White House 'covered up' Alice in Wonderland Halloween party
The White House covered up an Alice in Wonderland-themed Halloween party staged by film director Tim Burton and actor Johnny Depp for fear of creating the wrong impression during a recession, a new book on the Obamas has claimed.
Depp greeted guests in the costume he had worn in a film version of the Lewis Carroll story released around the same time by Burton, who was given carte blanche to transform the state dining room into a Mad Hatter's tea party in "his signature creepy-comic style".
A long table was "set with antique-looking linens, enormous stuffed animals in chairs, and tiered serving plates with treats like bone-shaped meringue cookies", writes New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor in The Obamas, which is released on Tuesday. Fruit punch was served in blood vials at the bar, she adds.
George Lucas sent Chewbacca from Star Wars to mingle with invited guests, who included the Obamas' two daughters Malia and Sasha and friends, the children of White House staff members and military families.
The White House press corps was allowed to report on more modest festivities earlier that day for Washington-area school children, but did not release details of the more glamorous festivities that occurred later for what was the Obamas' first Halloween in office in 2009.
The only images released showed the first couple greeting children outside the dining room, with Michelle Obama in a leopard fancy dress costume.
The president's aides decided the party would send the wrong message at a time when the Tea Party was on the rise with its message against Washington's excesses and unemployment had risen sharply to ten per cent.
"White House officials were so nervous about how a splashy, Hollywood-esque party would look to jobless Americans or their representatives in Congress, who would soon vote on health care that the event was not discussed publicly and Burton's and Depp's contributions went unacknowledged," Miss Kantor writes.
The Obama White House has often displayed sensitivity about introducing too much celebrity into its busy social calendar, but has still staged several events that have raised eyebrows.
The Jonas Brothers boy band treated Malia and Sasha Obama to a concert on the girls' first night in the White House, while numerous performances by pop singers at star-studded events have been staged, usually in support of the arts and worthy causes.
Celebrities turned out in force for Mr Obama's 50th birthday party last August, despite earlier speculation to the contrary, with Chris Rock, Tom Hanks and rapper Jay-Z among the guests.
The White House has called the book an "over-dramatisation of old news" and emphasised that the first couple did not speak to the author, who last interviewed them for a magazine piece in 2009.
Ms Kantor conducted interviews with 30 past or present White House members of staff for the book, which also claims that Mrs Obama has had bitter rows with some top White House advisers, and at times pushed the president to pursue politically difficult causes like healthcare and immigration reform.
However it also includes many positive portrayals of both Obamas as committed parents and a down to earth power couple who have not lost their perspective.