Prom.”

The whole weekend is exciting. It’s the most important weekend for the press and the politicians… a rare forty-eight hours when almost all of official Washington stays in town to party. The President and the politicians and the media play nice for a change in front of all the cameras.

Hollywood and New York celebrities also flood the city for the weekend. They come to mingle with a parade of politicians and news folks. And they come to lobby for their personal causes. Of course, they add a touch of glitz and glamour to all the events

Starting off the weekend is my Saturday Garden Brunch that I first started hosting in 1993. Originally I gave the brunch to honor a dear friend Stephen Rivers, a legendary LA press adviser who worked with the likes of Cesar Chavez and Jane Fonda. That year, 1993, he had left Creative Artists Agency, where he was doing press for clients like Mike Ovitz, Bill Murray and Barbra Streisand, to launch his own company.

The original crowd was about fifty strong with local stars including NBC’s Tim Russert, Bush aide Anna Perez and a very young Rick Berke of the New York Times attending. I opened up my home — formerly owned by U.S. Chief Justice William O. Douglas — and my backyard to an amazing crowd. We were surrounded by the flowering buds of spring in my newly planted garden and by a lot of exciting shoptalk. It was a blast and put everyone in the mood for the evening festivities.

Barbara Streisand

Barbara Streisand

The surprise guest of the morning was Barbra Streisand, who came by with her songwriter friends, Marilyn and Alan Bergman, and her close friend Richard Baskin. It was a great party. How could it not have been with guests like Streisand in the garden! I knew I had struck a chord! I also knew that this gathering could become a great moment in the culture and rhythm of Washington. An annual tradition was born!

A few years earlier John McLaughlin began hosting his Sunday brunch the morning after the dinner. John is one of the founding fathers of the modern political talk show and a former father himself in the Catholic Church. As The McLaughlin Group grew quickly to be a political touchstone for the political cognoscenti the coverage and interest in his Sunday brunch grew as well. At his party the top out of town guests — from GE’s Jack Welch and actor Tom Selleck to Washington top officials like Vice President Cheney — chewed over everything that happened at the dinner the night before.

The McLaughlin Brunch became a legend the year Hollywood producer Jane Rosenthal and actor Robert De Niro held court in the middle of John’s backyard deck, drinking in all the Washington culture and stories. Who knew they were secretly doing research for their wonderful movie, “Wag the Dog!” We were being treated like a social experiment.

Sarah and Gordon Brown

Sarah and Gordon Brown

So many fabulous guests have graced my Garden Brunch over the years. The Hollywood who’s-who has included Rosario Dawson, Tim Daly, Tracey Ullman, Kerry Washington, Dennis Hopper and his beautiful wife VictoriaMorgan Fairchild is a popular regular. They mingle with the famous reporters and network bosses like Tim Russert, Andrea Mitchell with her husband Alan Greenspan, Bryant Gumbel, David Gregory, Ann Curry, Greta Van Susteren, Laura Ingraham, Rick Kaplan, David Bohrman and even Matt Drudge! Rounding out the crowd has been guests like football great Tiki Barber, the Newsweek’s senior editor Lally Weymouth and England’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

In recent years Washington pals from Hilary Rosen, Debbie Dingell, Alex Castellanos, Kathryn Lehman, Beth Viola and David Adler, my partner in this Web site, have joined me as co-hosts. Every year I am amazed at what actually goes on at the brunch. There was the year that Ann Curry was Miss Popularity. People were lining up for photos with her. The usually unfazed press also lined up for Tiki Barber’s autograph. Then there was Tracey Ullman trying on Miss America’s crown and parading around the garden like she had just won the title after having big laughs with Patrick Buchanan.
Tracy Ulman Tries on The Crown

Tracey Ullman Tries on The Crown

I usually step back at some moment in the party and drink in what is really happening. Last year it was a scene where the top editors of all the top publications were relaxed and enjoying themselves. Newsweek’s John Meacham, Time’s Richard Stengel, Larry Hackett of People and Jim Nelson of GQ were all sipping mimosas together.

Last year we launched the first ever Garden Brunch Poll with ballots distributed by my children David and Rachel along with Hilary Rosen’s son and daughter, Jacob and Anna. The question, of course, was, “Who will win the election?” Despite the fact he was 5th in the pack at the time, Obama won the poll hands down. That was an early forecast!

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2008 Garden Brunch

2007 Garden Brunch

2006 Garden Brunch

2005 Garden Brunch

2004 Garden Brunch