Byline: Louise Farr
LOS ANGELES — No one could accuse Bronson van Wyck of holding back in his role as new party-planning darling of the socio-political world.
For a private bash last New Year’s Eve, in a tent in a meadow on the banks of an Idaho river, van Wyck hauled in 48 planted trees for the environmental-conscious hostess he discreetly refuses to name, but other guests who rave about the party say it was Teresa Heinz.
“It was a cold, wintry night. He brought in a fireplace and he made the room like her living room. I told him I’d been to a lot of parties and I’d never seen anything so beautiful in my life,” says Anne Ford about the evening, which included a Memphis band called the Soul Babies, a transparent tent wall with lights sparkling on trees across the river, and fireworks exploding from the centerpieces.
It wasn’t easy. Van Wyck had to reinforce the tent’s wooden floor with steel beams to support the heavy trees. Then, so that condensation wouldn’t drip on the guests, he designed a special lining and duct system between tent and liner.
“At one point, I called my science teacher from 8th grade to say, ‘Tell me a little something about convection,”‘ says van Wyck, sitting in his apartment in Hancock Park’s historic Los Altos building, where he’s surrounded by orchids, bowls of lemons and a persistently affectionate cat. “I know a lot about welding now and a lot about physics. Without meaning to, I’m becoming a Renaissance man.”
Zelig’s more like it for the well-connected van Wyck, who grew up in a pecan grove on a rice farm outside Little Rock, where his parents were pals of Bill and Hillary. Later, at Yale, van Wyck drew attention with his elegant off-campus galas. “There were parties there with people barfing, but that wasn’t Bronson’s scene,” says his friend Jill Kopelman. “He brought glamour to New Haven.”
After drumming up campus support for the Clinton presidential campaign, he helped Hillary with her correspondence, then popped up in Paris as protocol assistant to Pamela Harriman. Four years ago, he landed in Los Angeles, where he assisted producer Al Uzielli at Destination Films. “There’s almost a Truman Capote feeling about him,” says Uzielli. “It’s a showman quality, but it’s not blown up enough to be false.”
His showmanship extended to an impromptu birthday dinner he tossed for Uzielli. “He’s a little crazy,” says Uzielli’s mother, Ford, “and I think that’s what makes him so talented.” Ford advised van Wyck to stop what he was doing and turn party-planner.
Taking her advice, van Wyck left Destination Films and called in his mother, Mary Lynn, whose self-planned 1969 wedding made the “Town & Country” 1996 Best of the Century list, to work with him. “The process should be as much fun as the end result,” says son van Wyck, whose style can range from Corbusier furniture and rose topiary balls hung on filament wire to a swing club DNC fund-raiser that took in 20 times its cost. Part of his approach includes keeping a lean budget and interviewing private clients about what kind of movies they like and where they travel. “If I do my job well enough, no one needs to know the hostess didn’t do it,” he says.
“The parties they throw are always unforgettable,” says Hillary Clinton, who praises the van Wycks’ taste and hard work. Now the company’s client list includes Fords, Lazards, Senator Edward Kennedy and Mellons. With wedding season approaching, Van Wyck & Van Wyck is working on a reception in Nantucket, Mass., and two in the Hamptons in New York, one of which Mary Lynn van Wyck has been scouting the perfect rustic barn. (“He made a tent in the pouring rain look beautiful,” says Marina Rust, whose rehearsal dinner Bronson van Wyck staged last year.) In a coup, the van Wycks have landed the high-end parties for the Democrats’ upcoming August convention in Los Angeles.
“You look at some of the people who do this for a living and you think, would you want to have them over for dinner?” van Wyck asks, pondering his newfound success. “I hope people would want to have us for dinner, and not because we travel everywhere with massive quantities of French tulips and live orchids.”