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2013 October 4

Marshall Heyman, WSJ's Party Animal

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Marshall Heyman Marshall Heyman
Illustration Courtesy Wall Street Journal
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(NEW YORK) In case you missed some of our fave features in The Daily in print as you were dashing from show to show this NYFW, we're rolling out some gems in time for your post-fash week recovery. Next up, from our Media Issue: Marshall Heyman hits up half a dozen shindigs a night yet somehow manages to bang out the sharpest society column in town. What’s his secret? No cocktails, for starters, and a brilliant knack for teasing divine obscurities out of the snooziest soirées. The Daily dialed up the Princeton grad and New Yorker alum during a rare week at the beach for the full scoop.

First things first! How’d you get into the biz?
One of my first real jobs out of college was as an assistant at The New Yorker, for Susan Morrison, who edited “Talk of the Town.” I started reading Women’s Wear Daily when I was at The New Yorker, and was always referencing and looking to WWD’s “Eye” page for new ideas. I worked there starting in 2003. Then I went to L.A. from 2007 to 2010, as a freelance writer.

What brought you to the Journal?
I came to them in a roundabout way, in 2009. Susan put me in touch with someone there; they were interested in talking when I came back to New York, because the paper was thinking of starting a social column. In early 2010, the Journal told me it was becoming real, so I flew back to New York. I started in April. Three weeks later, we launched the section.

Is that what you’d imagined your career being?

As a kid, I always thought I’d be in the movie business. I fell into the social stuff when I was at The New Yorker. Once you’re in that circle, you start to gain people’s trust, I guess.

Why do you like covering parties?
There’s always a lot going on. I like thinking about how the people at a party are trying to position themselves. The ways people go out, and what they are searching for at an event in terms of branding and building connections, is really interesting to me. A lot can happen at a party.

How do you approach each one?
My perspective has always been to write like I’m doing an “A-Hed.” I use a light, humorous tone and come at things from a side angle. There needs to be something comical. Parties are ridiculous most of the time! I go to parties so that other people don’t have to, basically. Sometimes the message is, “Don’t be so jealous that you weren’t at this event.”

Is there anything that’s not palatable for the WSJ reader?
It’s a family newspaper. The language is fairly down the middle, and we don’t cover risqué things, usually. Though a party at Westway wouldn’t be impossible to cover; a lot of events happen there.

Which soirées do you actually love?
I’m always obsessed with Robert Wilson’s event at the Watermill Center. It’s amazing to see the ridiculous outfits and artists. The party’s dichotomy makes it super-interesting. The best parties are for the Golden Globes or Oscars—they’re so stimulating, and it gets my adrenaline going. Also, I love the SNL after-parties. Love those. In part because they’re off the record!

What’s a drag to cover?
Very serious events are hard to go to, whether you’re a writer or a patron. I totally understand why they’re serious, but they’re hard to write about. 

Have you ever written a funny story about a serious event?
I attended an event for curing kids’ cancer, then made the story about how finding the humor in the event was important: Where’s the funny? If there’s no funny, how do you approach it?

Do you have plans of attack for specific venues?
At the Costume Institute [Met Ball], the entrance or exit of the exhibit is the best place to get quotes. At the Vanity Fair Oscar party I always wind up somewhere at the end of the pool room where the In-N-Out burgers are coming from.

What are your least fave venues?

The Waldorf is a tough hotel to cover. The cocktail hour is so spread out; it’s very difficult to navigate. Also, Chelsea Piers isn’t that fun. It’s such a big room! You can’t tell who’s there.

Who do you get excited to see at events?
Besides my actual friends and anyone who gives a good quote? Beyoncé and Jay-Z are endlessly fascinating to me. I like chatting with Jessica Chastain—she’s very smart and culturally connected. Angie Harmon doesn’t come to New York that much, but when I see her we always like to gossip about the latest issue of Vogue. I like seeing what crazy mishegas James Franco is up to. I enjoy bumping into Tory Burch because we talk about movies we’ve liked or haven’t liked. And I like seeing Katy Perry because we usually laugh about the time I shared a ride with her and her stylist, Johnny Wujek, from the Met Ball to the Boom Boom Room while she was wearing that light-up dress. She thought it’d be funny to give me a lap dance. 

What are your top celeb encounters?
At the Oscars this year, I introduced Melissa McCarthy to Rupert Murdoch. That was pretty amazing. Last year, I told Taylor Swift that she should star in the movie version of The Fault in Our Stars. She looked at me like I had two heads, but I still stand by it being a good idea, even though I know Shailene Woodley will be great in it. For a while, I kept bumping into John Krasinski and Emily Blunt and I thought they should be the leads in Gone Girl. They agreed, but that didn’t happen either. Encounters with celebrities are inherently amusing, especially because they probably won’t remember it—or you—the next time they see you.

Are parties different today than a decade ago, during your WWD
Now there are a lot of branding events. There are so many Target parties!

Any hors d’oeuvres you avoid?
I’ve never understood pigs in a blanket. They make your breath smell terrible! Bad breath is a real pet peeve of mine.

Do you toss back cocktails or stay dry when you’re on the job?
I tend not to drink at parties. I drink a lot of water. There’s never enough water around!

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