Back in the 1970s, a mighty war was underway in Dallas. It pitted the Times Mirror-owned Dallas Times Herald against the locally owned Dallas Morning News. One of the battle grounds was in society coverage, where a former Dallas debutante and member of the Junior League of Dallas raised the bar to new heights. Her name was Janet DeSanders. In addition to having more connections to the highest profile types of Dallas than “The Dallas Social Directory,” she was business-like in covering a beat for the Times Herald that most had considered frivolous.
When a new, young Morning News society writer approached her old friend at a party to chat, Janet explained the rules of the game: “I’m sorry, but I can’t quote you and I have to work.” In other words, they were there to work their beat, not to socialize.
After years of beating the competition, the 20-something Janet decided to take on an additional project and created the ultra-slick, broadsheet publication Society Section. It was a precursor to the original PaperCity. Like Janet, it was smart, clever and in demand.
In addition to Janet’s talents and connections, she had Dallas Times Herald/Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Bob Jackson work with her.
According to one society vet, “We’d never seen anything like that in Dallas.”
The venture became so successful that Janet and Bob left the paper to give Society Section their full attention. If you didn’t have a subscription, you had to scurry over to Preston Road Pharmacy, which was the only public outlet offering the publication.
During this time in Dallas, charitable fundraisers more or less took a backseat to the Dallas debutante circuit that ran from October to January. During this period, there was one charity fundraiser that had taken hold and become a black-tie institution: the Crystal Charity Ball.
As a member of CCB, Janet and 1974 CCB Chair Annette Strauss came up with an idea. Janet would “mail ballots to the Society Section readers asking them to list their choices for the Ten Best Dressed Women of Dallas. Winners would be announced in the September issue and presented at a fashion show held to benefit CCB.”
Held at the Fairmont Hotel and underwritten by couture salon Lou Lattimore, tickets were going for less than three sawbucks. Still, the fashion show netted a whopping $10,000—that was pretty darn good considering it was 1974—and the organization was benefiting just two nonprofits (Callier Center for Communication Disorders and The Dallas Epilepsy Association) that year.
The show was such a success that the following year, it was moved to Neiman Marcus Downtown’s Zodiac Room for a three-day event previewing Society Section’s announcement of the “Ten Best Dressed.”
Today, the CCB Ten Best Dressed is still with Neiman’s and the proceeds still go to support the millions of dollars benefiting an array of Dallas children’s charities. But tickets are no longer selling for just $25.
After Society Section published its last issue, Janet “retired” from covering the glamorous world of Dallas society.
On Friday, February 1, Janet passed away. Ironically, the woman who had attended and covered hundreds and hundreds of events requested that no service be held. She did ask that memorials be made to the American Cancer Society, the Dallas Chapter of the National Alzheimer’s Association, the Center for BrainHealth or Highland Park Presbyterian Church.