Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

Dita De Boni: Guess who's coming to dinner

What's better - dazzling party guests, or someone who'll listen to you for once?

Illustration / Anna Crichton
Illustration / Anna Crichton

She is often listed as one of the people most desired at a fantasy dinner party, but this week a New York Times reader got to ask warbling superstar Barbra Streisand to name the people who'd be at her table if she were to imagine her dream guest list.

Her picks were intellectual, artistic and earnest. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were first up. Albert Einstein - a popular choice - would also be there, said Barbra, as well as artists Gustav Klimt and Edward Hopper.

New York realist painter Hopper died in 1967. His works are magnificent and probably feature heavily in the multi-millionairess' collection, but a dinner party with him would be no mental cakewalk. One of his key philosophies was that artists require deep wells of imagination, and he dismissed post-modernist work with a mind-bending sentiment: "One of the weaknesses of much abstract painting is the attempt to substitute the inventions of the human intellect for a private imaginative conception."

Once one got to grips with what that actually means, it sounds like the perfect statement to kick off a great dinner-party conversation. Unfortunately, Hopper had a life-long dislike of discussing either his art or himself.

That sentiment was shared by Gustav Klimt, though it is known that he wore long robes and sandals, no underwear, and fathered upwards of 14 children. He never widely addressed the motivations behind his work, or his lack of undergarments.

Rounding out La Streisand's list is Fanny Brice, the Jewish comedienne whom Streisand played to win the 1968 Oscar for Funny Girl. Fanny would at least have been a bit more forthcoming with the war stories, no doubt, with three failed marriages behind her. Would incredibly high achievers make good dinner guests?

Some of the most popular choices of all time would yield uncertain results in the entertainment stakes. Perhaps we shouldn't expect too much hilarity from him, but Jesus Christ looms large on many lists, with Mary (mother of Jesus) and Mary (Magdalene) also popular. Then you've got the likes of Gandhi, Mother Teresa and Alexander the Great (who, if Colin Farrell is any guide, would indeed be a pretty reliable merry-maker, if boozing and whoring would work well with your slow-roasted, free-range pork belly).

Other perennial favourites like Princess Diana and Marilyn Monroe would be interesting, but would Diana eat anything, and would everyone be on to nightcaps before Marilyn deigned to appear?

I knocked together my own list: Bill and Hilary Clinton, Woody Allen, Michael Moore, Gore Vidal, Christopher Hitchens and Cleopatra would be among my top picks. My husband's list boasted more Brits: Morrissey, Russell Brand, Stephen Fry and so forth, as well as one Kiwi: "one of the Warriors". According to his logic, that way there would be at least one person who could be counted on to say "Yup, sweet" to whatever else was being said.

Which is probably the wisest pick of all. As we all know, six brilliant, attention-seeking egomaniacs might blow your socks off but would probably clash terribly with one another. Here's another idea: you, expounding on subjects close to your heart, four traditional Kiwis who dislike heated conversation so will give you a silent, begrudging audience, and Barbra Streisand for the after dinner entertainment.

- NZ Herald

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Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

Dita De Boni is a columnist, commentator and TV producer/journalist. She first wrote columns for the NZ Herald in 1995, moving to daily business news in 1999 for four years, and then to TVNZ in Business, News and Current Affairs. After tiring of the parenting/blogging beat for the Herald Online she moved back to her first love, business (with a politics chaser), writing a column for Friday Business since 2012.

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