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Keeper of the Gate.

Keeper of the Gate Keeper of the Gate. Selwa "Lucky" Roosevelt. Simon & Schuster, $21.95. For seven hectic years, "Lucky" Roosevelt was U.S. Chief of Protocol--the Emily Post of the State Department, guardian of the nation's manners.

When she stepped down in 1989, she had served longer than any other chief; had hobnobbed and traveled with royalty; wined, dined, and yachted with the rich and celebrated; seated thousands of dinners; attended untotaled receptions; presided over innumerable state visists and official functions; and indulged the whims of potentates and presidents. She had also dealt with the daily problems of the diplomatic corps, supervised the multi-million dollar renovation of Blair House, and most of all, tried to please an enigmatic Nancy Reagan, whom she refers to as a "perfectionist."

All of the above, plus her own ambition and determination to rise to the top, are described in this somewhat pretentious memoir, which offers up a number of amusing anecdotes and stories but is marred by an overabundance of self-flattering tributes, letters, and comments.

There is no doubt that Lucky Roosevelt knows the nuances of the capital--how to pull strings and get things done. The daughter of Lebanese immigrants, she was raised in Tennessee, won a scholarship to Vassar, and gained entree to the highest social echelons after a whirlwind courtship and marriage to the late Archibald Roosevelt, a former CIA honcho and grandson of the legendary T.R. (Her depiction of her humble Arabic origins and her climb to the exalted world of super WASPs, with all their pride, privacy, and stinginess, is among the most compelling parts of the book.)

A stint in the fifties covering Embassy Row for The Washington Star, and later writing travel articles for Town & Country, added to her knowledge of the haute monde and the dos and don'ts of polite society.

It was a luncheon she gave for Nancy Reagan in the early 1980s, however, that placed her firmly on the political/social map. Shortly thereafter, Roosevelt, a die-hard Republican, wrote a column for The Washington Post in which she attacked the press for its criticism of the First Lady and implored the media to give Nancy Reagan a break.

"When are you going to stop expecting her to conform to certain criteria to please the fourth estate--criteria, I might add, that change as frequently as the hemline and seem just as capricious?" she wrote.

Several months later, Roosevelt was offered the protocol slot and Nancy Reagan dubbed her "my first defender."

Despite this attention, roosevelt puzzles over Mrs. Reagan's lack of congeniality. She notes that the First Lady never complimented her on her work and says their relationship was strictly business, nothing more, always "cordial and correct."

Roosevelt is no shrinking violet, but this is not a knife job or a backstabbing tale. There is no scandal, no scuttlebutt, no startling revelation. She does not blot her copy book by lashing out, preferring instead to heap plaudits on those with whom she established a rapport and to dismiss others as obstructionist and uninformed.

White House advance men fall into the latter category and are singled out for special ire. Her problems with these macho types began the first day on the job, and she labels them "munchkins," "mice," and "little shits."

There are glowing sketches of former Secretary of State George Schultz, George and Barbara Bush, Ronald Reagan, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, Malcolm Forbes (whose yacht she frequented), and the Crown Prince and Princess of Japan.

Roosevelt reveals the secret of Margaret Thatcher's stamina--she requires only four hours of sleep a night. She also compliments her thoughtfulness, her good manners, and commends her practicality. "Unlike most male heads of state, Mrs. Thatcher traveled light. Her entourage was the smallest we ever dealt with. She was so secure emotionally and intellectually, she did not need hordes of tom-tom beaters to impress people with her importance."

According to Roosevelt, female heads of state, like Thatcher, were often savvier and more assured than their male counterparts and, to achieve their goals, always ready to employ their feminine wiles. One is therefore baffled at the end of the book when roosevelt suggests her successor be male. Her reason? The position was being downgraded because it was perceived as "a woman's job." A female can never be "one of the boys," she notes plaintively.
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Author:McElwaine, Sandra
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Nov 1, 1990
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