Kentucky Derby

Whitney, Madden parties were Lexington staples during Derby weekend

Opera singer Beverly Sills, left, former Gov. A.B. "Happy" Chandler, Marylou Whitney, Henry Kissinger and Nancy Kissinger attended C.V and Marylou Whitney's Derby Eve Party in 1983.
Opera singer Beverly Sills, left, former Gov. A.B. "Happy" Chandler, Marylou Whitney, Henry Kissinger and Nancy Kissinger attended C.V and Marylou Whitney's Derby Eve Party in 1983. Herald-Leader

For almost as many years as Anita Madden had her Derby Eve party, Marylou and C. V. "Sonny" Whitney had a party at their farm on Bryan Station Road.

The Whitney party was private for about 200 of their friends who dined and danced in the swimming pool atrium.

The two celebrations were entirely different in tone and character, but they had one thing in common: fun.

At the Whitney party, the emphasis was somewhat quiet and restrained, while at the Madden party, the idea was to — uh, well — let it all hang out.

The Whitney party had its own connection to Hollywood celebrities.

C.V. Whitney had been involved in the motion picture industry, notably with his cousin Jock Whitney, as a major shareholder backing the Technicolor Corporation. The two were financiers for the 1939 classic Gone With the Wind.

The Whitney guests through the years included actors Rock Hudson, Gregory Peck, Esther Williams, Ginger Rogers, Clair Trevor, television personalities Kitty Carlisle-Hart and Arlene Francis, and Patrick Wayne, son of the late John Wayne. Whitney produced some of John Wayne's films and was a close friend of the actor.

There was Ken Kercheval of Dallas, former Miss America Mary Ann Mobley and her husband Gary Collins, host of the Home show; dress designer Arnold Scaasi; baseball Hall of Famer Stan Musial and trumpeter Al Hirt.

Marylou Whitney ended her party in 1994 after her husband died.

With the disappearance of the Madden and Whitney parties, Lexington lost a special connection it had to the Derby. And the void has never been filled, said businessman Alan Stein, a regular at the Madden party for years.

"When Anita and Marylou stopped having parties, the Derby scene in Lexington changed. We lost the glitz and glamour of the Derby that we had here," Stein said. "Those events were Lexington's real connection to the Derby. Now all the Derby energy is in Louisville."

There were several after-Derby parties and brunches on Sunday, Stein said. Many restaurants had Derby-themed dinners. Shops stocked Derby hats.

"There were ancillary events that had a real economic impact on Lexington," he said. "When the Madden and Whitney parties went away, those satellite things went away, too.

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