Oklahoma City Native Perle Mesta, who inspired the phrase “hostess with the mostest,” reigned over Washington, D.C.’s social elite for more than three decades.
Born in 1889 to real estate and oil and gas tycoon William Skirvin and Harriet Elizabeth Reid Skirvin, Mesta honed her entertaining skills at her father’s Skirvin Hotel, where her family lived after the death of her mother.
“In 1909, Hetty Green, the financial genius sent her son to Oklahoma City to buy some property. She tried to purchase four lots my father owned at First and Broadway. But when father discovered that Hetty Green wanted to build a hotel on the site, he turned down the offer and built the hotel himself,” Mesta wrote in a 1960 autobiographical piece published in the Saturday Evening Post. “The Skirvin Hotel became Father’s favorite hobby. All the prominent Oklahomans would come in … to talk politics or oil and sometimes there was hardly room for the hotel guests.”
In 1917, she married George Mesta, a wealthy steel manufacturer from Pittsburgh. When her husband died suddenly of heart failure after only eight years of marriage, she inherited his fortune, reportedly worth $15 million in 1925. Heartbroken, she threw herself into entertaining to fill the void. By 1940, her interests had drifted into politics — especially women’s rights — and she established a permanent residence in Washington, D.C. She cemented her status in the late 1940s when she conducted several successful fundraisers for Harry S. Truman and became a close friend of the family. n 1949, President Truman appointed her to become the first U.S. minister to Luxembourg, where she had a steady stream of visitors, from business magnates to entertainers to political figures including Gen. Dwight Eisenhower.
After a year at the Luxembourg post, she received word that composer Irving Berlin had written a musical based on her life called Call Me Madam. On a trip back to Washington, D.C. she invited Bess and Margaret Truman to New York to take in the musical — despite several unflattering references to Mesta and the Trumans.
“It was a wonderful show, and while there were some pretty sharp jibes, we all enjoyed it,” she wrote. “I winced … a few times. But I really couldn’t take offense, because in too many cases the shoe fitted.”
She served in Luxembourg until 1953.
Mesta never remarried nor had children. She eventually returned to Oklahoma City, which she always considered “home,” and died here in 1975. The Mesta Park neighborhood is named in tribute to its grand former resident.