Leah Lane, a confection of white tulle in an Oleg Cassini gown, with a skirt as wide as she was tall, steadied herself in her heels, slipped her hand into escort Cole Rumbough’s arm and began the long walk up the Waldorf Astoria Ballroom to be presented at the International Debutante Ball.
“The way she swirled that dress around in the podium,” said Dad, Stewart Lane, “we’ll talk about it for years to come.” Mom Bonnie Comley, watching two handsome cadets compete for a dance with her, mock wailed, “My baby is grown up.”
“This is your fairy tale evening,” Cole gushed. Leah certainly looked like a princess. But, inside, she was just feeling relieved that she had made it up the stairs and executed her curtsey without falling. That, Leah told us, seemed to be a great fear of many of the Debs, and an initial bonding topic in the lunches and cocktail parties encircling the event, designed to help form lifetime friendships.
“I’m still close to so many of the girls from my year,” former Deb Nicole DiCocco told us. Debs return dressed in traditional red or black strapless gowns with poufed skirts. The swirl of young women in white, red, and black, cadets in full military dress, and men in white tie and tails give the evening the unparalleled look of, yes, a fairy tale, or at least the season finale of “Downton Abbey.”
Leah said spending the day at a New York Post photo shoot with the other New York girls — Palmer Smith, Meredith Kresic, Caroline Heart McCown, and Alexandra Rose (of Watermill residents Dr. and Mrs. Donald Rose) — drew them together.
Mrs. Gregory Scott Hedberg, whose aunt, Beatrice Denser Joyce, founded the ball in 1954, serves as Director and General Chairman. This year, the Honorary Chairmen were Ms. Anne Eisenhower, Mrs. David R. Hamilton, and Ms. Julia Irene Kaufman, of Kansas City, whose daughter Brittany Muriel-Marion LaPointe, made her debut this year.
“It’s a new thing for Stew and me and we’re thrilled to be part of it,” Bonnie said. “Hopefully if Leah has a daughter, she’ll do it too.” The Lanes are Broadway Producers with nine Tony Awards between them and an East Hampton estate. Getting Leah into the International Debutante Ball was an aspirational musing that ended up being easily accomplished.
Leah said, “The Ball celebrates and empowers women and we don’t do that enough.”
“In so many cultures it’s all about the male heirs and the dynasties,” added Bonnie. “This is about being young, accomplished women.” Bonnie pointed to the African Behold Ceremony, commemorated in The Lion King (we are talking about Broadway producers) and a Martin Luther King Atlanta memorial statue. “Behold, the only thing more powerful than yourself,” the parent says to the child as he holds it up to the sky. “That’s the message we’re sending them off with in the Debutante Ball,” Bonnie said. “You happen to be a child of advantage, make use of it. As a parent, I believe that happiness is a skill. It’s not about money. Whatever they choose to do, they should appreciate what they have and live a purposeful life.” For Leah, right now, that means going into the family business, and becoming a show biz hyphenate — as in actor-writer-director. She’s already spent a summer at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, and hopes to continue those studies.
For one family member, however, the Deb Ball’s original meaning — as of marriageable age, is seared in his psyche.
“I’ve got the shotgun right here.” Stew said.
“Metaphorically speaking,” added Bonnie.