White House employee writes history of presidential entertaining

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At times, Barry Landau feels like a real-life Forrest Gump.

Like the fictional Gump, a man who found himself blending into the major historical events of the late 20th century, Landau has been on the periphery of history since he was a small boy.

In 1958, Landau, then 10, met President Eisenhower and was invited to the White House for milk and cookies. At 18, he became a White House intern, helping plan state dinners and other social events for the Lyndon Johnson presidency. That launched a career that kept him at the White House through the Clinton presidency.

Through the years, Landau, 59, has become something of an expert in the art of entertainment, as practiced by the U.S. presidents. That's the topic of a book he's written, "The President's Table: Two Hundred Years of Dining and Diplomacy ($34.95, HarperCollins)." The book is bringing him to Abilene, the boyhood home of Eisenhower. Landau, who lives in New York, will share stories behind presidential social events at a luncheon and lecture set for Tuesday at the Eisenhower Library. A book signing will follow.

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presidentsrus - 11/15/2007

The history of White House entertaining may not be that earth shatteringly important, but how reliable a witness is Barry Landau?

The Associated Press:

"He's the kind of guy you may not notice in the pictures with celebrities. He is 59 and has been in the company of presidents for nearly 50 years. He is tall and bearded, with a home full of history and a head crammed with names, like boxes in an overstuffed closet ready to tumble out."

One name that doesn't tumble out in AP's account is Hamilton Jordan.

Landau was supporting witness to allegations that Jimmy Carter Chief of Staff Hamilton Jordan used cocaine during a visit to Studio 54, the New York nightclub which from almost any perspective symbolized everything wrong with America in the 70s.

Club owners Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager faced prison for tax evasion, and offered up Jordan's name as plea bargain bait. Their attorney was sinister New York fixer Roy Cohn, Joe McCarthy's former counsel.

The Special Counsel appointed to investigate the allegations rejected them, and found Landau to be, shall we say, a questionable witness:

"There were only three people who claimed to have direct information concerning Mr. Jordan's alleged use of cocaine in Studio 54: Rubell, Johnny C., and one Barry Landau. As witnesses, the most charitable thing that could be said about them was that they were utterly unbelievable….Landau claimed that on the evening of June 27, 1978, while at Studio 54, Mr. Jordan asked him for cocaine. Despite what he had said on the 20/20 program, however, when we pressed him, he did not claim to have any knowledge that Mr. Jordan in fact took cocaine that night. Landau said he did not hear Mr. Jordan ask Rubell or anyone else for cocaine, did not hear any other discussions about cocaine, and did not see Mr. Jordan or any other member of the Jordan group take cocaine. He also said that prior to August 24, 1979, he was never told by Rubell or anyone else that Mr. Jordan had taken cocaine in his visit. Landau declined to be interviewed by the FBI about June 27, 1978.20…Although Landau said that other persons were with Mr. Jordan that evening when Mr. Jordan asked Landau for cocaine, each of those persons explicitly denied that Mr. Jordan asked anyone for cocaine in his presence. I had very serious doubts about Landau's credibility under any circumstances."

None of this stops Landau on the book tour. He's planning to hit the Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Nixon, and Bush Presidential Libraries, and for some reason doing both the Ford Archive and Ford Museum on separate days.

Somehow he is skipping the Carter Library.