|First Lady Bess Truman with Perle Mesta (center) and President Harry S. Truman in 1949|
|United States Ambassador to Luxembourg|
July 6, 1949 – April 13, 1953
|President||Harry S Truman|
|Preceded by||Alan G. Kirk|
|Succeeded by||Wiley Buchanan|
October 12, 1889
|Political party||Republican (1889-1930), Democratic (1931-1960), Republican (1961-1975)|
Mesta was known as the "hostess with the mostest" for her lavish parties featuring the brightest stars of Washington, D.C., society, including artists, entertainers and many top-level national political figures.
She was the inspiration for Irving Berlin's musical Call Me Madam, which starred Ethel Merman as the character based on Mesta in both the Broadway play and the movie. She appeared on the March 14, 1949, cover of TIME. Mesta has also been considered a model for the character Dolly Harrison in Allen Drury's 1959 novel Advise and Consent, in a 2009 essay.
She was born Pearl Skirvin, in Sturgis, Michigan, a daughter of William Balser Skirvin, an original 89er who became a wealthy Oklahoma oilman and founder of the lavish Skirvin Hotel located in downtown Oklahoma City. Her younger sister was a silent-film actress, Marguerite Skirvin (1896–1963). She married Western Pennsylvania steel manufacturer and engineer George Mesta in 1916, but was widowed in 1925; she was the only heir to his $78 million fortune ($1.05 billion today). Mesta settled in Newport, Rhode Island, but moved to Washington, D.C., in 1940. She also maintained a home in the Pittsburgh suburb of West Homestead, the location of her late husband's Mesta Machinery plant and headquarters, but spent little time there, as she felt largely unaccepted by Pittsburgh social scene. Four years later, Mesta changed the spelling of her first name to Perle.
She was active in the National Woman's Party and was an early supporter of an Equal Rights Amendment. She switched to the Democratic Party in 1940 and was an early supporter of Harry S. Truman, who rewarded her with ambassadorship to Luxembourg. Former President Richard M. Nixon said in grand jury testimony after the fallout of Watergate and his resignation, in June 1975, that Mesta was appointed by Truman because: "Perle Mesta wasn't sent to Luxembourg because she had big bosoms. Perle Mesta went to Luxembourg because she made a good contribution."
But Mesta is most noted for her festive parties, which brought together senators, congressmen, cabinet secretaries and other luminaries in bipartisan soirées of high-class glamour. Invitation to a Mesta party was a sure sign that one had reached the inner circle of Washington political society. Her influence peaked during the Truman era; being an old friend of the Eisenhowers, she maintained her social position throughout the 1950s despite her support of the Democratic Party. Her power waned significantly with the rise of the Kennedys in 1960. Perle was in fact a friend of Rose Kennedy, but, a generation gap between her and Jacqueline Kennedy had made it impossible for her to stay relevant during the Kennedy era. Nevertheless, she remained an avid hostess until her later years.
Mesta wrote an autobiography Perle: My Story, published in 1960, and was the subject of a book by Paul Lesch, Playing Her Part: Perle Mesta in Luxembourg. Lesch also directed a documentary film about Mesta's stay in Luxembourg entitled Call Her Madam (Samsa Film, 1997).
- "'Advise and Consent' at 50" by novelist Thomas Mallon, The New York Times Book Review, 6/25/09 (p. BR23 of 6/28/09 NY ed.). Retrieved 6/28/09.
- Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–2014. Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Retrieved February 27, 2014.
- "George Mesta, Noted Engineer, Dies Here" abstract; subscription availability, The New York Times, 23 April 1925, page 25.
- Abbott, James, "Jansen", NY: Acanthus Press, 2006, pages 174-179
- "Nixon Defended His Legacy in Grand Jury Tape". Associated Press. November 10, 2011.
- Oklahoma Heritage Society. "Oklahoma Hall of Fame". Retrieved December 9, 2012.
- Various clippings and articles located in the Pennsylvania section of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, PA
- Perle Mesta at Find a Grave
- A film clip "Longines Chronoscope with Mrs. Perle Mesta (August 18, 1952)" is available for free download at the Internet Archive
- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette retrospective on Mesta Machinery Corportation