In "The Obamas," New York Times correspondent Jodi Kantor writes that the White House decided to downplay the expensive Halloween party over fears of a public backlash, since it was taking place during the height of the recession.
"White House officials were so nervous about how a splashy, Hollywood-esque party would look to jobless Americans — or their representatives in Congress, who would soon vote on health care — that the event was not discussed publicly and Burton's and Depp's contributions went unacknowledged," Kantor writes.
The party itself was designed by director Tim Burton, who helped transform the East Room and State Dining Room into a "White House Wonderland." More from the book:
"[Burton's] film version was about to be released, and he had turned the room into the Mad Hatter's tea party, with a long table set with antique-looking linens, enormous stuffed animals in chairs, and tiered serving plates with treats like bone-shaped meringue cookies."
"Fruit punch was served in blood vials at the bar. Burton's own Mad Hatter, the actor Johnny Depp, presided over the scene in full costume, standing up on a table to welcome everyone in character."
And though he had nothing to do with "Alice in Wonderland," Star Wars creator George Lucas reportedly sent along an actor playing Chewbacca to attend the party.
That was followed by a magic show for children of White House staff and military families.
White House spokesman Eric Shultz disputed Kantor's take, saying the event was not covered up for fear of public backlash. "This was an event for local school children from the Washington DC area and for hundreds of military families," Shultz said in a statement released to Politico. "If we wanted this event to be a secret, we probably wouldn't have invited the press corps to cover it, release photos of it to Flickr, or post a video from it on the White House website," he said.
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